'One Speckled Hen' | Circle Round 72

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Have you ever found something that somebody lost?

A lonely mitten on the street, perhaps? Or even a cat, or dog?

When we find lost things, it feels great when we can return them to their rightful owner.

But what do you do when the owner is nowhere to be found? The characters in today’s story find a very creative solution!

Our story is called “One Speckled Hen.” It comes from an old Jewish tale that dates back centuries.

Voices in this episode include Noah Lewis Bailey, Elle Borders, Amy Brentano, Hana Kenny, Adam Mastroianni and André de Shields. André is a Broadway legend who won the 2019 Tony Award for his starring role in the smash-hit musical Hadestown, playing at the Walter Kerr Theatre in New York City.

This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir and edited by Virginia Marshall. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn. Laney Ruckstuhl helped adapt this story for web.

ADULTS!  PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on FacebookTwitterInstagram 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

The next time you find something someone has lost, what might you do to help them get it back again?

Pick a grown-up and brainstorm all the different ways the two of you might track down the owner. Would you put up a flier? Would you float over the neighborhood in a blimp, calling out to people with a megaphone?

Be as creative as you’d like as you dream up ways to reunite the owner with what they lost!

(Courtesy Jim Hutcheson via Wikimedia Commons)
(Courtesy Jim Hutcheson via Wikimedia Commons)

Musical Spotlight: Acoustic Guitar

As with all guitars, you play the acoustic guitar with two hands: one plucks the strings that run along the instrument, the other fingers the frets (metal strips on the instrument’s neck.)

The resulting sound resonates through the guitar’s body, or sound box, and is projected acoustically through the air (unlike the electric guitar, which requires electronic amplification).

While experts debate about where and when the first acoustic guitar was made, we know that the oldest surviving guitar-like instrument — the “tanbur” — dates back to 1500 B.C.E. in Egypt, and consists of a pear-shaped sound box with a long neck and three strings. Other guitar-like variants developed through the ages.

Interestingly, their names eventually converged around the Persian word “tar,” meaning “string” — “kithara” (Greece), “chartar” (Persia), “sitar” (India), “guitarra” (Spain) “chitarra” (Italy), and, of course, “guitar” (United States, etc.)

Story Transcript

NARRATOR: Hannah and her father lived a few miles from the sea in a cozy little house surrounded by green, grassy hills.

Every morning before Hannah’s dad went to work and Hannah took off for school, the two of them sat down for a humble breakfast. And every night, after another modest meal, the two of them sat on the front porch, and chatted and laughed about their day.

One morning, Hannah and her father were about to tuck in to their usual simple breakfast when they heard something odd through the window.

[chicken clucking]

HANNAH: Father! Is that… a chicken?

FATHER: Sure sounds like it! But we don’t have any chickens!

HANNAH: Let’s go see!

NARRATOR: Hannah and her dad raced outside, and there — strutting and clucking around the green, grassy hills — was one speckled hen.

Hannah knelt down and stroked the bird’s feathers.

HANNAH: Wow! Look at these feathers! I’ve never seen anything like them! They’re all polka-dotted, with black and white and red and brown.

NARRATOR: Hannah looked up at her father and grinned.

HANNAH: Dad? Can we keep her? Please? A pet chicken would be so cool! And think of it — we could eat fresh eggs every morning! Mmm! When’s the last time we could afford fresh eggs?

NARRATOR: Hannah’s dad shook his head.

FATHER: Not so fast, sweetie.

HANNAH: But why not? Don’t they always say, “finders keepers, losers weepers”?

FATHER: They do say that, but it isn’t necessarily true! We need to learn who this chicken belongs to, then give her back.

NARRATOR: So Hannah and her father fetched a wheelbarrow, placed the bird inside and wheeled her over to their nearest neighbor’s house. But that neighbor...

NEIGHBOR 1: A chicken?!

NARRATOR: ...had never laid eyes on the speckled hen!

Nor had the next neighbor...

NEIGHBOR 2: I didn’t lose a chicken!

NARRATOR: ...nor the next.

NEIGHBOR 3: She’s not mine!

NARRATOR: At the end of the day, Hannah and her dad wheeled the speckled hen back to their house.

FATHER: (sigh) I don’t know, Hannah. I’m beginning to think this chicken doesn’t belong to anybody!

NARRATOR: Hannah shook her head.

HANNAH: But Dad! It’s like you said — finders aren’t necessarily keepers. So she doesn’t belong to us, either!


NARRATOR: She gazed at the bird.

HANNAH: ...what if we took care of her until her owner comes back? It seems like the right thing to do.

NARRATOR: Hannah’s dad smiled.

FATHER: Alright, kiddo. But a chicken needs a safe place to stay. Let’s build her a house!

NARRATOR: They rummaged through the shed for some scrap wood and chicken wire. They used the wood to make a coop for the bird to sleep in. Then they surrounded the coop with chicken wire, so the hen could peck at bugs and earthworms in the grass, without wandering away.

The next morning, when Hannah and her father went out to the coop to check on the bird....


NARRATOR: ...they saw that the one speckled hen had laid one brown egg!

