'The Magpie With Salt On Her Tail' | Circle Round 15

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(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

If you could wish for anything right now — anything at all — what would it be?

Think about what you just wished for. Then, think about this:

You, yourself, might have the power to make that wish come true!


Well, maybe you can learn something from today’s encore edition. It’s about a young man who’s full of wishes… and the magical bird who leads him to an amazing discovery.

Our story is called “The Magpie With Salt on Her Tail.” A “magpie,” by the way, is a kind of bird you’ll often see in Sweden. That’s the Northern European country where our tale comes from.

Voices in this episode include Laura Gardner, Taran Killam and Rachael Harris. You kids might recognize Taran as the lead character on the PBS KIDS show, Nature Cat, and you grown-ups might know him from Saturday Night Live and Single Parents. Rachael Harris stars on the Fox comedy, Lucifer, the USA Network series, Suits, and the feature film International Falls — featuring music by our resident composer, Eric Shimelonis!

This story was adapted by Rebecca Sheir. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.

ADULTS! Print out this picture so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album on Instagram, and we’d love to see what you color. If you’d like to share your picture on Instagram, post your artwork and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it!

Things to Think About After Listening

When’s the last time you worked hard to achieve a goal or make a wish come true? What did you do to make it happen and how did you keep track?

Find some paper and something to draw with and create a picture showing how you accomplished your goal. Then, share that picture with a grown-up in your life… and ask them to tell you about a time they worked hard to make a wish come true!

Story Transcript

NARRATOR: There once was a young man named Theo. And Theo was always wishing for things.

THEO: Oh, if only I had a horse to ride! Or a sled! Or a boat! I wish, I wish, I wish!

NARRATOR: Theo shared a small house with his parents, who were broom-makers in the village. The family had food to eat, but only just enough. And they had clothing to wear, but nothing fancy. Theo knew chances were good that his wishes… would never come true.

Then… one day… on his way home from the market… he met a wise old woman.

OLD WOMAN: Tell me, my child. Why do you look so down in the dumps?

THEO: Well, you see, all my life I’ve wished for things – fun toys, fine shoes, fancy pastries for dessert – but even though my mother and father work hard, we can’t afford any of these things! So I know they’ll never be mine.

NARRATOR: The old woman laughed.

OLD WOMAN: My dear! Clearly you haven’t heard the legend of the magpie!

THEO: The legend of the magpie…?

OLD WOMAN: Yes! An old legend says that if you go to the forest, and sprinkle a pinch of salt on the tail of a magpie, whatever you wish will come true! (beat) But here’s the catch: you must wish quickly, before the salt falls off the bird’s tail. Because if the salt falls off before you make your wish, it will never come true.

THEO: Wow! Thank you! From now on I’m going to carry salt in my pockets, wherever I go!

NARRATOR: And… he did.

Now, magpies… these black-and-white birds with shiny green and violet wings… they were quite common in Theo’s village. But, try as he might, he could never get close enough to sprinkle salt on any of their tails.

After a week of chasing down magpies, Theo finally found one that let him come close. So close, he could almost touch her!

THEO: Here, birdie-birdie! Good birdie-birdie! Now if I can just sprinkle some of this salt on your –

NARRATOR: But, just like that, the bird flapped her wings and flew to the nearest pine tree, out of Theo’s reach. The same thing happened again and again, all day long. And by the time the sun set, Theo was so exhausted, he collapsed under the pine tree and fell fast asleep.


MAGPIE: Theo! Hey! Theo!

NARRATOR: Theo woke with a jerk.

THEO: Hello? Who’s there calling my name?

MAGPIE: It’s me! Up here! In the tree!

NARRATOR: Theo craned his neck toward the branches of the pine tree, and can you guess what he saw? The magpie! The same one that had been teasing him all day!

THEO: Wait – you? Magpie? You can talk?!?

NARRATOR: As Theo stared in wonder, the magpie opened and closed her beak. And as she did, she spoke.

MAGPIE: Yes, Theo. I can talk. The truth is, I’m actually an enchanted princess. And you will have your wish – but only if you help me.

THEO: Of course I will! I’ll do anything!

MAGPIE: Alright. Here’s what you must do. Get me a pocket knife, the finest one you can find, so I may clean my beak and claws. Then, I will sit still so you can sprinkle salt on my tail.

NARRATOR: Theo thought this was a fair enough request.

THEO: Alright, then. Whatever you wish!

NARRATOR: So the next day, Theo went out picking blueberries – buckets and buckets of them. He then sold his berries at the market. With the money he made, he bought a pocket knife – the finest one he could find. He brought it to the magpie in the forest.

THEO: Oh, magpie, oh, magpie! I’ve brought you your knife!

NARRATOR: But the magpie just flapped her wings and shook her head.

