Tikki Tikki Tembo is a 1968 story written by Arlene Mosel and illustrated by Blair Lent. Arlene Tichy Mosel (August 27, 1921 – May 1996) was an American author of children’s literature who was best-known for her illustrated books Tikki Tikki Tembo, a retelling of an old folk tale, and the award-winning The Funny Little Woman, which was the recipient of the Caldecott Medal for illustration in 1973. Blair Lent (January 20, 1930 – January 27, 2009) was an American author and illustrator of mostly Chinese-themed books, including the popular 1968 children’s book Tikki Tikki Tembo. In 1973 he was awarded the Caldecott Medal for his illustrations of The Funny Little Woman, by Arlene Mosel. He also illustrated the books House of Stairs and Why the Sun and the Moon Live in the Sky. Lent used a wide range of techniques in his illustrations, including acrylic painting, cardboard cutouts, colored pencil and ink and wash.
Tikki Tikki Tembo is set in ancient China and invents an ancient Chinese custom whereby parents honor their first-born sons with long, elaborate names that everyone is obliged to say completely — no nicknames, no shortening of any kind — while the second-born sons are typically given short, unimportant names. A boy named Tikki Tikki Tembo-no Sa Rembo-chari Bari Ruchi-pip Peri Pembo (“The Most Wonderful Thing in the Whole Wide World”) and his little brother Chang (“Little or Nothing”) are playing near a well they’d been previously warned by their mother to avoid. Chang falls in the well, his older brother runs to their mother, tells her Chang has fallen down the well, and Chang is rescued. Some time later, the boys are again playing near the well. This time, the older brother falls in. Chang runs to their mother and shouts that “Tikki Tikki Tembo-no Sa Rembo-chari Bari Ruchi-pip Peri Pembo has fallen into the well”, but she can’t hear him. He says it over and tells Chang to get the old man with the ladder. He then goes to get the Old Man with the Ladder, initially the old man doesn’t respond but after Chang repeats his brother’s predicament the old man goes with Chang to save his brother from the well.