FATHER: My, my, my! What a beautiful egg!

(playful, half-joking) Mmmmm. Am I the only one who’s craving omelettes all of a sudden?

NARRATOR: Hannah wagged her finger.

HANNAH: Uh-uh-uh! This egg doesn’t belong to us, Dad. It belongs to whoever owns the speckled hen! We’ll save it until the owner comes back.

NARRATOR: But then the next day, the speckled hen laid another brown egg!


NARRATOR: ...and the next day…


NARRATOR: …and the next!


NARRATOR: And still, the hen’s owner was nowhere to be seen. After a week, Hannah’s dad began to worry.

FATHER: Hannah, we can’t just leave these eggs sitting here! They’ll rot — and get all smelly!

NARRATOR: Hannah scrunched up her forehead.

HANNAH: Well, we can’t keep the eggs — and we can’t eat the eggs…

NARRATOR: Suddenly, her eyes lit up.

HANNAH: But I know exactly what we can do!

NARRATOR: What do you think Hannah’s big idea is?

And will the owner of the one speckled hen, and her many, many eggs ever show up?

We’ll find out, after a quick break.


NARRATOR: I’m Rebecca Sheir. Welcome back to Circle Round. Today our story is called “One Speckled Hen.”

When we left off, one speckled hen had appeared in the green, grassy hills surrounding the cozy house Hannah shared with her dad.

The hen didn’t belong to them, so they decided they’d take care of the bird until her owner came. But then the chicken laid one beautiful, brown egg, and another and another.

But here’s the thing: if the chicken didn’t belong to Hannah and her dad, then neither did the eggs! So they couldn’t eat the eggs or sell the eggs, but Hannah thought of something they could do.

She gathered the eggs and wheeled them to market. When she came home, she was hauling a big bag of chicken feed.

FATHER: What an excellent trade you’ve made, Hannah! Chicken eggs for chicken feed!

HANNAH: Thanks, Dad! I thought it would be nice for the hen to have something to eat besides earthworms and bugs. We’ll give her this chicken feed until her owner comes back.

NARRATOR: Hannah and her dad scattered some feed around the coop and the hen gobbled it up.

Well, that feed must have been extra-nutritious, because the hen kept laying eggs, all of them even bigger…

FATHER: Did you see this one?!

NARRATOR: ...and more beautiful…

HANNAH: Nice job, girl!

NARRATOR: ...than the first ones!


NARRATOR: But still, the hen’s owner was nowhere to be seen.

FATHER: Hannah, we’re running out of chicken feed and the hen has laid all these new, big, beautiful eggs! What do we do?

NARRATOR: Hannah furrowed her brow and scratched her head.

HANNAH: Let me think.

A-ha! I know just the thing!

NARRATOR: So once more, Hannah gathered up the eggs and wheeled them to market. When she came home, she was hauling another bag of chicken feed and walking beside one brown cow.

FATHER: You’ve made another trade, Hannah! Now we have more food for the chicken and a cow?!

NARRATOR: The cow blinked her long eyelashes as Hannah petted her wet nose.

HANNAH: Well, the people at the market were so impressed by our big, beautiful eggs, that they insisted on giving me this cow!

But don’t worry, Dad. We have all these green, grassy hills for her to graze on. We’ll just take care of her until her owner comes back.

FATHER: Wait a minute — “her owner”?

NARRATOR: Hannah’s dad narrowed his eyes.

FATHER: What do you mean, “her owner”?!

HANNAH: Well, think about it. We got the brown cow by trading in the speckled hen’s eggs, right?

FATHER: (not yet getting it) Right.

HANNAH: And if the speckled hen doesn’t belong to us and her eggs don’t belong to us…

FATHER: …then the cow doesn’t belong to us, either!

(impressed) You’re right, Hannah. You’re right.

NARRATOR: Hannah and her father spent the next days scattering chicken feed…

HANNAH: Come and get it!

NARRATOR: ...collecting eggs...

FATHER: This one is huge!

NARRATOR: ...and milking the brown cow.

[cow being milked]

NARRATOR: ...and still, the hen’s owner was nowhere to be seen.

FATHER: Hannah, we’re getting low on chicken feed again. We have even more eggs, and now we have gallons and gallons of milk!

We can’t eat the eggs or drink the milk, but we can’t let them sit, either. Rotten milk will be even stinkier than rotten eggs! Any brilliant ideas this time, kiddo?

HANNAH: Actually…

NARRATOR: Hannah thought for a moment.

HANNAH: ...yes! But I’ll need your help.

NARRATOR: While Hannah gathered the eggs, her father collected the bottles of milk. Then Hannah wheeled everything to market. When she came home, she was hauling another bag of chicken feed and walking beside one grey sheep.

HANNAH’S FATHER: Oh boy! Another trade! So, now we have more food for the chicken and a sheep?!

NARRATOR: Hannah ran her hand through the sheep’s wool.

HANNAH: Well, this time, the people at the market were so impressed by our big, beautiful eggs and our delicious, creamy milk that they insisted on giving me this sheep! But she can join the cow on the green, grassy hills, and like I said before, we’ll just take care of her --

FATHER: ...until “her owner” comes back. Of course.