MAGPIE: Pshaw!  That’s no knife for a fine princess such as myself. It doesn’t even have a gold handle!

THEO: But, my wish! I need you to grant my wish! What if I get you a knife with a gold handle? Then will you help me?

NARRATOR: The magpie sighed.

MAGPIE: You know what? I don’t even want a knife anymore. But you can get me... a sled! A beautiful sled! That would be fun – to go sleigh-riding once the snow begins to fall.

NARRATOR: Again, Theo thought this was a fair enough request.

THEO: Alright, then. Whatever you wish!

NARRATOR: As Theo made his way out of the forest, he looked at the pocket knife in his hand. He thought for a moment. Suddenly, he knew what he would do.

THEO: A-ha!

NARRATOR: First, he found some leftover wood from his parents’ broom business. Then, he used the knife… to carve! He carved wooden spoons and cutting boards – he even carved toys for children! He then sold everything he made at the market, and eventually earned enough money to buy a splendid sled, which he brought to the magpie in the forest.

THEO: Oh, magpie, oh, magpie! I’ve brought you your sled! It’s sleek, it’s fast – it’s perfect for sleigh-riding once the snow begins to fall! Now, may I sprinkle salt on your tail?

NARRATOR: But the magpie just flapped her wings and shook her head.

MAGPIE: Tell me, Theo! Do you really think this sled is good enough for a princess? It should have been made of silver! And gold!

NARRATOR: Theo couldn’t believe his ears.

THEO: But I thought you said – look. You asked for a knife, I brought you a knife. You asked for a sled, I brought you a sled. How much more can you possibly wish for?

MAGPIE: An excellent question, Theo. An excellent question, indeed. But here’s a question for you: do you want to sprinkle salt on my tail, or not?

NARRATOR: Theo answered without hesitation.

THEO: I do! So, what if I buy you a better sled? One that’s shimmering with silver? And sparkling with gold?

MAGPIE: I want something different, Theo. I want... a carriage! And horses! Find me those, and you will get to sprinkle your salt on my tail.

NARRATOR: Theo was flustered, but he thought this was a fair enough request… sort of.

THEO: Alright, then. Whatever you wish!

NARRATOR: Poor Theo left with a heavy heart, but he would not give up hope. Whatever the cost, he was determined to get the magpie her carriage with horses, so that he could sprinkle salt on her tail!

Just then, it began to snow. Puff after puff of snow drifted down from the sky. Before long, the ground was blanketed in white. Suddenly, Theo knew what he would do.

THEO: A-ha!

NARRATOR: He took the sled to the biggest hill in town. Before long, everyone was there, eager to play in the newly-fallen snow. Theo hired his sled out to anyone and everyone who’d pay for it. He found many customers, since his sled was the fastest and sleekest for miles around.

Soon, Theo had made enough money to buy a horse. He trained the horse and taught it to do tricks. He put it in horse shows, where he made enough money to buy another horse. He put that horse in shows, too. Soon he had enough money to buy an elegant carriage, with silver-spoked wheels.

He braided the horses’ manes, attached the horses to the carriage, and drove off to the magpie in the forest.

THEO: Oh, magpie, oh, magpie! I’ve brought you your horse and carriage! The horses know all kinds of tricks, and the carriage has such beautiful silver-spoked wheels. Now, may I sprinkle salt on your tail?

NARRATOR: But the magpie just flapped her wings and shook her head.

MAGPIE: You call that a carriage fit for a princess? I am royalty, and would never ride in an open carriage like that! And look at those horses. Do you think they’re anywhere near tall enough, or majestic enough?

NARRATOR: Theo could not believe his lousy luck.

THEO: Well, now that I know that, I can go out and get you different horses. And a different carriage! I’ll just head back to town and –

MAGPIE: No, none of that will be necessary. You see, I no longer want a horse and carriage. I want… a castle! A glorious castle, with one-hundred rooms… and a garden. A rose garden! I positively adore roses. Get me all of that, Theo, and you will get to sprinkle your salt on my tail.

NARRATOR: Theo sighed. Deeply.

THEO: Alright, then. Whatever you wish!

NARRATOR: Using his new horses and carriage, Theo began to drive around town. People noticed how magnificent the horses were, and how smoothly the carriage rode. Before long, they began hiring Theo to drive them here and there. Soon, Theo earned enough money to buy another horse and carriage… and another… and another!

He hired other drivers to help out, and eventually his horse-and-carriage business had raked in enough money for Theo to build a castle.

It took about a year, but once everything was finished, Theo drove back to the magpie in the forest.

THEO: Oh, magpie, oh, magpie! I’ve built you your castle! Its walls are made of sparkling white marble. Its one-hundred rooms are filled with emerald-encrusted beds and diamond-studded chairs and tables. And beside the castle is a rose garden, where every kind of rose blooms: red roses, pink roses, white roses, even yellow and orange!  Now… may I sprinkle salt on your tail?

