Big Fraid, Little Fraid by Ellis Credle

Review by Volkert Volkersz

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Credle, Ellis. Big Fraid, Little Fraid.New York: Dutton, 1964.

AppLit Note: Credle heard this tale from her great-uncle on the plantations of lowland coastal North Carolina. (She later taught in the Blue Ridge mountains, where some of her novels and realistic picture books are set.) Although this version is not Appalachian, Leonard Roberts, who heard it in his boyhood in eastern Kentucky, published a very similar KY version with a father who gets scared himself when he and a monkey disguised in sheets try to scare his son, who can not be scared. (See South from Hell-fer-Sartin on Collections page.) Audio version of "Big Fraid and Little Fraid," collected by Roberts, from Berea College archives, is available in Digital Library of Appalachia.

Big Fraid, Little Fraid is a humorous North Carolina folktale that is fun to read aloud to primary grade students in the dark, dreary days of early Fall. It was adapted by the author in 1964 from a story she heard as a child. Big brother Dave is constantly playing practical jokes on Ma, Pa, and his younger brother, Little Chub, in their cabin on a small farm. Their pet monkey, given to them by a sailor uncle, plays an important role at the climax of this tale, when Dave finally gets his "come-uppance."

"Fraids" are anything that can't be seen in the dark that might make someone afraid. One evening Dave sneaks outdoors and pretends to be a "fraid" to frighten Little Chub who is coming in from the fields at dusk. However, the monkey, which has a habit of imitating him behind his back, gives him a lesson he'll never forget.

This is a hilarious—and just a little "scary"—introduction to Southern folktales, which my younger students have enjoyed right around the time of Halloween. It works with, or without, a Southern dialect; however, it helps to use an animated voice for the final scene. Unfortunately, the title is currently out-of-print, but it's worth hunting down.

Volkert Volkersz
Librarian, Snohomish High School, Snohomish, WA
Former librarian, Machias Elementary School, Snohomish, WA

See also "The Fiddling Monkey." In Roberts, Leonard (collector). Old Greasybeard: Tales From the Cumberland GapIllus. Leonard Epstein. Detroit: Folklore Associates, 1969. Rpt. Pikeville, KY: Pikeville College Press, 1980. p. 50. A man, woman, boy and girl take turns trying to get a drink while working in the field but each one sees a fiddling monkey who says, "Big chew tobacco, / Little chew tobacco, / Chew, chaw, chew." It doesn't say whether the people are afraid or get their water. Roberts' notes identify this as an "imperfect" text of type 73, Blinding the Guard, in which a rabbit spits tobacco juice in order to escape.

Created:  8/27/2002   |   Complete List of AppLit Pages on Folklore  |   Last Update: 6/9/10   

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