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'Turtle Island' | Circle Round 46

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

Have you ever felt… small?

Maybe you weren’t tall enough to go on a ride at the amusement park. Or you wanted to play with the older kids, but they said you were too little.

In this story, we’ll meet an animal who knows exactly how you feel! And she sets out to prove that sometimes, the tiniest among us can be the most powerful of all!

Today our story is called “Turtle Island.” It comes from the folklore of the Ojibwe/Ojibwa group, of the First Nations people of Canada.

We developed this episode with our Canadian friends at the “Earth Rangers” podcast, including Tovah Barocas and Stephan Richter. Circle Round’s original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Sabina Hahn is our illustrator. Our intern is Gabi Mrozowski. Circle Round’s executive producer is Jessica Alpert.

Special thanks to this week’s actors: James Konicek, Steve Loughead, Bill Litshauer, Lee Lawson, Ry Chase, Rebecca Galarza and Suzie McGrath.

You can hear Ry, Rebecca and Suzie on The Punies by Kobe Bryant, available wherever you get your podcasts. And check out Steve, Bill and Lee — also known as Earth Ranger Emma — on Earth Rangers.

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

Say you wanted to create a new land--how would you do it? What would you need? Friends? Magic powers? Persistence? A whole lot of dirt and a really big shovel?
Find a piece of paper and draw three things you think you’d need to make your vision come true. Share your drawing with a friend or grown-up, and then, if you want, share it with us! Have a grown-up take a picture of your picture, and email it to

Musical Spotlight:

(Courtesy of Eric Shimelonis)
(Courtesy of Eric Shimelonis)

The wood block (or “temple blocks”) is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a block made from a single piece of wood! The block, however, isn’t always shaped like a box; as you’ll see in the photo, the blocks we used for this episode are quite curvy. Whatever the shape, you play this percussion instrument by striking it with either a stick — which produces more of a cracking sound — or a soft or hard mallet, which makes a deeper-pitched knocking sound. We chose the wood block for this episode because it reminds us of Turtle’s shell, and how that shell has the power to create a whole new continent!

Story Transcript

NARRATOR: Long, long ago, the “Great Spirit” — known as Kitchi-Manitou — was watching over all the people of the earth.

But the ruler of the world was not happy with what he saw.

No one was getting along. They treated one another so poorly! They argued about who owned what...

VILLAGER 1: That’s my fish!

VILLAGER 2: Are you kidding? That was my fish trap!

NARRATOR: They insulted each other...

VILLAGER 1: You’re the slowest person I’ve ever seen!

VILLAGER 2: No, you’re the slowest person I’ve ever seen!

VILLAGER 1: You are!

VILLAGER 2: No, you are!

NARRATOR: And they gossiped like there was no tomorrow.

VILLAGER 1: Can you believe how selfish he is? He hunted all afternoon on someone else’s hunting grounds, then brought everything back to the village and shared it with his family! As if he’d caught it on his own land!

NARRATOR: It was chaos.

Kitchi-Manitou had a strong helper named Thunderbird. One day, the Great Spirit told Thunderbird it was time to start over. To cleanse the earth and get rid of all this bad energy.

But Kitchi-Manitou wanted those who were good — or at least trying to be good — to be saved.

KITCHI: Thunderbird, do me this favor. Lift your wings and take flight. Give a tap to all those who are harmonious and peaceful, and tell them to get ready for a big flood. Urge them to build rafts and boats and prepare to swim. One week from today the great rains will begin to fall.

NARRATOR: So Thunderbird did as she was told. A week later, sure enough, the rains began to fall….and fall… and fall.

Soon, the land was flooded. The people saved by Thunderbird’s warning stayed in their boats and on their rafts.

Once the rain stopped, a group of animals climbed up onto a single log in the middle of the water.

There was adventurous Otter...

OTTER: What’s up, folks? That was some rain, huh?

NARRATOR: ...eager Beaver...

BEAVER: Sure was! What a close one!

NARRATOR: ...scrappy Muskrat…

MUSKRAT: Thank goodness we all survived!

NARRATOR: ...and wise Turtle...who had received some valuable advice from Thunderbird before the flood.

TURTLE: Listen up, everyone. Now that we have made it through the flood, there is one way we can rebuild our land. Thunderbird says all we need is a handful of earth... from the bottom of all this water. That should be enough to get things going again.

