By Katie Moosbrugger
Tikki Tikki Tembo-no Sa Rembo-chari Bari Ruchi-pip Peri Pembo.
Remember him? Tikki Tikki Tembo was my favorite children’s book character growing up, and to this day I can still recite his name in its entirety. The story is about Tikki falling down a water well, but his brother Chang had the hardest time getting Tikki rescued because he couldn’t pronounce Tikki’s full name to the villagers.
Some would call this book a classic, yet we rarely see it around anymore because it’s considered offensive to Chinese culture and language. I get that now. But back in the 1970s, those stereotypes never crossed our minds.
Speaking of stereotypes, remember “The Five Chinese Brothers”? This is another story I remember as an all-time favorite. I recently found this book at my parents’ house and was excited to share it with my children. But about five pages in to my once-beloved book, I quickly put it down…
Ethnic stereotypes aside, the near-death scenarios described in this tale are enough to give my children nightmares for years to come!
In case you don’t remember the plot…it’s about a family of five identical brothers who each possess a special talent: one can swallow the sea; one has an iron neck; one can stretch his legs; one can survive fire; and the last can hold his breath forever. However, further into the book, a young boy drowns and one of the brothers is accused of murder. The other four identical brothers bravely face execution for their accused brother (one by beheading, one by drowning, one by burning, one by smothering) but each escapes thanks to their own superhuman abilities. At the end of the book, a judge overthrows the one brother’s conviction and they all return home.
It makes me laugh out loud that this book, originally published in 1938, resides on the same shelves as other children books. I also found a review of this book from 1977 in which the writer said, “I cannot remember a tale during my childhood that gave me a cozier sense of all being right with the world.” What?
My recent re-discovery with “The Five Chinese Brothers” was a big wake-up call so I was curious to see what other favorite books from my childhood are now considered offensive, racist and controversial.
I did a search on Google and found this link from Amazon and this one from The Huffington Post. There are some books listed that I can understand why, but most of these surprised me. I would call it a stretch to consider some of these controversial. The Giving Tree? Sylvester and the Magic Pebble? A Light in the Attic? Really?
What about you? Do you remember a favorite book from your childhood that you would never consider reading to your children today? And do you agree or disagree with some of the books listed on these links?