'Sweet And Sour' | Circle Round 98

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

What’s the sweetest thing you can think of?

A ripe mango, perhaps?

An ooey-gooey brownie?

Today’s story is all about sweetness. But it’s not a sweet thing. It’s about a sweet person… and the very sour person who tries to bring him down.

Our story is called “Sweet and Sour.” Versions of this tale come from the Zulu people of South Africa.

Voices in this episode include Doug Lockwood, Gamalia Pharms, Marshall Escamilla and Avi Nash. Grown-ups, you can see Avi Nash in The Walking Dead on AMC. He also stars in Hosea, which recently premiered at the Napa Valley Film Festival. And kids, check out Marshall Escamilla on the science podcast Tumble.

Coloring Page

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

Think about someone in your life who’s been sweet to you, someone who’s been kind and considerate. It could be a friend, it could be a family member, it could be a librarian who’s helped you pick out great books, or a mail carrier who delivers your family’s postcards and letters with a smile!

Whoever your person is, find some paper and something to draw with, and make them a thank-you card, to express your gratitude for the sweetness they’ve shown. Then, have a grown-up drop that card in the mail, or snap a photo and send it electronically. Either way, you’re sure to add even more sweetness to someone else’s day!

Musical Spotlight: Kalimba

(Eric Shimelonis for WBUR)
(Eric Shimelonis for WBUR)

In the Bantu language of South Africa, kalimba means “little music.” The kalimba is a modern version of the mbira (which you’ll hear in our season 2 story, “Cow Wells and Cow Bells”); both instruments make sound when you use your thumbs or fingers to pluck thin metal strips known as “tongues” or “tines.” The tines are mounted on a wooden board; sometimes this board is hollow, sometimes it’s flat. The kalimba’s bright, bell-like sound has been enjoyed on its own (as a solo instrument) and as accompaniment for dancers and singers.


NARRATOR: It was the middle of a long, hot summer when Mother called her two sons to her side.

MOTHER: My boys... please go to the forest and see if you can find any wild apples or plums. Those poor trees haven’t seen rain in quite a while... but if their branches are bearing even a handful of luscious, juicy fruit, think how refreshing it will taste in this blistering heat!

NARRATOR: Mother’s older son — an impatient, ill-tempered fellow whom everyone in the village called “Brother” — scrunched up his face and wiped his sweaty brow.

BROTHER: (petulant, annoyed) Come on, Mother! We can’t go running around in this heat! We’ll melt!

JUNIOR: (good-natured) Oh... not to worry, Brother! We’ll be in the forest! The shade of the trees will help keep us cool!

NARRATOR: Mother’s younger son — a gentle, agreeable guy whom everyone called “Junior” — beamed.

JUNIOR: Brother and I are more than happy to help you, Mother. We’ll bring back whatever we can find!

NARRATOR: So Brother and Junior set off for the forest. As they followed the sandy path that led out of the village, Brother frowned and kicked his heels at the dusty ground. Junior, meanwhile, hummed a cheerful song, and walked with a skip in his step.

JUNIOR: (ad-lib cheerful humming)

NARRATOR: Brother rolled his eyes at his younger sibling. How in the world was Junior always so cheerful? That kid was as sweet as honey, and everyone in the village loved him for it. The whole thing made Brother pucker up his face and feel downright sour inside.

At last, Brother and Junior reached the forest. Though they searched high and low for wild apples and plums, the parched trees were bare!

BROTHER: (faux-disappointed but actually totally relieved) Oh well, Junior — no fruit to be found! Looks like we’ll just have to go back home and --

JUNIOR: (good-natured) Not so fast, Brother!

NARRATOR: Junior laid a hand on Brother’s shoulder.

JUNIOR: We promised Mother we’d bring home something, and I want to make good on that promise. (beat) Listen. On the other side of this forest lies a village. On the other side of the village lies another forest. How about we pass through the village, head to the other forest, and try again there?

NARRATOR: Brother’s body was sticky with sweat, and his throat was as dry as the dust on the sun-baked ground. Not only that, but the heat had zapped all of his energy. He slumped down on a tree stump and laid his dripping head in his clammy hands.

BROTHER: No way, Junior! If you want to trek to that other forest, you’ll have to go without me. I’m going to stay here and cool off. I’ll see you when you get back.

