'When Fish Fly' | Circle Round 39

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

Ever played the game, “Telephone”?

You sit in a big circle, and if you’re the one starting, you whisper a word or phrase into the ear of the person next to you. Then they whisper what they think they heard into the next person’s ear. And so on.

By the time your message gets all the way around the circle… chances are it’s pretty mixed-up and sounds nothing like what you originally said.

And that is exactly what can happen when people gossip. When they meddle in other people’s business, and share other people’s secrets.

In this story, we’ll meet a big gossip who learns a very tricky lesson about spilling other people’s beans.

Our story is called “When Fish Fly.” Versions of this folktale come from a number of places, including the Ukraine and Russia, Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands and India.

Voices on this episode include: James Konicek, Anne Undeland, Thom Whaley, John Colaneri and Anthony Carrino. Grown-ups, you might know John and Anthony as the real-life cousins from HGTV’s “Cousins on Call,” “Kitchen Cousins,” and “America’s Most Desperate Kitchens.” And kids: you may have seen the guys’ very first children’s book. It’s called What Can You Do with a Toolbox?, and it’s on shelves now.

Follow the guys on social media here:



This week’s story, “When Fish Fly,” was adapted by Rebecca Sheir, and edited by Circle Round’s executive producer, Jessica Alpert. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.

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.

Things To Think About After Listening
When you talk about other people's business behind their backs, you may be gossiping.  And once you share secrets with other people, it can feel like a game of telephone! People may add new endings or embellish details--basically stories can get all mixed up.  To see how this happens, gather four people together and play a game of "telephone."  Sit in a circle or stand in a line and ask the youngest person to think of a word or phrase, and whisper it to the next person. Then that person should whisper whatever he or she heard to the next person. And so on.  Remember: you can only say it once--and in a whisper!  No repeats or re-dos!

When the very last person hears the message, ask him or her to say it out loud… then see how much the original word or phrase changed through your “telephone line.”  Then you can imagine how that can happen with stories and secrets.

Musical Spotlight: The Toy Piano

(Creative Commons/Hoder Slanger)
(Creative Commons/Hoder Slanger)

Ever read the comic strip, “Peanuts”? Then you’ve probably seen this week’s instrument before! You’ll often find music-minded Schroeder banging out Beethoven classics on his toy piano: an instrument that dates back to the 1800s. A regular piano uses strings to produce sound, while the toy piano uses round metal rods (though originally they were fragile glass bars!). The toy piano was intended to be a child’s toy — its alternate name, “kinderklavier,” translates to “child’s keyboard” — but many classical and contemporary musical compositions have incorporated this bright, joyful, tinkly instrument. In fact, since 2000, a college library in San Diego, CA has hosted a Toy Piano Festival to honor John Cage: the first composer to write a “serious” piece for toy pianos.

Story Transcript

NARRATOR: There once was a butcher... named Ivan.

From all his years working with heavy, beefy animals, Ivan had grown muscular and strong, with burly legs and brawny arms. He was a big guy… but he had an even bigger mouth.

You see, Ivan loved... to gossip.

IVAN:  Hey! Did you hear what happened to Mrs. Jones? And I just heard the juiciest thing about Mr. Nelson… Then there’s that crazy thing that happened to Professor Smith - nobody saw that one coming! But first I have to tell you about the conversation I overheard at the market. And the school! And the bank! This one’s a doozy - a real doozy!

NARRATOR: (as Ivan continues) He couldn’t keep a thing to himself! Once Ivan caught wind of a piece of news, it wasn’t long before the entire town knew about it.

IVAN:  And can you believe the baker said that to the doctor? But then, that’s nothing compared to what I heard the dentist say to the grocer…

NARRATOR: Next-door to Ivan lived a fisherman named Oscar.

Oscar was a clever man, and people in town often came to him for advice. Including what to do about Ivan!

TOWNSPERSON 1: You have to help us, Oscar!

TOWNSPERSON 2: Ivan the butcher is such a busybody!

TOWNSPERSON 3: Such a blabbermouth!

TOWNSPERSON 4: How can we get him to mind his own business…

TOWNSPERSON 5: ...and stop sharing ours?

OSCAR: I don’t know, friends. Not yet, anyway. But trust me: I will find a way.

NARRATOR: It just so happens that Oscar’s grandmother was turning 100 years old. So Oscar was planning a surprise party… and somehow Ivan the butcher hadn’t found out about it!