NARRATOR: Turtle lifted her wrinkled legs, one by one.

TURTLE: With these stubby legs, it would take me forever to paddle all the way down and back again. So, I wonder: can any of you swim to the bottom, grab some of the earth below, and bring it up to the surface?

OTTER: Uh, I can!

NARRATOR: Otter always raised her hand first. She loved a good challenge.

TURTLE: Are you sure, Otter? We don’t even know how deep this water is!

OTTER: Oh, I’ve got this! I’ll be back before you can say “two shakes of an otter’s tail”!

NARRATOR: Otter lifted her paw and gave the other animals a high-five. Then she leaped off the log and dove into the water, with a splash!

Beaver, Turtle and Muskrat watched Otter swim deeper and deeper. Soon, her slender, furry body had disappeared completely.

Minutes passed, then hours, then an entire day. The animals were beside themselves with worry, until….

OTTER: (gasping) Well, the good news is, I’m baaaaack! But the bad news is… I couldn’t find any earth. I dove again and again and just never reached the bottom! I’m willing to try one more time but I’ll need to rest first.

NARRATOR: Turtle cocked her head to one side.

TURTLE: Thank you for trying, Otter. I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say I’m glad you’re okay. But you need your rest. Let’s give someone else a chance. Any takers?

BEAVER: Me! Me! Me!

NARRATOR: Turtle nodded at Beaver.

TURTLE: Ahh, Beaver. There’s no doubt about it; you are a strong swimmer.

BEAVER: I sure am! And looking for things is my middle name! Wood... leaves… twigs… You name it, I can find it!

NARRATOR: Beaver was so excited, he slapped his paddle-of-a-tail on the log. As it bobbed up and down in the water, the other animals grabbed on with their feet and claws.

TURTLE: (Grabbing on and doing her best to stay afloat) Alright, Beaver. You go to it.

BEAVER: Will do! This busy beaver is about to save the world!

NARRATOR: And with that, he flashed a big grin... jumped from the log... and landed in the water with a splash!

Now, as with Otter, Beaver took his time.

Two days later he returned to the log. And when he did… he was breathless and dejected.

BEAVER: (gasping) I am so sorry, friends, but I couldn’t find any dirt! I must have dived dozens of times but I couldn’t find the bottom of the water! Sheesh. How deep could it be, anyway?!

NARRATOR: Turtle gave Beaver a smile.

TURTLE: Beaver, I’m so relieved you’re alright. But I don’t know how much longer this log can keep us afloat… nor how much longer the people can live on their rafts and in their boats! Not to mention the poor birds, who have no place to land. We need to figure out something!

NARRATOR: The group was silent for a moment, as they pondered their potential fate.

Then… suddenly...

MUSKRAT: (tiny voice popping up) Well...

NARRATOR: ... little Muskrat piped up!

MUSKRAT: ...maybe I can try?

NARRATOR: Muskrat looked at her fellow creatures with hopeful eyes. But what was she met with…?

OTTER/BEAVER: (laughing)

NARRATOR: Yup. Laughter.

OTTER/BEAVER: (laughter continues)

NARRATOR: In fact, Otter and Beaver were giggling and snickering so hard, they could barely stay on the log!

OTTER: (laughing) That’s a good one, Muskrat!

BEAVER: (laughing) Sure is!

OTTER: (laughing) Have you noticed how puny you are?

BEAVER: (laughing) There’s no way you can make it to the bottom of this water!

NARRATOR: But there was one animal who didn’t laugh at Muskrat’s proposal. Instead, Turtle looked Muskrat straight in the eye… and smiled.

TURTLE: Muskrat, despite what the others say, I believe you can do this.

NARRATOR: Beaver and Otter were stunned into silence. Had Turtle lost her mind? But, not a second later, “puny” little Muskrat took a deep breath, and down, down, down she dove... to find some earth.

Will tiny Muskrat succeed, and help rebuild the world?

We’ll find out, after a quick break.

When we left off, little Muskrat had taken a dive into the water. She was seeking soil to rebuild the world after a big flood. Two other animals — Otter and Beaver-- had already tried it. They were strong swimmers, but both critters had come up short.

So when teeny-tiny Muskrat volunteered, Otter and Beaver weren’t too hopeful.