NARRATOR: So Junior headed off, alone, humming his cheerful song, and walking with that chipper skip in his step.

JUNIOR: (ad-lib cheerful humming)

NARRATOR: But when he reached the edge of the forest, his voice caught in his throat, and he froze in his tracks.

JUNIOR: (suddenly stop humming) (gasp) Oh my!

NARRATOR: Before him lay the village he had mentioned to Brother… but the place was deserted! There were no signs of life whatsoever. No cows, no sheep, no goats, no chickens, and definitely no people.

Instead, as Junior wandered from empty hut to empty hut, he noticed that all the desolate, abandoned buildings were covered in a thick layer of red sand.

JUNIOR: Hmmm… looks like a dust storm hit this village! That must be why everybody fled!

NARRATOR: But as Junior made his way through the village, he suddenly heard...

MAN: (trapped inside pot) Help me!

NARRATOR: … a voice!

MAN: (trapped inside pot) Please! Help me!

JUNIOR: My goodness! Who could that be? And where are they? (calling out) Hello...? Hello?

NARRATOR: Junior swiveled his head this way and that, until his eyes landed on... a pot. A big, red, clay cooking pot that was nearly as tall as he was!

Junior noticed that the pot was turned upside-down, and was wobbling back and forth on the ground!

JUNIOR: Wait! Is somebody inside that pot? How could that be?

NARRATOR: Junior crept toward the pot and tapped its surface with a fingernail.

JUNIOR: Hello? Anybody in there?

MAN: (trapped inside pot) Yes! Yes! I am! Please! Get me out!

NARRATOR: Immediately, Junior sprung into action. He crouched down and wrapped his arms around the upside-down pot. Then he used all his strength to heave it off the ground and turn it right-side up.

JUNIOR: [heave sound]

NARRATOR: And when he did…

MAN: (very relieved to be free) Oh! Thank you!

NARRATOR: ...he came face to face with a tiny old man, with skin as wrinkly as a roasted apple.

MAN: Whew! It sure was sweltering inside that pot — I was worried I’d be stuck in there forever!

JUNIOR: (confused, surprised) But, how did you get in there? What happened?

MAN: Well… as our village was seeing more and more scorching sun, and less and less cooling rain, a fierce dust storm struck! And everyone decided to leave! Just like that! All my children, all my grandchildren, all my friends... quick as a wink, they threw their things together and were gone. Somehow, in all the hubbub and hullabaloo, I got stuck inside this pot! (beat) But now that you’ve freed me, please... allow me to give you a gift.

JUNIOR: (sweetly) Oh, that won’t be necessary, sir. I’m just glad you’re alright!

MAN: That’s very sweet of you, young man — sweet as honey, in fact! (beat) But really. I insist on giving you something. (beat) Follow me!

NARRATOR: The man spun on his heel and hobbled across the village, with Junior right behind him. When they reached the other forest… the one Junior told Brother he’d planned to scour for wild apples and plums... the old man shuffled over to a tree. It was the tallest, thickest tree Junior had ever laid eyes on! The top branches seemed to brush the clouds, and the trunk was so wide, dozens of children could join hands and dance circles around it!

As Junior marveled at the tree, the old man reached out his hand. Clutched in his bony fingers… was an axe.

MAN: Please. Take this axe, young man, and chop a hole in the tree’s trunk.

NARRATOR: Junior blinked his eyes.

JUNIOR: Are you serious? It would take a giant to even make a dent in this trunk — let alone hew a hole in it!

NARRATOR: The old man’s weathered lips crinkled into a grin.

MAN: Have some faith. Just give it a try!

NARRATOR: So Junior took the axe. Then he took a deep breath, and with all his might, he drove the axe toward the tree. To his surprise, it left a gaping hole in the mighty trunk!

JUNIOR: (amazed, slowly) Woooooow!

NARRATOR: But… as we’re about to find out... what happened next was even more “Wow!”... than that! 

NARRATOR: What do you think happened after Junior chopped a hole in the tree?

We’ll find out what it was, after a quick break.


NARRATOR: Welcome back to Circle Round. I’m Rebecca Sheir. Today our story is called “Sweet and Sour.”

NARRATOR: Before the break, a mysterious old man wanted to thank sweet-tempered Junior for saving his life. So he gave Junior an axe, and instructed him to chop a hole in a giant tree.

