'Little Cu' | Circle Round 106

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

Think about the last time you made a promise.

Maybe you gave your word that you would clean up your toys at the end of the day. Maybe you assured a friend that you would follow the rules of a game you were playing.

When we make promises, it’s nice when we keep them… when we follow through and do what we said we were going to do.

But as we’re about to hear, when we break a promise, we can also break someone’s trust.

Our story is called  “Dirt Into Gold.” Versions of this tale come from the Burmese people, in southeast Asia.

Voices in this episode include Gabriela Fernandez Coffey, Kevin Corbett, Jessica Rau, Jefferson A. Russell, Laura K. Welsh, Delores King Williams, and Desmin Borges. You grown-ups can see Desmin in You’re The Worst on FX, and Living With Yourself  on Netflix. He also stars in the upcoming Amazon Prime Video series, Utopia.

Coloring Page

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

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

When it came to admiration, Little Cu was all about himself. But can you think of some other person in your life whom you admire? Someone you look up to, or just think is pretty darn cool?

Figure out who your person is, then find some paper and make them a card! You can draw pictures or use words to show and tell your person why you think they’re so great. Then drop the card in the mail — or, if you can, deliver it in person — and I guarantee, you will make their day!

Musical Spotlight: Classical Guitar

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

The classical guitar is known by many names, including concert guitar, classical acoustic guitar, and Spanish guitar. It usually has nylon strings, which give it a warm, smooth, lilting tone. Nylon strings are softer than steel strings (i.e. what you’ll find on a typical acoustic guitar), so you play the classical guitar in a very particular way. The most common technique involves plucking individual strings with your fingernails, as opposed to strumming chords or playing with a pick. But don’t be fooled by the name: just because it’s called a “classical guitar,” it doesn’t mean you only use it to play classical music. Since all five fingers are at your disposal, you can play just about anything on this instrument!


NARRATOR: Long ago... when birds first appeared on the earth… their bodies were bare.


Not a single one had feathers!

Back then, the leader of the birds was Owl. And Owl’s first job was to call his brothers and sisters together and hand out their feathers, bird by bird.

OWL: (as he gives them out) Cardinal! To you I give feathers as red as the sun in the sky!

CARDINAL: Wow! Thank you, Owl!

OWL: Canary! For you I have feathers as yellow as the corn in the fields!

CANARY: Nice! Thank you, Owl!

OWL: Parrot, your green feathers will sparkle like an emerald!

PARROT: Thanks, Owl!

OWL: Bluebird, your blue feathers will glimmer like a sapphire!

BLUEBIRD: Thanks, Owl!

OWL: And Dove? Your new feathers are a bit like mine...  so many different shades of brown, they’ll look just like chocolate, cinnamon and ginger!

DOVE: Woah!!!! Thank you, Owl!

NARRATOR: As the birds twittered about their brand new plumage, who should appear in their midst...

CU: (casual, breezy, oblivious)) Hey, everybody!

NARRATOR: …but Little Cu.

CU: (not really sorry) Sorry I’m late!

NARRATOR: Little Cu was one of the smallest birds... and one of the biggest lazybones. Little Cu always slept in, but that morning the pint-sized loafer had rolled out of his nest even later than usual.

CU: (oblivious, breezy) So, Owl...? How about giving me some of those feathers, huh? I was thinking you could start with a teeny bit of red — you know, just a pop of color — but then you could give me a whole lot of yellow! Right? With green and blue spots? And then maybe toss in a smidge of brown... just to calm things down a bit — I don’t want to be too showy, you know...

NARRATOR: Owl shook his fluffy head.

OWL: Actually, Little Cu. I’m afraid you’re too late! I’ve used up all the feathers I have! I’ve given them all away!

CU: What?!??

NARRATOR: Little Cu crossed his feather-less wings.

CU: But, Owl!! You can’t let me go around naked! I’ll be bald! Not to mention ridiculously plain! I mean, look at everybody else. They’re so much fancier than I am!

