'The Magic Cloth' | Circle Round 22

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

What’s something you love to do on your own?

Read a book? Draw a picture? Listen to your favorite music?

When you’re doing something you enjoy and you’re by yourself it can almost feel like everyone… and everything else disappears, you know?

Well, we’re about to meet a woman who loved to weave. And she loved making this one particular weaving so very much until it disappeared!

Our story is called “The Magic Cloth.” It comes to us from China. Voices featured in this episode include: Kelly Hu ("Dietland") and Albert Tsai ("Dr Ken," "9JKL"), Jacob Yeh, Ray Sheen, Sarah Storm, JaBen Early. Adapted by Virginia Marshall, Rebecca Sheir, and Jessica Alpert. Music and sound design by Eric Shimelonis. Casting by Amy Lippens, CSA.

ADULTS! Print out this picture 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!

Things To Think About After Listening
Can you remember the last time you wished something could become real? A character from a book, maybe, or something from one of your dreams? Think about it… and then draw a picture. Share that picture with a grown-up in your life, and, if you’re up for it, share it with us! Have your grown-up take a photo of your creation and email it to

Story Transcript

NARRATOR: If you travel to China, you’ll find many magnificent mountains. And once upon a time… right next to of one of those magnificent mountains... lived a mother, and her three sons. The sons looked a lot like their mother; they all had raven-black hair and bright smiles, with mouths full of pearly-white teeth.

Ma and her sons worked hard every day. While the boys went out into the forest and chopped wood, Ma sat at a large loom with threads of all different colors, and wove cloth. A few times a week, they would take the wood and the cloth to town, to sell at the marketplace.

During one of those market visits, Ma saw something that made her heart skip a beat.

MA: Oh my!

NARRATOR: Hanging from another stall was a big cloth. Someone had woven a picture of a gleaming white house surrounded by big red flowers and lush, leafy trees. The bright green grass was full of cheerful animals scampering about.

MA: My sons, look at that cloth! Have you ever seen anything so glorious?! I would give anything for us to live in that gleaming white house!

NARRATOR: Ma’s oldest and most practical son, Jin, laughed.

JIN: Dear mother! We can hardly afford to live in our own home, let alone that fancy place!

NARRATOR: The middle son, Kang, who was also rather practical, agreed.

KANG: Besides, that house isn’t even real! It’s just a picture somebody wove into a cloth!

NARRATOR: But, unlike his older brothers, Ma’s youngest son, Ling, was more of a dreamer. So he didn’t laugh at his mother.

LING: Ma, what if you bought this cloth, and then wove a copy of it? You could create your own cloth, on your own loom. You wouldn’t actually live in that gleaming white house. But isn’t re-creating it with your own hands the next best thing?

MA: That’s a fine idea, Ling! I think I have just enough coins in my purse to buy it.

LING: No, mother. Allow me.

NARRATOR: So Ling paid for the cloth and the family returned home.

Ma pinned her new cloth to the wall… and walked over to her loom. She began to weave her many-colored threads, carefully and lovingly looping them over and under, over and under.

Day after day, night after night, Ma sat at her loom. She barely took a break. Her back ached, but she kept on weaving. Her eyes grew strained, but she kept on weaving.

MA: (while weaving) I must make my picture look just like the picture on the cloth I bought. The house, the flowers, the trees, the grass, the animals: every last detail!

NARRATOR: Sometimes Ma would grow frustrated with her work. She’d shed a few tears, and when the tears hit the cloth, it was like rain was falling: the flowers seemed to grow taller... and the green trees and grass looked even more lush.

When Ma was pleased with her work, she would smile. And when she smiled, it was like the sun was coming out. The sky looked bluer, the animals seemed happier, and Ma could have sworn the white house was glowing.

After sitting at her loom for one year, Ma hadn’t sold a single weaving at the market.. Her two practical older sons, Jin and Kang, decided they had had enough.

JIN: Can you believe it? Four season have passed, and Ma keeps weaving that cloth!

KANG: I know! She hasn’t sold anything in a year!

JIN: Which means we have to work even harder when we come home from school, and chop even more wood to sell at the market.

KANG: It isn’t fair!

NARRATOR: But the youngest son, Ling, defended Ma.

LING: Brothers! Can’t you see how much this cloth means to our mother? I know: we have to work even harder to sell our wood. So listen: I will stay up late at night and chop wood, so that we have plenty to sell at the market.

NARRATOR: And... he did.

Four more seasons passed… another whole year… and finally... one bright morning, Ma looked up from her loom.

MA: My sons! Come quick! My cloth... it’s finished!

JIN: It’s done?

KANG: Finally!

LING: Oh, how wonderful! Let’s take it outside and admire it in the sunlight!

NARRATOR: Ma and her sons ran to the front yard for a better look. Ling, the youngest, could hardly believe his eyes.

LING: The house, mother: it’s so white, it glows! The flowers are red as fire! The trees look ready for climbing! And the animals - you’d think they’re about to start jumping around on the green, green grass! What do you think, brothers?

