If you, like my pretty self, grew up reading (or being read) the tale of Tikki Tikki Tembo, then you already know exactly the correct cadences and tones to use when pronouncing his name. Come on, everybody! Say it along with me... Tikki Tikki Tembo-No Sa Rembo-Chari Bari Ruchi-Pip Peri Pembo. Whew! It's a mouthful, which is of course the point. In this book (originally published, I kid you not, in 1968) we learn about the dangers of over-monikering one's own offspring.
Two boys live with their mother near an old well. The eldest is considered the more important of the two, and his is the extraordinarily long name. His younger brother is named Chang. Chang and Tikki love one another, and when Chang falls into the well his brother rushes off to save him. Tikki fetches the old man with the ladder, who rescues the sodden boy. Later (not the same day, thankfully) the boys play around the well again and this time it's Tikki who has fallen in. When Chang attempts to tell his mother what has happened, it's all he can do to spout out that enormous mouthful of a name. When his mother finally understands, he too is sent to the old man with the ladder and a very similar scene occurs. In the end Tikki is rescued, though his prolonged well-exposure leaves him sick for a little while. Hence (according to this tale and, yes yes, not historically accurate in the least), "the Chinese have always thought it wise to give all their children little, short names instead of great long names".
When I was read this book as a kid I remember disliking small sections of it (whilst enjoying the entire thing as a whole). I felt bad for Chang, a boy whose name translated roughly to "little or nothing". Yet Chang and Tikki don't engage in any sibling rivalry or bad feelings. They play together as happily as can be. And though their mother does refer to Tikki with such names as "my first and honored son, heir of all I possess", the final shot of the book is Chang seated snugly on his mother's lap as they speak with the bed-ridden Tikki. So is the book racist? I dunno. Not to my eyes, though I've already admitted that having been read this book while a child, I'm biased towards it. I really don't think there's anything in here to seriously offend someone, unless becoming offended is their goal. Yes, we can all agree that the clothing is Japanese while the characters are Chinese. Confusing, certainly. And the last line in the story is a bit odd, but personally I don't feel it will turn your children into raving-mad racists. It's just an amusing story told with a great deal of zip and verve. Author Arlene Mosel has told it in such a way that the reader really enjoys repeated passages that say things like, "He pumped the water out of him and pushed the air into him, and pumped the water out of him and pushed the air into him". Blair Lent's illustrations are just as amusing and fun. Though a book of limited colors, it almost seems to the reader as if there are millions of subtle variations on the blues and greens shown throughout the story.
The fact of the matter is, this is just a great book. Top drawer. If you've an ability to tell a tale well, then it is a crime and shame that you are not reading this book to a little one right now. For as long as children enjoy hearing rhymes and syncopated rhythms, this book will remain a popular item.