AppLit Home African American Tales in Appalachia Tina L. Hanlon

"Little Eight John"


Wahl, Jan. Little Eight John. Illus. Wil Clay. New York: Lodestar/Dutton, 1992. Little Eight John is a disobedient young boy who brings bad luck to his family. For example, counting his teeth after his mother told him not to brings sickness to family members. Having "Sunday moans and groans" brings Old Raw Bloody Bones, who turns him into a spot of jam on the table. He wakes up just before his mother wipes away the spot, and then promises to obey her. Wahl heard this African American tale from an old man in West Virginia who remembered that it was used in North Carolina "to keep the young ones in line." Full-page acrylic paintings enhance the warmth and energy of the tale.


"Little Eight John." In Abrahams, Roger D., ed. Afro-American Folktales: Stories from the Black Traditions in the New World. Pantheon Fairy Tale and Folklore Library. New York: Pantheon, 1985, pp. 128-29. Identified as a North Carolina tale. This tale stresses that Little Eight John is mean and deliberately disobeys his "loving mammy." Mammy wipes away the spot in the morning after Old Raw Bones and Bloody Head's visit. "And that was the end of Little Eight John. And that's what always happens to never-minding little boys." Abrahams includes this tale in Part III. Getting a Comeuppance: How (and How Not) to Act Stories.

See also:

"Little Eight John." In Writers' Program (U.S.), and James R. Aswell. God Bless the Devil! Liars' Bench Tales. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1940. Facsimile edition with a new introduction by Charles K. Wolfe. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1985. Twenty-five regional, African American, and Melungeon tales compiled from storytelling sessions across the state by the Tennessee Writer's Project in the 1930s. This version is reprinted in Botkin, B. A., ed. A Treasury of Southern Folklore: Stories, Ballads, Traditions, and Folkways of the People of the South. New York: Crown, 1944. pp. 687-88.

Griffin, Peggy Ann. Talking Treasures. Illus. Darrell Pulliman. Chicago: Scribes, 1995. This collection of five African American folktales from far southwest Virginia contains several harsh cautionary tales in which horrible fates that befall disobedient or foolish characters are narrated bluntly. For example, in  "Billy's Birthday," Billy's grandfather tells of another child Billy's age who was allowed to do whatever he wanted, so he jumped off the roof and died. Griffin's Foreword says, "I know my grandparents and great-grandparents only through the treasure chest of stories that were left by them with my parents." She describes the tales "as oral tradition, family conversation pieces and moral instructors."

Compare with:

Hamilton, Virginia. "Little Eight John." The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales. New York: Knopf, 1985, pp. 121-25. With one full-page black and white illustration by Leo and Diane Dillon. Much like the version in Abrahams (above), Hamilton's tale ends, "And that was the end of Little Eight John. What happens to little chil'ren who never mind." No source is given. Hamilton notes that the tale was used as a warning to children but was also told at other times "as frightening entertainment." She gives an example of a rhyme about Raw Head and Bloody Bones whispered to plantation children at bedtime. See Folklore in Books by Virginia Hamilton.

"Little Eight John." Retold by Imakhu. When Little Eight John continues to misbehave repeatedly, doing things that bring bad luck to his family and breaking his promises to not do them, Raw Head and Bloody Bones turns him into a nasty little bug, which his mama destroys. "Imakhu's hilariously spooky tale about a bad little boy who finally gets his comeuppance. From Imakhu's one woman storytelling show, 'Wednesday's African Child: Goth Tales of My Black People.'" Imakhu was inspired by Virginia Hamilton's tale when she started telling this story years ago. This tale and other songs and stories, including a "Cherokee Morning Song," are available for purchase as downloads at Imakhu Shekemet's web site. (This tale no longer online at her site 3/9/11).

Kinsella, Marilyn A. "Little Eight John." 1981. In Taleypo the Storyteller. Drama choir adaptation (also adaptable as reader's theater) of the tale from Treasury of American Folklore by B. A. Botkin (Crown, 1944, see above). In the web site of an Illinois storyteller who calls herself Taleypo.

"Little Eight John." In Tingle, Tim and Doc Moore. Texas Spooky Tales. Illus. Gina Miller. Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 2005.

"Little Eight John." In McCoy, Sarah. Why the Sky is Far Away and Other African American Tales. Audiobook on tape. Cleveland, OH: Wonderstorms, 1991.

Other cautionary tales for children, such as "Little Red Riding Hood," especially in versions in which the girl is warned not to stray from the path and is eaten by the wolf. Also available in The Little Red Riding Hood Project.

Icarus is the boy in classical myth who is told by his father not to fly too close to the sun (when they are escaping from King Minos' tower with wings made by his father). Icarus disobeys and falls to his death when the hot sun melts the wax holding his feathered wings together. Icarus isn't meanly disobeying and harming others, like Little Eight John, but disregards the warnings when he delights in soaring in the sky. See Daedalus, reprinted by from Bullfinch's 19th-century Mythology: The Age of Fable.

This page created 8/30/03   |   Links checked 3/15/06   |   Top of Page   |   Last update 3/9/15


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