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'The Tug Of War' | Circle Round 4217:01
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(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)MoreCloseclosemore
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

Think about a time… you used your smarts.

Maybe you were doing an assignment for school. Maybe you were solving a riddle… or finding a way to overcome an obstacle, a challenge.

In today’s story, we’ll meet a character who’s all about using her smarts and proving that a big mind can be way stronger than a big body!

Today our story is called “The Tug of War.” Versions of this folktale have been told in East Africa and Brazil. It’s also been shared among African Americans and Native Americans in the southern United States.

Special thanks to this week’s actors: Gamalia Pharms, Maurice Emanuel Parent, and Quvenzhané Wallis. Quvenzhané is the youngest performer ever to be nominated for an Oscar Award — she was 9 when she was up for Best Actress in Beasts of the Southern Wild. Since then, she’s starred in Annie and Trolls, and now, she’s written several children’s books including A Night Out With Mama and the chapter-book series, A Shai and Emmie Story.


ADULTS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest, and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it! To access all the coloring pages for past episodes click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her HERE.

Story continues below

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Things To Think About After Listening
Can you remember a time when you felt strong? Or wise? Or both? No matter how big you were?

Find a piece of paper and something to draw with, then create a picture that captures that experience. Once you’re done, show it to a grown-up in your life, and tell them the story of what happened. After that, ask them if they’ll tell you about a time they felt wise and strong.


Musical Spotlight:  Timpani

(Courtesy of Orchester-Pauken der Firma Berliner Paukenwerkstatt/Wolfgang Hardtke)
(Courtesy of Orchester-Pauken der Firma Berliner Paukenwerkstatt/Wolfgang Hardtke)

The timpani (aka kettledrum) is probably one of the biggest drums you’ll ever see: a single “timpano” can weigh up to 140 pounds! That’s pretty wild considering that before timpani became orchestral instruments, they were played on horseback during the American Civil War! Today, timpani players (aka timpanists or percussionists) use several timpani of various sizes, all tuned to different pitches; they play them with a special stick called a “timpani mallet.” We chose the timpani to underscore this story because these versatile drums prove the lesson that size isn’t everything. After all, they have a massive size — just like Elephant and Hippo do — but you can tune the timpani to play all sorts of pitches, from low to high!


Story Transcript

NARRATOR: In a thick, green forest... beside a cool, blue river… there lived all sorts of animals.

But none of those animals were anywhere as big... or as boastful… as Elephant and Hippopotamus.

Elephant had massive, gray feet... a trumpeting roar... and floppy ears the size of a living-room rug. He considered himself King of the Forest.

ELEPHANT: Ha! You measly forest creatures pale in comparison to me. When I go crashing and stamping through these trees, my feet leave holes so deep, you’d get lost if you fell in!

NARRATOR: Then… there was Hippopotamus. Hippo had long, pointy teeth… gobbled 80 pounds of grass a day… and weighed as much as a Mack truck! So she considered herself Queen of the River.

HIPPO: Ha! You teeny-weeny river critters are no match for me. You barely make a ripple when you jump into the water. When I take a dive, it’s like a hurricane!

NARRATOR: Every now and then some of the smaller animals would work up the courage to ask Elephant and Hippo... to be nicer. But every time they did, the two big, boastful beasts would just laugh…

ELEPHANT: (laughter)

NARRATOR: ...and laugh.

HIPPO: (laughter)

NARRATOR: One of the animals who spent time in both the forest and the river… was Turtle. So no matter where she went, she had to deal with the self-proclaimed “King of the Forest” and “Queen of the River.”

TURTLE: Oh, those two are such bullies! Bossing all of us animals around… bragging about how enormous and awesome they are... There must be some way to get them to be nicer!!!

NARRATOR: Turtle thought and thought. Suddenly, she had an idea.

TURTLE: A-ha!

NARRATOR: In the dark of night, while Elephant and Hippo were sleeping, Turtle scurried around the forest… gathering tree vines. Long, strong tree vines, which she rolled and twisted, knotted and tied... into a long, strong rope.

The next morning, Turtle took her long, strong rope and made her way deep into the thick, green forest. There, she found Elephant munching dozens of sweet fruits off a tree.

TURTLE: (friendly) Good morning, Elephant!

ELEPHANT: (greedily chewing his food) Hmmmmm…???!!?

NARRATOR: Elephant craned his giant gray head to see who dared disturb his morning meal. He swallowed his mouthful, and set his angry eyes on Turtle.

