Because I needed a scary story with a funny twist at the end, I blended elements of the following two versions of Taily-po:
Calmenson, Stephanie. “Taily-po” in Spooky Stories for a Dark and Stormy Night, comp. by Alice Low. New York: Hyperion Books for Children, 1994, p. 10-13.
Galdone, Joanna. The Tailypo: A Ghost Story. New York: The Seabury Press, 1977.
Eight to nine minutes
1) Man’s fear of the monster
2) Monster’s drive to get its tail back
· Three dogs
1) Man hunting in forest with dogs
2) Man sitting in cozy cabin, eating dinner
3) Monster falling down chimney, man cutting tail off
4) Man finishing dinner, eating tail
5) Man sleeping in bed
6) Monster approaching twice during night, dogs chasing it away
7) Man hearing monster’s call far away, dogs don’t come
8) Monster creeping over man in bed, shaking tail out of man
A man lived quietly in a cabin in the forest, with his three dogs. After an unsuccessful hunting day, the man returned to his cabin, and cooked his dinner. While he ate it, a creature fell down the chimney. He cut its tail off before the monster escaped back up the chimney. After he ate the tail, the man went to sleep. The monster returned three times that night, in search of his tail. The first two times the man’s dogs chased the creature away, but during the second chase the dogs became lost. The monster returned, entered the cabin, and climbed up on the man’s bed. The man woke and was paralyzed with fear. The creature grabbed the man, shook him upside-down, and out popped the monster’s tail. The creature got its tail back, and the man lives in the same cabin to this day.
The monster approaches the man three times, saying each time: “Taily-po, taily-po, Give me back my taily-po!” This repeated request adds suspense, and also provides a rhythm to the story.
“Taily-po” is appropriate for third and fourth graders, ages 8-10 years. Many storytelling books state that this age group particularly enjoys scary stories, including Ellin Greene’s Storytelling: Art and Technique. Several characteristics of this story fall under 8-10 year developmental specifications. Piaget states that children in the Concrete Operational stage (years seven to eleven) love mysteries—the creature in “Taily-po” is mysterious in its form and origin. Huck purports that 8 and 9 year old children have an appreciation for imaginary adventure, to which “Taily-po” appeals. Children in this age group will feel empathy for the man and the fear he feels, since Huck states they are developing empathy for others. Also according to Huck, 10 and 11 year olds have a developed sense of justice; the children will understand the justice of the creature getting back his tail. In addition, the man faces a physical threat from the creature, which falls under the second item in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: safety.
Hamilton, Virginia. “The Peculiar Such Thing” in The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985, pp. 116-120.
Young, Richard and Judy. “Tailbones” in The Scary Story Reader. Little Rock, AK: August House Publishers, Inc., 1993, pp. 78-80.
The Galdone and Calmenson versions that I have blended for my own version of Taily-po are quite different in style. Calmenson tells to a young audience, and as such, the story is somewhat watered down and less frightening. For example, the man did not mean to cut the creature’s tail off—it happened by accident when the man started swinging his axe around out of fear. Also, the actions of the monster are repeated, in a way that lightens the scary mood. For example, the first time the creature returns to the cabin it is described as “stomping, stomping, stomping” on the roof. The language is simple and consistent. This story doesn’t emphasize the creature’s driving, evil, destructive desire to take revenge. Overall, the style is relatively benign for a scary story.
Galdone’s version of Taily-po is much more frightening, because events happen by design of the characters. The creature doesn’t accidentally fall down the chimney—its tail appears through a crack in the cabin wall. The man cuts the tail off and eats it on purpose. In addition, an eerie mood is set by the wind blowing at various points in the story. The plot is different as well—the creature scratches the man to pieces at the end.
Blending the style of Calmenson and Galdone results in a frightening story with a lighter ending, which was my goal for telling to third and fourth graders.
Hamilton’s version of Taily-po, “The Peculiar Such Thing,” tells the same events of the Galdone version, adding a description of how the creature eats the dogs before the man. In a slightly more mysterious style, Hamilton writes in an African-American dialect, and portrays the man as if “he had no sense.” The creature is only described as having a long tail, pointy ears, and red eyeballs—the rest is left to the imagination of the reader or listener. The dark interplay between the scheming man and the menacing creature is not evident in this version, because the man is portrayed as innocent and simple-minded. However, because the creature aggressively pursues an innocent victim, the tale becomes more frightening.
The “Tailbones” version in The Scary Story Reader emphasizes the supernatural nature of the creature and the events. Although the monster is never described, it approach is described in blood-chilling, gory adjectives. The end of the story is not resolved; the man tells the creature to take his tailbones, but the reader doesn’t know what happens after that. This unresolved end adds to the supernatural feel of the tale.