The day before the big bash, Oscar was in his house, getting everything ready.

OSCAR: (to himself) Okay, the decorations are up, the party hats are out. We’ve got our snacks, of course. Cheese and crackers… Grandma’s favorite donuts…

NARRATOR: Now, remember: Oscar the fisherman lived next-door to Ivan the butcher. Ivan the blabbermouth butcher. So Oscar knew to keep things on the down-low whenever he was at home. He spoke quietly on the phone, and more often than not, he kept his curtains closed.

Well, today, Oscar was too busy to realize that his tabby cat had torn a hole in one of the curtains! So as Oscar was preparing for the party, guess who was peeping through the window, watching everything?

That’s right…

IVAN: (through the window) Oscar! Hey, Oscar!

NARRATOR: ...Ivan the blabbermouth butcher.

IVAN: (gleefully, through the window) I see what you’re doing, Oscar! You can’t hide from me!

NARRATOR: Oscar couldn’t believe his lousy luck.

OSCAR: Oh no…

NARRATOR: He motioned for Ivan to come inside. The butcher came barreling through the door.

IVAN:  Wow! This is quite the party you’re planning, neighbor! What’s the occasion?

NARRATOR: Oscar thought about lying to Ivan… but in addition to being clever, the fisherman was also very honest.

OSCAR: Well, Ivan, it’s my grandmother’s 100th birthday. It’s supposed to be a surprise.

NARRATOR: Ivan’s eyes lit up.

IVAN: Ooooh, I love surprises!  Don’t you worry, Oscar. Your secret is safe with me.

NARRATOR: The butcher turned around and began heading toward the door.

IVAN: Now if you’ll excuse me, I just need to head into town and run a few errands...

NARRATOR: Oscar’s mind began to race. He knew exactly what Ivan was really going to do: rush to Grandmother’s house and tell her everything!

OSCAR: Wait, Ivan! What if you put off your errands for a few hours, and... we went fishing? All these years we’ve been neighbors, and we’ve never really spent any quality time together. Whuddya say?

NARRATOR: Ivan was a big guy… and he had a big appetite. The thought of fresh fish made his mouth water.

IVAN: Fishing, huh? Sounds good to me! My errands can wait.

OSCAR: Great! Why don’t you go home, get yourself all ready, grab a couple of baskets, and I’ll meet you at your place in an hour?

IVAN: It’s a deal!

NARRATOR: As soon as Ivan left, Oscar jumped into action.

He went into the kitchen, where he was storing the snacks for the party. He picked up three wheels of cheese, and stuffed them into a bag. Then he filled a basket… with donuts.

Clutching the bag and basket, Oscar dashed through the forest. When he got to the river that flowed alongside it, he was pleased to see his traps were teeming with fish.

Without missing a beat, Oscar scooped the fish out of the traps, and placed them… in a tree!

OSCAR: There ya go, little buddies...

NARRATOR: Then he took the wheels of cheese… and rolled one into each of the fish traps!

OSCAR:  Ah - gonna fit in there? Perfect!

NARRATOR: After that, he walked from bush to bush, hanging a donut on the branches!

OSCAR: You get a donut! You get a donut! You get a donut. Everyone gets a donut!

NARRATOR: When Oscar was done, he wiped the donut crumbs from his fingers... then crossed them... tightly... hoping that his plan would work.

[theme music in]

Donuts on bushes… fish in trees… cheese in traps… what do you think Oscar the fisherman has up his sleeve? We’ll find out, after a quick break.

[theme music out]


[theme music in]

NARRATOR: I’m Rebecca Sheir. Welcome back to Circle Round. Today our story is called “When Fish Fly.”

[theme music out]

When we left off, Oscar the clever fisherman was trying to keep Ivan the blabbermouth butcher from spilling the beans about Grandmother’s upcoming surprise party.

So Oscar hatched a plan. He invited Ivan — his next-door neighbor — to come fishing with him. But first, Oscar ran to the forest and hung donuts from the bushes… put fish up in a tree… and took his fish traps in the river and filled them with cheese.

Then he scurried back to Ivan’s house, and the two men set off toward the river together.

As they neared the water, Ivan stopped in his tracks.

IVAN: Oh my gosh! Are those… donut bushes?!?

NARRATOR: Oscar smiled to himself. His plan was working!

