THE TAILYPO: A GHOST STORY
Told by Joanna Galdone
Illustrated by Paul Galdone
This is a tale about an old man who lives in a one-room cabin “in the deep, big woods.” One day, he goes off hunting with his three dogs—Uno, Ino, and Cumptico-Calico. After many hours out hunting, the wind begins blowing hard. The old man knows it will get dark soon so he heads for home—with just one “skinny rabbit.”
The old man cooks up the rabbit and eats it. Then he sits back in his rocker and looks at the moon rising in the sky as the wind whistles round his cabin. Just as he’s dozing off, “a most curious creature crept through a crack between the logs in the wall.” The creature has a “BIG, LONG, FURRY TAIL.”
Now what do you suppose the old man does? Cower in his chair? Nope! Jump into his bed and pull the covers up over his head? Nope! Bolt out of his cabin and run off into the darkness? No way! Why, as soon as he spies that varmint in his house, he grabs his hatchet and hacks off its tail! Yep! That varmint creeps back through that crack in the wall and takes off. Then the old coot cooks up the critter’s furry tail and eats it! Yessirree, that’s what he does because he’s still hungry!
Once his belly is full, the old man goes to bed. He isn’t asleep for long when he hears a scratching sound. The old man calls out, “Who’s that?” A voice answers, “Tailypo, tailypo, all I want is my tailypo.” The scratching continues. The frightened old man calls his dogs—and they chase that thing off into the woods. Then the old man goes back to bed.
In the middle of the night, he’s awakened by the sound of something trying to get into his cabin—something that keeps making that SCRATCHING sound. He hears that voice saying: “Tailypo, tailypo, I’m coming to get my tailpo!” The old man calls for his dogs again. They chase that wild thing into the swamp. Once everything is quiet, the man returns to bed.
Before morning arrives, the old man’s awakened by something down in the swamp. He thinks it’s the wind—but when he listens closely he hears a voice crying: “You know, and I know, all I want is my tailypo.” The old man summons his dogs—but they’re nowhere to be found. He shuts and bars his door and goes back to bed.
THEN…just before daylight, the old man gets a strange feeling that there’s something in the cabin with him. That something starts climbing up the bed covers. First, the man sees two pointed ears poking up over the foot of his bed…then he sees “two big, round, fiery eyes.” That varmint has returned to get its tailypo! The man tells the creature he hasn’t got it—but the creature insists he does. It jumps on top of the man and scratches everything to pieces. Well, almost everything—the chimney of the old man’s house is the one thing left standing in the deep, big woods. That’s all.
But folks who live in the valley say
That when the moon shines and the wind blows,
You can hear a voice say:
now I’ve got
Read this old tale with the overhead lights turned off and electric jack o’ lanterns turned on, use some scratching sound effects, and read the varmint’s words in a quavering, ghostlike, wailing voice—and you’re sure to send shivers of delight down children’s spines.
Suggested Art Activity: The first time I read this story aloud to my students I didn’t show them the illustrations. I told them to imagine what the “tailypo” creature looked like to them. When I finished reading the book, I gave my students construction paper and asked them to create their own versions of the creature. It was interesting to see how the creature was perceived by each child.