Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Tailypo: A Ghost Story

Here is a no-fail, sure-to-delight kids, just-spooky-enough-but-not-too-scary American folktale from Appalachia that I recommend reading to children in the early elementary grades at Halloween…or at any other time of the year. The following book was always a favorite with my students. They L-O-V-E-D it! My students would request that I read this book several more times during the year. The Tailypo also became a traditional Halloween read-aloud in the classrooms of teachers to whom I recommended this book.

Told by Joanna Galdone
Illustrated by Paul Galdone
Clarion, 1997

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:

“Tailypo, tailypo,
now I’ve got
my tailypo.”

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.


Katie Dicesare said...

My students always love hearing this one too. I loved your idea for visualizing and creating the tailypo. I think I will read it tomorrow!

Elaine Magliaro said...


Have a great time reading The Tailypo. I have missed reading aloud to young children since I retired.

persephone2u said...

I remember reading this story as a child and have many fond memories of it and must get it again! "You know, I know, all I want is my Tailypo..." Brilliant.

Anonymous said...

When I was in Elementary School, I was a "storyteller" for school. This was one of my favorite stories to tell. Thank you...

Anonymous said...

This story was told by my teacher in 4th grade. It has scared me since then. When my 6 year old sister's 1st grade teacher read it to the class, it has scared her as well. I do not care for this book, it has frightened the many children that have read it.

Unknown said...

I first heard this story when I was in the 4th grade as well. It scared me then but I love this book now. I don't know what caused me to think of it recently but I've searched everywhere to read it online. I can't wait to find it in a bookstore!

Anonymous said...

I was terrified of this book when my teacher read it to the class in 2nd grade. When my teacher told us in 3rd grade she was going to read the same story on Halloween, I purposely pretended I was sick that day so I wouldn't have to go hear it again. My younger brother had the same issue. Maybe think twice before reading this story to such a young audience.I mean...the guy is clawed to death by a terrifying mysterious swamp animal. Not exactly PG, haha.

Anonymous said...

This story scared the crap out of me when it was read to me in kindergarden, I'm still afraid of the woods!

Anonymous said...

this was my all time favorite book when i was younger. I asked my mom to read it to me every night. But I did get scared every time she read it to me and had to sleep with a night light. I always thought tailypo was going to come and eat me because i ate animals. I became a vegetarian a few years later.

Anonymous said...

I had never heard of this story until I was fifteen. It scared the heck out of me and gave me nightmares! Even now whenever I think of this story, I remind myself that the only thing I ate today was cereal or something like that to convince myself that the Tailypo has no reason to come to my house. Okay, I'll admit it. I absolutely LOVE the story now. But personally, I don't think it's a good story to read to little kids.

Anonymous said...

I had this story read to me in first grade. let me tell you I had nightmares for a month. There is no way that I would let someone read this to my kid.

Anonymous said...

I first heard this book when I was in kindergarden and it still manages to scare me to death. This book terrifies me still.

Anonymous said...

I remember reading this book in third grade. It was so good, I told the whole thing to my sister and cousins by memory. That was a good night; nobody got any sleep! haha

Anonymous said...

This was read to me in kindergarten, where the teacher took a few kids at a time into a closet with no lights to tell the story. I was terrified for MONTHS afterward, and even reading it now, many years later, it still gives me the chills.