OSCAR: (playing along) Donut bushes?!? Let me see.  Well, whuddya know? They are donut bushes! Huh. You don’t see that every day.

NARRATOR: Remember: Ivan had an enormous appetite. So immediately he began plucking donuts from the branches and popping them into his mouth. Once the bushes were bare, he turned his eyes toward the trees, hoping to find more donuts there.

What he saw made his eyes grow wider and rounder than the cinnamon-glazed treats he’d just devoured!

IVAN: Oh my gosh! Is that… a fish tree?

NARRATOR: Oscar rushed over.

OSCAR:  A fish tree?!? Let me see. (beat, still playing along, laying it on thick) Oh my goodness. It is! It’s like the little guys sprouted wings and flew up there! (beat) Man, can you believe it? First donuts in the bushes… then fish in a tree!

NARRATOR: Oscar then paused, and scratched his head.

OSCAR:  But, wait. If the fish are in the tree, what do you think is in my traps at the river?

IVAN:  There’s only one way to find out!

NARRATOR: Oscar and Ivan dashed to the river. When they got there, Ivan’s jaw dropped down so far, he looked like a largemouth bass!

IVAN:  Oh my gosh! Is that cheese in the traps?

NARRATOR: Oscar stifled a giggle.

OSCAR: Cheese?!? In my traps?!? Let me see. (beat, still playing along, laying it on thick) Holy mackerel. It is cheese!  Wow. First donuts in the bushes… then fish in a tree… then cheese in the traps… This is amazing!

NARRATOR: Oscar watched as Ivan darted over to the traps, pulled out the cheese, and began to eat.

OSCAR: But, uh, neighbor... It’s probably better if we keep all of these miracles to ourselves. I mean, this, clearly, is an enchanted place, and it’s nobody else’s business, right?

NARRATOR: Ivan put down the cheese he was nibbling and held up his hand.

IVAN:  You’re right as can be, neighbor. I won’t tell a soul.

OSCAR:  Attaboy! Now. Whuddya say we take the long way home, and mosey through town?

NARRATOR: So, they did. And wouldn’t you know it, the moment they reached the bustling town square, Ivan began shooting his mouth off.

IVAN: Hey, everybody! Get a load of this! Oscar and I just saw the most incredible things! Bushes that grew donuts… flying fish in trees… we even saw traps filled with cheese! You’ve never seen anything like it! There were donuts, honest-to-goodness donuts, just dangling from the branches. And the fish - it was like they’d sprouted wings! To say nothing of the cheese. There were three big wheels, and they’d been sitting in the river, sure, but they still tasted delicious...

NARRATOR: As Ivan blabbed on and on, quite a crowd formed around him. At first, everyone listened intently. But as Ivan continued regaling them about his adventures by the river, it wasn’t long before they began… to laugh!

And laugh…

And laugh!

TOWNSPERSON 1: Huh! Get a load of this guy!

TOWNSPERSON 2: Donuts growing on bushes?!?

TOWNSPERSON 3: Fish flying in trees?!?

TOWNSPERSON 4: Cheese caught in traps?!?

TOWNSPERSON 5: After this, how can we believe anything Ivan says???

IVAN: But it’s true! I saw it! With my own eyes!

NARRATOR: Soon, the entire town was pointing and laughing at Ivan. Their chortles, snickers and giggles rang in his ears as he turned on his heels and bounded back home. Oscar the fisherman came running up behind him.

OSCAR: Ivan! You okay?

NARRATOR: The butcher hung his head.

IVAN: They didn’t believe me, Oscar! They didn’t believe a thing I said!

OSCAR: Well, it’s like I told you, neighbor. None of that stuff was anybody else’s business. You promised me you wouldn’t tell anyone. You know, some things just aren’t meant to be blabbed to everybody. Like donut bushes… and fish trees… and cheese traps… and surprise parties…

NARRATOR: Suddenly, Ivan understood.

IVAN: Oh, Oscar. I am so, so sorry. From now on, I am minding nobody’s business... but my own.

NARRATOR: And… he did!

As for Oscar, well, he did wind up throwing that 100th birthday party for his grandmother, and boy, was she surprised! All the guests toasted to her health as they feasted on cheese and donuts; Oscar even roasted up some fish from his traps.

Ivan was among those at the party. After dinner he offered to make everyone some coffee. And — true story — much to everyone’s delight…

He didn’t spill any beans.

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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