NARRATOR: Hannah and her father spent the next days scattering chicken feed…

FATHER: Chow time!

NARRATOR: ...collecting eggs...

HANNAH: This thing is massive!

NARRATOR: ...milking the brown cow...

[cow being milked]

NARRATOR: …and watching the sheep grow woolier and woolier.

And still, the hen’s owner was nowhere to be seen.

FATHER: (more desperate this time) Hannah! We’re running low on chicken feed again, we’ve got even more eggs and more milk and it’s high time we sheared this sheep! But we can’t eat or keep the eggs, we can’t drink or keep the milk and we can’t keep all this wool, either!

What do you say, kiddo?

NARRATOR: Hannah didn’t say anything. She turned her eyes toward the green, grassy hill, where the woolly sheep and brown cow were grazing peacefully. Then she turned her eyes toward the chicken coop, where the one speckled hen was...

HANNAH: Oh no!

NARRATOR: ...nowhere to be seen!

HANNAH: Oh my goodness! She must have escaped!

Father! We have to find her!

NARRATOR: Hannah and her dad dashed up and down the hills, but they caught neither hide nor hair of the polka-dotted bird.

Hannah slumped down on the grass with a sigh.

HANNAH: (sigh of despair) Ugh. We took such good care of the speckled hen, Dad — waiting for her owner to return — and now we’ve lost her! What are we going to do?

NARRATOR: But before Hannah’s father could respond...

MAN: (in the distance) Matilda! Is that you?

NARRATOR: ...they saw a man in fancy clothing yelling on the road outside their house. He was staring at their front porch and calling out a name.

MAN: Matilda!

NARRATOR: Suddenly, from beneath the porch, who should emerge but the one speckled hen! Her little head bobbled frantically as she scurried over to the man, who then scooped her up in his arms and gave her a big hug.

MAN: Oh, Matilda! My darling! I thought I’d never see you again!

NARRATOR: Hannah and her father exchanged a look. Then they ran over to the man.

FATHER: Excuse us, sir…

HANNAH: you know this bird?

NARRATOR: The man laughed.

MAN: Know her? Why, she’s my best friend in the entire world! And I thought I’d lost her forever!

NARRATOR: The man took a deep breath, then gestured toward the hills, where the cow and sheep were peacefully nibbling grass.

MAN: You see, like you, I once lived among these green, grassy hills. But unlike you, I didn’t have such good fortune! My farm fell on hard times, and I lost everything I had. The one thing I didn’t lose...

NARRATOR: He gazed down at the speckled hen.

MAN: ...was my best friend, Matilda!

NARRATOR: The man explained that he left his home in hopes of making money as a merchant overseas. He and his beloved hen boarded a ship, but just as the boat was pulling out of port, the bird jumped out of his arms and waddled back to the shore!

MAN: (getting emotional) And as the ship floated off toward the horizon, I watched helplessly as my plump, polka-dotted Matilda became smaller and smaller, then disappeared completely.

NARRATOR: The man’s eyes welled up with tears. Hannah handed him a handkerchief.

MAN: Thank you.

(composing himself) Well, after grieving the loss of my chicken for a few days, I bucked up and got to work. I became a successful merchant. And now that I’ve made my fortune, I’ve come back home again.

NARRATOR: The man patted the speckled hen’s head.

MAN: It seems you’ve taken excellent care of Matilda here... Do you mind if I take her home?

FATHER: Oh, we don’t mind at all!

HANNAH: But, uh, you might want to take home all of your other things, too...

NARRATOR: The man looked puzzled as Hannah pointed at the sheep and the cow grazing on the grassy hill. So she told him the story of everything that had happened. How she and her father started with very little, until they found this one speckled hen…

The man’s eyebrows shot up higher and higher as Hannah told her tale. At last, she came to the end.

HANNAH: (finishing story) So, now that we’ve found you, you can take home your one speckled hen and your one brown cow and your one grey sheep — not to mention a whole bunch of eggs and milk! And as you can see, the sheep needs a good shearing, so you might want to take care of that soon if you want to --

MAN: Oh, there’s no need for that.

NARRATOR: Hannah cocked her head.

HANNAH: What do you mean?

MAN: The two of you have gone to such great lengths not to be “finders” and “keepers.” This whole time, you’ve worked so hard and gained so much, yet you’ve claimed nothing for yourself! Not the hen, not the eggs, not the cow, not the milk, not the sheep — none of it!

NARRATOR: He gestured toward his fancy clothes.

MAN: Like I said, I’ve made my fortune. I have everything I could possibly want, especially now that I’ve found Matilda here. So I’ll take her home.

But as a reward for your good deeds and for your hard work, you keep the eggs and the cow and the milk and the sheep!

NARRATOR: The man winked an eye.

MAN: Goodness knows you deserve it!

NARRATOR: Then he turned around, and he and Matilda went back home.

The next day, Hannah took Matilda’s eggs to market and traded them for one yellow hen. And from then on, Hannah and her dad lived comfortably. They had eggs to eat, milk to drink and plenty of wool to keep them warm, all winter long.

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



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