With just one stroke of the axe, Junior managed to hack a big gash in the tree’s trunk! And as Junior gaped at the hole he’d created, what should step out of the hole...but a sleek brown cow!

NARRATOR: Then... a woolly white sheep!

NARRATOR: Then... a bearded grey goat!

NARRATOR: Then…. an entire flock of chickens!

MAN: All of these animals are for you, young man! Take them home and raise them well. (beat) And thank you!

NARRATOR: Before Junior could offer thanks of his own, the little old man scampered across the forest and disappeared among the trees.

JUNIOR: This is unbelievable! I have to go show these animals to Brother. He’ll be so surprised!

NARRATOR: Junior led the animals back to the first forest, where his older sibling was still slumped on a stump, his head in his hands. When Brother looked up and cast his eyes on the cow, sheep, goat and chickens, his mouth dropped wide open.

BROTHER: Junior! You told me you were going to the other forest to pick apples and plums! Yet you come back with all these animals!?! How is that possible?!?

JUNIOR: Well, you’re not going to believe this, but… [note to engineer: fade down and maintain beneath the narration that follows] when I got to the village at the edge of the forest, it was completely deserted... or so I thought! Trapped inside this big clay pot was a little old man! And when I let him out, he was incredibly  grateful. So grateful, in fact, that he insisted on giving me a gift to show his thanks!

NARRATOR: Junior told Brother everything that happened - how he’d reached the village and found it abandoned. But then he heard a voice coming from inside a clay pot, and found a tiny old man, who insisted on giving him a gift to show his gratitude.

JUNIOR: [note to engineer: fade back up] ...So the man led me into the other forest, where we came upon this massive, ancient tree. He handed me an axe, and told me to chop a hole in the trunk. I gave it a good whack, and wouldn’t you know it, out came all these animals! (beat, getting excited) You know, I think I’ll give them names! The cow will be Bessie... the sheep will be Snowy...  the goat will be Billy… and I’ll name the chickens Dottie, Lottie, Stella, Bella, Henny and Penny!

NARRATOR: Brother made a sour face. His heart puckered with jealousy. Not only did everyone in their village think that Junior was as sweet as honey, now this complete stranger did, too! And Junior had all of these wonderful animals to show for it!

Well, not if Brother could do something about it.

Glancing around the forest, he caught sight of some long, strong vines snaking up a tree.

BROTHER: (hatching a plan) Um, you know, Junior... It’s been a long, hot adventure. We both could use a little drink, don’t you think?

JUNIOR: (innocent) Why, that’s a fine idea, Brother! But the closest water is the river at the bottom of the stony cliffs! And you know how steep those cliffs are... We would need to lower each other down with some sort of rope.

NARRATOR: Brother pointed to the vines.

BROTHER: (continuing his plan) Well, how about those creeping vines? They’re long and strong. We can take turns lowering each other down the cliff wall, then we can each take a drink from the river!

NARRATOR: So Brother and Junior yanked down some vines and headed toward the stony cliffs. Before long, they heard the sound of rushing water. Junior peered over the edge. When he saw the sparkle of the river below, his eyes lit up.

JUNIOR: Oooooh, that water looks so clear and cool! (beat, innocently) Brother, why don’t you take the first drink? I’ll tie the vines around your waist and lower you down. Once you’ve had your fill, you can do the same for me!

BROTHER: (laying it on thick, continuing his plan) That’s so kind of you, Junior! You know, what everyone says about you is true. You certainly are as sweet as honey!

NARRATOR: Having no clue that Brother was up to no good, Junior secured the vine around his older sibling’s waist. Then he held on tight as Brother scooted down the wall of the cliff. Once Brother reached the bottom, he unknotted the vine, set his end of it on the ground, and raced to the river.

After gulping down some of the clear, cool water, Brother returned to his end of the vine. He retied it around his waist, then motioned for Junior to pull him back up the cliff. When Brother reached the top, his eyes were gleaming.

BROTHER: (back up again) Mmmm! That was so refreshing! You’re going to love it, Junior. (beat, continuing his plan) So, here. Let’s tie this vine around your waist, and away you go! I’ll wait here with the animals.

JUNIOR: Thank you, Brother!

NARRATOR: Brother wore a devilish smile as he lowered Junior down the steep wall of rock… but the innocent younger sibling couldn’t see it.

When Junior reached the bottom, he untied the vine and laid his end down. But the moment he did, do you know what happened?

