Study Guide for "Ferradiddledumday" and Other "Rumpelstiltskin" Stories

("Ferradiddledumday" is a Blue Ridge version of "Rumpelstiltskin" by Becky Mushko)


Full text of "Ferradiddledumday"  |  Notes on adaptations of "Rumpelstiltskin"  |  Discussion Questions  |  Virginia Standards of Learning  |  Other Resources

On March 4, 2002, Becky Mushko read her story to a group of third graders and fifth graders (see photos below) at Ferrum Elementary School, Ferrum, VA—near where the characters in "Ferradiddledumday" might have lived. Below are some of the ideas the students discussed after hearing the story (from notes taken by Tina L. Hanlon. Contact her if you have questions or comments on these pages, or if you want to contribute your own comments or teaching ideas to AppLit). Later some of the students drew pictures to illustrate the story. More of these pictures appear on the page with the story itself.

How is the story similar to the traditional "Rumpelstiltskin"?

  • The little man tries to take the heroine's baby.

  • The heroine needs to spin gold.

  • Gillie has to guess the name of the little man in order to keep her baby.

  • The little man comes back to help three times and Gillie has three chances to guess his name.

How is the story different from the traditional "Rumpelstiltskin"?

  • Gillie lives on a mountain instead of in a village.

  • Gillie is not a princess.

  • There is no castle in the story.

What other details make this version an Appalachian story?

  • Gillie spins hay instead of straw.

  • There are snakes like the ones found in this region—copperheads and blacksnakes.

  • The birds are ones found in the mountains.

  • The people are farmers and Gillie's father grows tobacco for his cash crop.

Notes by the author: The name Gillie was apparently popular in the 1800s in Franklin County, VA. I got the name from a tombstone on our Union Hall farm and used it for one of the characters in my book Patches on the Same Quilt. Whenever I do a reading, someone invariably comes forward and asks me about the name because a grandmother, aunt, or other ancestor had that name. About the name Ferradiddledumday: I read a tale once where the term ferradiddle was mentioned. I found that it or its variant taradiddle had to do with a little imaginary creature. I thought it had a catchy sound, couldn't find any other stories so named, so I used it.

The Oxford English Dictionary lists the slang or colloquial noun taradiddle or tarradiddle: "A trifling falsehood, a petty lie; a colloquial euphemism for a lie; a `fib'." As a verb it means "To impose upon, or bring into some condition, by telling fibs. Hence taradiddler [is] one who taradiddles, a petty liar." Examples from 1795-1909 are given. Another dictionary defines it as "a small lie; pretentious nonsense; origin uncertain."

Becky Mushko reading to fifth graders
at Ferrum Elementary
  Tina Hanlon and fifth graders waiting
for Becky Mushko to read
    Photos by Tina Hanlon

More Questions to Discuss, by Becky Mushko and Tina Hanlon

  1. How do specific plants show the passage of time in the story?
  1. What details suggest that this story did not take place in modern times?
  1. What other traditional customs and superstitions are woven into the story?
  1. Why does Gillie need to spin straw into gold? Who gets this idea, or tries to force the heroine to spin straw into gold, in other versions of "Rumpelstiltskin"?
  1. What is the conflict in the story? How is it resolved?
  1. What elements of fantasy exist in the story?
  1. William, the man Gillie marries, isn't a prince or king. What makes him a good husband for Gillie? Is he a better husband than the king in older European versions of "Rumpelstiltskin"?
  1. Who discovers the little man's name in this story? How is the father's role different from the father in other versions of "Rumpelstiltskin"? (Notice that the girl has a mother, not a father, in the West Indian version, The Girl Who Spun Gold.)
  1. Who discovers the little man's name in other versions of "Rumpelstiltskin"? What difference does this make in your view of the characters?
  1. How is the little man destroyed in the end? How does this compare in other versions of "Rumpelstiltskin"?
  1. How is the ending of "Ferradiddledumday" similar to the ending of other fairy tales? Is it different from the ending of traditional fairy tales in any way?
  1. What other patterns of repetition are used in this story?
  1. What are some examples of Appalachian language used in "Ferradiddledumday"?
  1. What examples of figurative language (for example, similes) can you find?

Virginia Standards of Learning and Teaching Ideas by Becky Mushko

The story is especially suitable for elementary and middle school students. Teachers may use it just for fun or as part of a learning experience. You can approach this story from many angles. The following are some of the Virginia Standards of Learning that may be applied to activities related to the story. For details, go to Virginia's Standards of Learning web site. (Photo of Becky Mushko at Ferrum College at right.)

English: Creative writing (VA English SOLs 6.4, 6.5, 6.7, 7.4, 7.5, 7.6,7.8, 8.3, 8.2, 8.4, 8.5):

Rewrite the story from the viewpoint of one of the characters.
Rewrite the story as if it took place in modern times.

English: Critical thinking (VA English SOLs 6.4, 7.4, 8.3, 8.4):

Compare/contrast the story to other versions of “Rumpelstiltskin” (see questions above).
Identify elements of fantasy in this story.

Improvisational Drama (VA English SOLs 6.1, 7.6):

Act out the story.
Perform the story as a puppet show.

Science:  (VA Science SOLs 4.8, 5.5, 6.1, LS.4, LS.11, ES.7, BIO.5, BIO.9):

Identify flora and fauna of the Appalachian region mentioned in the story.

History (VA History SOLs 5.3, 5.9, 6.10):

Research Ulster Plantation/the Scots-Irish migration to America, their settlement of Appalachia, etc.—the history of people like the characters in this story.

Other Resources

For discussion of Barry Moser's Appalachian adaptation of "Rumpelstiltskin," Tucker Pfeffercorn, see Transplanted in Appalachia: Illustrated Folktales by Barry Moser - essay by Tina L. Hanlon.

For other teaching ideas on folktales, see Activities to Accompany Study of Appalachian Folktales and Dramatizations by the Jack Tale Players.

For other ideas on folktales and SOLs, see Standards of Learning Covered by Study of "Mutsmag" and "Ashpet" Dramatizations.

Complete List of AppLit Pages on Folklore

For background on Appalachian language, and use of dialects in other stories, see Resources on Appalachian Dialects.

Also by Becky Mushko in this web site: "Spelldown" and "A Midsummer Night's Recollection."

Becky Mushko's Homepage

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This page created 3/4/02
Last update: February 11, 2009