NARRATOR: Jin and Kang glanced at their mother’s creation.

JIN: Well... I guess it’s nice, Ma...

KANG: ...Considering how many hours you spent sitting at that loom of yours.

LING: Oh, Ma, those hours were totally worth it! Your picture is a million times more beautiful than that cloth you purchased at the market! No - a trillion times!

MA: Thank you, my children. And thank you for letting me work so hard on my creation. You must know it meant the world to me to be able to -

NARRATOR: But before Ma could finish her sentence, do you know what happened? A huge gust of wind whooshed past the house… and snatched the cloth right out of Ma’s hands!

MA: Oh!

NARRATOR: Ma and her sons watched as the cloth floated toward the sky. Then, the wind switched directions and blew to the east - right toward the mountain next to their house! Before the family knew it, the cloth had rippled and danced over the mountaintop... and disappeared.

MA: Oh, my breaking heart. That cloth was everything to me! I gave it my entire soul. What will I do now?

NARRATOR: Ma began to cry. As her sobs grew, she began to look… older. Her skin became more wrinkled, her back more hunched. Her rosy cheeks turned white, and her raven-black hair turned a silvery gray. She suddenly felt weak.

MA: My children. I fear that without my cloth… I may not make it past the season.

NARRATOR: Suddenly, Ma stumbled. Her sons rushed to hold her up. The youngest son, Ling, took her hand, now rough and pale.

LING: Mother... Now that your cloth has danced its way past the mountain and far, far away… what will we do?

NARRATOR: Ma took a deep breath and looked Ling straight in the eye.

MOTHER: It’s simple, my son. (pause) We will get it back.

NARRATOR: Ma turned to her oldest son, Jin: the most practical of the bunch.

MA: Jin, you were the first child I brought into this world. And now I ask: will you be the one to bring me back my cloth? I am far too weak to embark on such a journey.

NARRATOR: Jin nodded. He packed a few things and left at once, heading east toward the mountain.

JIN: (to himself) I still can’t figure out why that cloth means so much to my mother. It’s just a piece of weaving! (grudgingly/with a huff) But, as her oldest son, I will help her find it.

NARRATOR: After days of walking and climbing, Jin reached the top of the mountain. He was surprised to see a familiar shape among the boulders and rocks.

JIN: Is that… a horse…?

NARRATOR: It was! But not just any horse. This one was made... of stone. To Jin’s surprise, it began to speak.

HORSE: Hello, my friend! I know that you are looking for a cloth. A most beautiful cloth. You are close to your goal. I can take you there.

JIN: You can? Then take me there at once! Between you and me, I’m tired of searching for this silly thing.

HORSE: Very well. Here is what you must do. Take two teeth from your mouth, and put them into mine. Then I will transform into a living horse. I will take you across a freezing ocean and through a blazing fire. And if you show no sign of fear, you will get your mother’s cloth.

NARRATOR: All the color drained from Jin’s face. Freezing oceans? Blazing fires? The very thought of it made him tremble. Not to mention pulling out his pearly white teeth! The horse noticed Jin’s fright.

HORSE: Now, there is an alternative. You may take this bag of gold and walk away... without the cloth.

NARRATOR: With a burst of smoke, a glittering bag of gold appeared at the horse’s feet. Jin’s thoughts turned to all he could buy with gold like that.

JIN: (to himself) Hmmmm… I could get the most delicious foods… and the fanciest clothing! Why, I’d never have to chop wood to sell in the marketplace again! Getting a bag of gold now is far more practical than embarking on some dangerous journey to get my mother’s cloth back.

NARRATOR: So Jin picked up the bag, bid the horse farewell, and climbed down the other side of the mountain — not toward his mother and brothers, but to the city, where he could spend his brand new fortune.

Meanwhile, back home, Ma was getting sicker and sicker as she longed for her cloth. She summoned her middle son, Kang, and her youngest son, Ling, to her bedside.

MA: My sons, it’s been days and days, and your older brother, Jin, has yet to return. I fear he will never come back with what I asked for.

NARRATOR: Slowly, she turned to Kang, who was almost as practical as Jin was.

MA: Kang, you were the second child I brought into this world. And now I will ask: will you be the one to bring me back my cloth?

NARRATOR: Kang nodded, and like his older brother, he too packed his things and began to walk east, up to the mountain.

KANG: If my older brother couldn’t find the cloth, I’m not sure how I will. (sigh) But, I will see what I can do.

NARRATOR: But Kang figured he would see what he could do.

Kang walked and climbed for days… and, as with his older brother... when he reached the top of the mountain, he, too, met the stone horse… who told him the same thing.

Well, when Kang heard about the teeth, the ocean, and the fire, he was just as terrified as his older brother was. So he, too, chose to take the big bag of gold and head to the city.

Back at the house, Ma was so weak with grief, she could barely speak. Her youngest son, Ling, was sitting by her bedside, feeding her what little food she would eat, and trying to make her comfortable.