OTTER: Can you believe that wimpy thing believes she can save the entire world? Puh-leeze.

BEAVER: I’m totally with you, Otter. Did you see how slowly she was going? She won’t make it ten feet down before she has to bust back up for breath!

OTTER: I mean, what does she think she’s doing?

BEAVER: I don’t know what she thinks she’s doing, but I sure as heck know what she is doing!

OTTER: Oh, yeah? What’s that?

BEAVER: Making a fool of herself!

OTTER/BEAVER: (mocking laughter)

NARRATOR: But wise Turtle saw things differently.

TURTLE: Patience, friends. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to judge. Little Muskrat may very well surprise us all!

NARRATOR: The animals waited for Muskrat to return. They waited for one day, as they had for Otter. Then two days, like they had for Beaver. But still: no sign of Muskrat.

Otter and Beaver rolled their eyes.

OTTER: (snarkily) What did I say? If I couldn’t do it with my extensive diving experience--

BEAVER: ...and I couldn’t do it with my superior strength and swimming skills --

OTTER: ...there’s no way Muskrat can succeed!

NARRATOR: Turtle smiled.

TURTLE: Perhaps, my friends, success isn’t only about experience or strength.

NARRATOR: The animals waited another whole day, and another whole night. As the chances of Muskrat returning looked slimmer and slimmer, tensions got higher and higher.

OTTER: Beaver! Get that big paddle of a tail off of me!

BEAVER: Well I would, Otter, if you weren’t taking up half my space!

OTTER: Wait a second. We agreed that for the morning, this was my space!

BEAVER: What?!? I don’t remember making any kinda deal like that!

NARRATOR: As the bickering continued, a small ripple formed in the water. Turtle was the only one who noticed.

TURTLE: Friends, friends! Stop quibbling!

NARRATOR: She gestured toward the water.

TURTLE: Take a look!

NARRATOR: As Otter and Beaver shut their mouths and peered over the side of the log, what did they see floating on the surface of the water, but Muskrat! She was barely breathing.

Turtle hurried to scoop the tiny creature up.

TURTLE: Oh Muskrat! It’s you! You’re back!

NARRATOR: Turtle gently laid Muskrat on the log. She was too exhausted to talk.

All she could do was open one bright eye... and give Turtle a weak grin.

Beaver and Otter scurried over to see what was going on.

BEAVER: Oy, she doesn’t look so good.

OTTER: Yikes! Not good at all!

NARRATOR: As Turtle stroked Muskrat’s soaking-wet fur, she noticed something.

Muskrat’s tiny fist... was clenched... tightly.

When Turtle reached down and uncurled Muskrat’s claws, can you guess what she found inside?

TURTLE: Muskrat, you did it! You brought soil back from the bottom! I knew you could do it, little one. I just knew it.

NARRATOR: Otter and Beaver couldn’t believe their eyes. But they quickly wiped the surprised looks off their faces.

OTTER: Um, we believed in you too, Muskrat. Good job, kid.

BEAVER: Yeah, yeah! Didn’t doubt you for a second. Welcome back!

NARRATOR: Turtle looked down at Muskrat, then fixed Otter and Beaver with a steady gaze.

TURTLE: Alright, friends, here is what you must do. Take the soil from muskrat’s claw, and place it on my shell. Pat it down with water, so it sticks. Then, we can begin the work of rebuilding our world.

NARRATOR: Carefully, Otter and Beaver followed Turtle’s instructions. They scooped up the dirt from Muskrat, and patted it onto Turtle’s shell.

Immediately, the wind picked up. As gusts blew in from all four directions, the soil on Turtle’s shell... began to spread. It spread all across her back, and then kept spreading. Soon, the ridges of Turtle’s back transformed into valleys, hills and mountains… and grass, trees and bushes began to sprout from the soil.

Before long, Turtle was bearing the weight of a whole new land. After all that little

Muskrat had done, it was the least the wise creature could do.

Today, many people refer to this new continent as North America. But some members of the Ojibwe/Ojibwa group... and other Canadian First Nations Tribes... call it “Turtle Island.” And if you look closely on a map, perhaps you can make out the shape of Turtle... and maybe… just maybe… a hint of Muskrat’s tiny but mighty touch.

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



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