The rest of the vine came hurtling over the cliff wall, before landing in a tangled mess at his feet!

JUNIOR: Yikes!! What’s going on?!? (calling up) Brother??? The vine! It fell!

BROTHER: (calling down, playing dumb) Oh… did it now? That’s a shame! But don’t despair, Junior! I’ll think of something. Sit tight now!

NARRATOR: Brother laughed to himself as he herded up Junior’s cow, sheep, goat and chickens. Then he led them back to the village, where Mother was waiting.

MOTHER: Brother! Where did all these animals come from? (beat) And where’s Junior?

NARRATOR: Brother shrugged his shoulders.

BROTHER: (laying it on thick) I don’t know where Junior is, actually! You see, this old man gave me all these animals as a present because I did something so very nice for him... then poor Junior got so jealous, he ran home to pout and sulk! I thought for sure he’d be back in the village by now, crying in his bed! (beat, echoing Junior’s earlier words) You know, I think I’ll give all of these animals names! The cow will be Bessie... the sheep will be Snowy... the goat will be Billy… and I’ll name the chickens Dottie, Lottie, Stella, Bella, Henny and Penny!

NARRATOR: Mother furrowed her brow and cocked her head. Something about Brother’s words didn’t sound right.

First of all, though she had tried raising both of her sons to be selfless and gracious, somehow Brother only thought about himself — and rarely did nice things for other people. As for Junior getting “jealous”... well, that was fishy, too. The young man was always so good-natured and kind… as sweet as honey, in fact!

MOTHER: Hmmm… I don’t know, Brother. I haven’t seen Junior since you two went out to pick fruit from the forest! (beat) If Junior really is out there somewhere, he’ll be all alone in the dark after the sun goes down! I really should go find him, but goodness knows where I should start my — (gets interrupted)

NARRATOR: Before Mother could utter another word, she was interrupted by the twittering, chattery call… of a bird.

But not just any bird.

MOTHER: A honeybird!!!!

NARRATOR: The honeybird… or “honeyguide,” as it’s sometimes called… is a real bird… with an amazing gift. The little brown bird tracks down wild bees’ nests, then it guides humans to those nests, so that people can collect the fresh, golden honey inside!

NARRATOR: As the honeybird swooped through the air, Mother thought about her missing son... Junior — who was as sweet-as-honey. Suddenly, her eyes grew wide.

MOTHER: (gasp) What... if…!??? 

NARRATOR: Mother began to tremble. Brother noticed.

BROTHER: (worried) What if what, Mother...?

MOTHER: There’s no time to explain! You stay here with the animals, Brother. I’ll be back!

NARRATOR: Mother raced after the honeybird as it flitted through the air. It glided and soared, soared and glided, before stopping and switching directions.

MOTHER: Hmm! Where is that bird going now? If we turn this way, we’ll go right over the steep stony cliffs and plunge into the river!

NARRATOR: But that’s exactly where the bird was going! The feathery creature flew to the edge of the cliff, then dove down toward the clear, cool water below.

Mother crawled to the precipice, peered over the steep edge, and let out a cry of joy.

MOTHER: (joyous) It’s true! There’s my son! There’s Junior! (calling down) Junior!!!

NARRATOR: Junior had fallen asleep on the riverbank, his hands cradled under his head as a pillow. When he heard his mother’s voice, he woke with a start.

JUNIOR: (calling up) Mother! Is that you?

MOTHER: (calling down) It is, my dear! Wait right there!

NARRATOR: Mother sprinted to the forest and tugged some creeping vines from a tree. Then she returned to the cliff and tossed a long, winding vine over the edge.

Junior jumped to his feet, grabbed the vine, and tied it around his waist. Then Mother pulled him up and wrapped him in a teary embrace before taking him back home.

When Brother spotted his younger sibling, he fell to his knees and pleaded for forgiveness. And Junior granted it…

JUNIOR: ...on one condition! (beat) That you try practicing a little kindness. The world will be sweeter for it, Brother… and you will be, too!

NARRATOR: From then on, Brother and Junior worked together, taking care of their mother and tending to their animals.

And they all lived joyfully, and sweetly… very sweetly. Because somehow or other, the honeybird was always there... twittering and tweeting and leading them to the nearest wild bees’ nest, where they collected fresh, golden honey to their hearts’ content.

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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