ELEPHANT: Who do you think you are, interrupting my breakfast? Scram, pipsqueak, before I sweep you away with my trunk!

NARRATOR: But Turtle did not “scram.”

TURTLE: There’s no need to be rude, Elephant. Just because you’re the biggest, you think you’re the strongest, too!  You know… I bet if we had a tug-of-war, I would win.

ELEPHANT: (laughing) You? Beat me? In a tug-of-war? Preposterous! I am a million times stronger than you are!

TURTLE: (with a smile) Well... maybe I have strengths you cannot see. So…? Will you agree to a tug-of-war?

ELEPHANT: I will pull you over faster than a hummingbird flaps its wings.  I agree.

NARRATOR: So Turtle gave Elephant one end of the long, strong rope. Elephant used his massive trunk to tie the rope around his body.

TURTLE: Okay, Elephant. Now I will take the other end of the rope, and I’ll keep walking until it’s pulled nice and tight. When I’m ready for you to pull, you’ll hear me whistle. That will be the signal for the contest to begin. Then we’ll really see who is stronger!

NARRATOR: Now that Elephant was holding one end of the rope, what do you think Turtle did with the other end?

You guessed it! She made her way to the cool, blue river, where Hippo was bathing in the water, her eyes half closed.

TURTLE: Good morning, Hippo!

HIPPO: (big yawn)

NARRATOR: Hippo’s mouth gaped open. As she yawned, she let out so much hot air, Turtle had to duck inside her shell! Once Hippo was done yawning, she glared down at Turtle.

HIPPO: Who do you think you are, interrupting my morning nap? Scram, pipsqueak, before I splash you halfway around the world!

NARRATOR: But Turtle did not “scram.”

TURTLE: There’s no need to be rude, Hippo. Just because you’re the biggest, you think you’re the strongest, too!  You know… I bet if we had a tug-of-war, I would win.

HIPPO: (laughing) You? Beat me? In a tug-of-war? Ridiculous! I am a million times stronger than you are!

TURTLE: (with a smile) Well... maybe I have strengths you cannot see.  So…? Will you agree to a tug-of-war?

HIPPO: I will pull you over faster than a frog jumps off a lilypad.  I agree.

NARRATOR: So Turtle gave Hippo her end of the long, strong rope. She put it in her mouth and clamped down with her long, pointy teeth.

TURTLE: Okay, Hippo. Now I will take the other end of the rope, and I’ll keep walking until it’s pulled nice and tight. When I’m ready for you to pull, you’ll hear me whistle. That will be the signal for the contest to begin. Then we’ll really see who is stronger!

NARRATOR: Turtle started back toward the forest, chuckling to herself.

TURTLE: (chuckling) Elephant and Hippo have no idea what’s coming to them. Bullies? Get ready to meet your match!

NARRATOR: What do you think will happen when Turtle lets out her whistle and the tug-of-war begins?

We’ll find out, after a quick break.

[MIDROLL]

NARRATOR: I’m Rebecca Sheir, and welcome back to Circle Round. Today our story is called “The Tug of War.”

When we left off, Turtle had hatched a plan to get Elephant and Hippo to stop being such bullies.

She challenged each of the big, boastful animals to a tug-of-war. Little did they know… it wasn’t Turtle who’d be holding the other end of the rope. Instead, she’d given one end to Elephant in the thick, green forest… and the other end to Hippo in the cool, blue water!

Then, Turtle went and hid in a thicket, halfway between the two colossal beasts.

TURTLE: (to herself) Okay… time to start the contest!

NARRATOR: Turtle took a deep breath, and let out... a whistle!

TURTLE: (loud whistle to signal start of contest)

NARRATOR: ...The loudest whistle she could muster. It must have been loud enough, because as soon as she was done, she felt the rope straighten and tighten.

TURTLE: They’re pulling! Elephant and Hippo are pulling! (laughs) The tug-of-war has begun!

NARRATOR: Elephant and Hippo tugged and pulled, pulled and tugged.

Elephant would strain with all his might…

NARRATOR: … and nearly yank Hippo out of the cool, blue river!

But then Hippo would strain with all her might…

HIPPO: (ad-lib straining sounds… with jaws closed; the rope is in her mouth!)

NARRATOR: … and nearly hurl Elephant out of the thick, green forest.

The two animals tugged and pulled, pulled and tugged, as the sun went up…

ELEPHANT/HIPPO: (tugging and pulling sounds)

NARRATOR: … as it rode high above them…

ELEPHANT/HIPPO: ( tugging and pulling sounds)

NARRATOR: ...and as it went down again...