NARRATOR: This time, the magpie did not flap her wings or shake her head.

MAGPIE: Is it true? You’ve built me my castle? I have to see it! Let’s go!

NARRATOR: When Theo and the magpie reached the castle, the bird flitted about from room to room. Once she’d taken a full tour, she perched on the banquet table in the great hall.

MAGPIE: This castle, Theo… it is truly glorious. Just as I asked.

NARRATOR: Theo smiled.

MAGPIE: But… there is something missing.

NARRATOR: Theo frowned.

THEO: “Something missing”? What could possibly be missing? I did everything you asked! The one-hundred rooms, the rose garden –

MAGPIE: Yes, yes, I know, I know. But a fine princess such as myself needs to maintain her court! I need to pay my royal advisers! And my butlers! And my cooks! I want three chests filled with gold coins. Get me those, and… at last… you will get to sprinkle your salt on my tail.

NARRATOR: Theo clenched his fists in frustration.

THEO: Alright, then. Whatever you wish!

NARRATOR: Determined to finally sprinkle his salt, Theo went back to work. He used his knife to carve marvelous things out of wood. He rented out his sled for rides. He rode people around in his many horses and carriages.

By the time five years had passed… he had earned enough gold coins to fill three enormous chests.

He dragged the three chests to the castle, and set them down in the banquet hall. When the magpie flew into the grand room, Theo pried open each chest’s massive lid.

THEO: Oh, magpie, oh, magpie. Here are your chests full of gold coins! Each one weighs as much as twenty elephants! (pause) Now, may I please sprinkle salt on your tail?

NARRATOR: The magpie eyed the gold coins. Then she flew over to Theo. He held out his arm, and she landed gently on his hand.

MAGPIE: Yes, Theo. You may. You may sprinkle salt on my tail… at last.

NARRATOR: Theo reached into his pocket for a pinch of salt. With the magpie sitting perfectly still, Theo sprinkled the glittering crystals on her tail feathers.

MAGPIE: Alright then. So, tell me: what is it you want? Remember: if the salt falls off my tail before you make your wish, your wish will never come true.

THEO:  Oh!

NARRATOR: The truth is, Theo had forgotten about that part of the legend. In fact, he’d been so busy working these past few years that he’d even forgotten his original wish!

MAGPIE: The salt’s beginning to fall, Theo. One flip of my tail feathers, and it’s all gone! One… two…

THEO: Just a moment! Just a moment! Let me think!

NARRATOR: But for the life of him, when Theo tried thinking about what to wish for… something he didn’t have already… his mind went blank.

MAGPIE: … Three!

NARRATOR: The magpie flipped her tail feathers, and Theo watched as the rest of his salt went flying across the room. The magpie then flew across the room herself, and perched on one of the three chests of gold. Looking at Theo, she opened her beak and began… to laugh.

MAGPIE: (laughing)

NARRATOR: The magpie’s laughter filled the banquet hall. It echoed off the large walls and the tall, tall ceiling. It rang in Theo’s ears until he couldn’t stand it any longer.

THEO: Magpie! You make me so angry! Now I know what I want to wish for: a cage! So I can lock you inside it and never have to deal with you and your outlandish requests ever again!

NARRATOR: The magpie stopped laughing. Instead, she glared at Theo, her black eyes shining bright.

MAGPIE: Well, that wouldn’t be very nice, would it, Theo? Locking me away after I have granted all your wishes?!

NARRATOR: Theo... was confused.

THEO: What do you mean, ‘after you have granted all my wishes’? You haven’t even granted one of them!

NARRATOR: Once again, the magpie glided over to Theo. Once again, she perched gently on his hand.

MAGPIE: Oh, Theo. Don’t you see? Thanks to me, now you have a fine pocket knife for carving wood. You have a swift, speedy sled. You have beautiful horses and carriage. You have a grand castle, and garden, and now? You have gold that weighs as much as sixty elephants! You have all of this… and you never had to say a word.

NARRATOR: Theo stood there, with his mouth and eyes wide open.

THEO: It’s – it’s true! I already have everything I could possibly wish for! I worked so hard just so I could sprinkle some silly salt on your tail, and in the end, I needn’t wish for anything! Anything at all!

MAGPIE: Well. What do you think about that?

NARRATOR: The magpie flapped her green and violet wings and lifted off from Theo’s hand. She soared out of the grand banquet hall, out of the castle, past the rose garden, and back into the forest… where she hoped to meet another young man, or woman, who was always wishing for things.

Rebecca Sheir Host, Circle Round
Rebecca Sheir is the host "Circle Round," WBUR's kids storytelling podcast.



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