MA: Ling, it’s clear to me that neither of your older brothers is going to return. I thank you for staying here and taking care of me, but without my cloth I don’t know how much longer I can live. So I ask: will you be the one to bring my creation back to me?

NARRATOR: Ling may have been a dreamer, but he understood the reality of the situation.

LING: I want to get that cloth back every bit as much as you do, Ma. So, of course. I will get it back.

NARRATOR: Just like his two older brothers, Ling packed up his belongings and walked east, up to the mountain.

And, just like his older brothers, at the top, he met the same stone horse… who made the same offer.

HORSE: I can take you to your mother’s cloth, if you give me two of the teeth from your mouth. Then we’ll ride through a freezing ocean and a blazing fire. Or… you can take this bag of gold and walk away.

NARRATOR: Without hesitating, Ling yanked two pearly-white teeth from his mouth; amazingly, he didn’t feel a thing!

LING: Here you go, horse: two of my teeth.

NARRATOR: And can you guess what happened when Ling put his teeth into the horse’s mouth? The stone horse turned into a real horse, brown as a chestnut! Ling jumped onto the horse’s back.

LING: Let’s go!

NARRATOR: First they crossed the freezing ocean. As the icy waves splashed Ling’s face, he shivered. But he showed no fear.

Next, Ling and the horse passed through the blazing fire. He felt the heat of the flames, but again: he showed no fear.

At last, Ling and the horse reached a quiet, cool meadow. When Ling climbed off the horse’s back, his jaw dropped in wonder.

LING: Fairies!

NARRATOR: Ling watched as dozens of tiny fairies flitted and fluttered around a willow tree. They were working on a loom… and weaving a cloth! The cloth wasn’t quite finished, but Ling would recognize its pattern anywhere.

LING: Those red flowers... those green trees... that gleaming white house! They’re weaving my mother’s picture!

NARRATOR: And they were weaving it using a rather familiar model.

LING: Ma’s cloth!

NARRATOR: Indeed, right next to the fairies’ unfinished cloth… hanging from the willow tree… was his mother’s finished cloth - every bit as beautiful as the day it disappeared over the mountain. Ling stepped forward and waved.

LING: Hello? Fairies! I’m sorry to interrupt your weaving, but I have to ask: what are you doing with my mother’s cloth?

NARRATOR: The queen of the fairies zipped over to Ling and perched on his thumb.

QUEEN FAIRY: Well, you see, when your mother brought her cloth outside to show it to you and your brothers, we were overwhelmed by its beauty! The details were so vivid, so vibrant! So we asked the wind to whisk the cloth away to our meadow, so we could make a copy. We’re almost done. Would you mind waiting while we finish up?

LING: My mother has been sick with grief since her cloth disappeared. But she would be flattered to know you loved her creation so much! Yes. Of course, Queen Fairy. I will wait.

NARRATOR: Weary from his adventures, Ling drifted off to sleep.

While he was snoozing, the fairies finished weaving their cloth. Then, quiet as could be, they took Ma’s cloth, and placed it on their loom. Using every color of the rainbow, they wove their own images — their faces and bodies and wings — right onto Ma’s cloth, among the bright red flowers and lush green trees.

When they had finished, they rolled up Ma’s cloth, gently awakened Ling, and handed it to the grateful young man.

LING: Thank you, fairies. I will bring this home to mother. I just hope I make it in time!

NARRATOR: Ling got back on the horse and traveled through the blazing fire and freezing ocean. Once they reached the mountain, the horse returned Ling’s pearly-white teeth, and turned back into stone. Ling scurried down the mountainside to his mother.

When Ma spotted her youngest son through her bedroom window... and saw that he was carrying her beautiful cloth rolled up in his hands… do you know what happened? Her silvery-gray hair turned raven-black again, and the color returned to her cheeks. Her back straightened, and her skin once more became smooth. Suddenly full of energy, Ma sprinted outside to her son, who told her all about the stone horse and the fairies.

Together, Ma and Ling unrolled the cloth. They were surprised to see the images the fairies had added to the picture: the fairy faces, wings and bodies. Ma and Ling were even more surprised when, suddenly, the woven fairies on the cloth... came to life!

MA: Oh my goodness! You’re real!

QUEEN FAIRY: We are! And so honored to meet you, Ma. Your beautiful cloth has brought us such joy!

MA: I am glad to hear it. I devoted my heart and soul to this creation, for two whole years!

QUEEN FAIRY: We know! And for that dedication and devotion, we’d like to thank you… with this!

NARRATOR: The Queen Fairy waved her arms, and next thing Ma and Ling knew, everything on the cloth… the animals, the flowers, the trees, and… of course… the gleaming white house… it all came to life!

All the things Ma had spent hours and hours, days and days, years and years, weaving… became real.

And that’s how Ma spent the rest of her happy days: living in her dream home... with her dreamer son… beside the mountain.

Headshot of Rebecca Sheir

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



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