ELEPHANT/HIPPO: (effortful tugging and pulling sounds)

NARRATOR: ...And by the time the sky was black as ink, both creatures were tired... though they were too proud to admit it.

ELEPHANT: That Turtle is such… a shrimp!

HIPPO: That Turtle is such… a runt!

ELEPHANT:  And yet...

HIPPO:  ...somehow…

ELEPHANT/HIPPO: ...she’s strong!

NARRATOR: From her hiding place in the thicket, Turtle laughed.

TURTLE: You’ve got that right, bullies! It’s like I said: maybe I have strengths you cannot see! (laughs) But seriously. How much longer can this tug-of-war go on?

NARRATOR: Turtle crept closer to where Elephant was, as he pulled his end of the rope in the thick, green forest. In his struggle, Elephant had trampled so many bushes and toppled so many trees, Turtle noticed the place was a shambles of branches.

Careful not to be seen, Turtle called out.

TURTLE: Elephant! Oh, Elephant! After all this grunting and groaning, aren’t you ready to stop? And agree that I am stronger than you are?

NARRATOR: Elephant grunted and groaned even more as he tugged on the rope.

ELEPHANT:  I... will... not!

TURTLE: Suit yourself!

NARRATOR: Next, Turtle tiptoed closer to where Hippo was, as she pulled her end of the rope in the cool, blue river. In her struggle, Hippo had churned up so much mud and sludge from the bottom, Turtle noticed the water was a mess of brown.

Again, Turtle made sure she wasn’t spotted, as she called out.

TURTLE: Hippo! Oh, Hippo! After all this snorting and snuffling, aren’t you ready to stop? And agree that I am stronger than you are?

NARRATOR: Hippo snorted and snuffled even more as she tugged on the rope.

HIPPO: I… will… not!

TURTLE: Alrighty then!

NARRATOR: Turtle returned to her thicket, scooted inside the brambles, and fell fast asleep.

Meanwhile, Elephant and Hippo tugged and pulled, pulled and tugged… but nowhere near as hard as before. But they were thinking pretty hard… and wondering how on earth Turtle could possibly tug and pull, pull and tug, for so long!

ELEPHANT: (very tired) What if…?

HIPPO: (very tired)  Could it be…?

ELEPHANT: (very tired) Maybe Turtle…

HIPPO: (very tired) ...is using…

ELEPHANT/HIPPO: ...magic!?!?!

NARRATOR: Elephant and Hippo decided to check things out for themselves.
Each one started toward the place where they thought Turtle would be. Elephant approached from deep within the thick, green forest… and Hippo approached from the cool, blue river. Every few feet they would stop and draw the rope tight, so their competitor would think they were still pulling.

In the dark of night, Elephant and Hippo lumbered closer and closer to each other, all the while struggling to keep tension on the rope.

Finally… and much to their surprise... they came face to face… and collapsed... in a heap!

ELEPHANT:  What are you doing here, Hippo? I thought I was having a tug-of-war with Turtle!

HIPPO: I could ask the same of you, Elephant!

NARRATOR: Now, it just so happens that Elephant and Hippo had toppled over right next to the thicket where Turtle was fast asleep. The CRASH of their gigantic bodies instantly woke her up.

Quickly, she crawled out from her hiding place.

TURTLE: Hello, Elephant! Hello, Turtle!

NARRATOR: Turtle looked at the self-proclaimed King of the Forest and Queen of the River. Both were sprawled out on the ground, their mammoth chests heaving and their large eyes closed.

Suddenly… they opened those large eyes… and stared at Turtle.

They stared… and stared… and then…?

NARRATOR: ...They laughed!

They laughed... and laughed. They laughed so hard, Turtle felt the ground begin to shake!

Because all of a sudden, they realized what Turtle meant when she said she had “strengths you cannot see.”

ELEPHANT: Ahhhh…

HIPPO: Just because somebody’s the biggest...

ELEPHANT: ...it doesn’t mean they’re the strongest!

HIPPO:  Obviously!!!!!

NARRATOR: From that day forward, Elephant and Hippo no longer called themselves the King of the Forest and Queen of the River. It didn’t happen overnight but slowly they began to see the other animals as their equals… and treated them as such.

Because Turtle was right:

No matter how teeny-tiny we are… no matter how small… we can be the biggest… and the strongest… and the wisest… after all.

Jessica Alpert Twitter Managing Producer, Program Development
Jessica Alpert is the managing producer for program development at WBUR. In this position, she develops new podcasts and programs while also launching and nurturing WBUR’s newest projects.

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