OWL: I’m sorry, Little Cu. If you hadn’t lollygagged in your nest all morning, I could have helped you! But... alas... I have no feathers left.

NARRATOR: Well for days after that, Little Cu did nothing...

CU: (disappointed, frustrated, disgusted) Uch!

NARRATOR: ...but sulk.

CU: Man! Look at me! I am so boring! So drab! So dull!

NARRATOR: And every time Little Cu complained, the other birds just sighed and rolled their eyes.

But after a while, one of the birds took pity on Little Cu:


DOVE: Friends! It isn’t right that Little Cu should walk around all bare-bodied like that! Just because he showed up late! (beat) I say we give him a second chance. I say… we give him some of our feathers!

NARRATOR: The other birds exchanged a look.

CARDINAL: Um, with all due respect, Dove…

NARRATOR: Cardinal fluttered his crimson wings.

CARDINAL: …Little Cu had his chance to get feathers, and he screwed it up!

CANARY: Cardinal’s right!

NARRATOR: Canary flicked her golden tale.

CANARY: Little Cu is a layabout! A loafer! It’s not our fault he was tardy to the feather party!

PARROT: Uh-huh!!!

NARRATOR: Now Parrot chimed in, puffing out her emerald chest.

PARROT: We don’t owe that lazy little bird a thing!

BLUEBIRD: It’s like they say, Dove…

NARRATOR: Bluebird bobbed her sapphire head.

BLUEBIRD: ...“The early bird catches the worm”! And in this case, it catches the feather, too!

CARDINAL: / CANARY: / PARROT: / BLUEBIRD: (ad-lib enthusiastic agreement about Cu not deserving their feathers)

DOVE: Wait a second, everybody!

NARRATOR: Dove held up a pale brown wing. The other birds fell silent.

DOVE: Hear me out, friends. What if… in exchange for our feathers… we can convince Little Cu to do something for us? (beat) We could give him... a job! Something to make him useful! Like… (sudden idea) a messenger! He can help us announce events… spread the news... keep everyone in the loop. What do you think?

NARRATOR: The birds were quiet for a moment. And then…?

CARDINAL: Ya know…? I think you’re onto something, Dove!

CANARY: Yes! Being a messenger will teach Little Cu some discipline!

PARROT: And diligence!

BLUEBIRD: It’ll shape up that careless creature in no time!

NARRATOR: Dove flashed the birds a grateful smile. But then she noticed that one of them hadn’t yet spoken.

Slowly, she turned to the leader of the birds… Owl.

DOVE: (meekly) So, um, Owl…? What do you think? 

NARRATOR: The wise bird closed his glittering round eyes. When he opened them again, he focused them directly on Dove.

OWL: Well, Little Cu doesn’t exactly have the most stellar track record... But I see how much this means to you, Dove. So I vote that we give Little Cu some of our feathers — if, and only if, you promise you will vouch for him. If something goes wrong with your plan... can we count on you to make it right…?

NARRATOR: Dove took a deep breath. Then she nodded her brown head up and down.

DOVE: Absolutely, Owl! (beat, slowly, sincerely) You have my word!

[theme music in]

NARRATOR: What do you think? Will Little Cu accept Dove’s offer?

And if he does, will Dove’s plan go right…? Or wrong…?

We’ll find out what happens, 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 “Little Cu.”

[theme music out]

NARRATOR: Before the break, we met Little Cu: a lazy bird who showed up too late to get any feathers. As he groused and grumped about being “boring” and “bald,” Dove took pity on him. She convinced the other birds to give him some of their feathers. In return, Little Cu would become their messenger.

Owl, the leader of the birds, had doubts about Dove’s idea. So he made Dove promise that if anything went wrong, she would make it right.

When Dove told Little Cu her plan, he was ecstatic!

CU: Finally! This bald body of mine will be covered with spectacular, splashy colors! Woohoo!

NARRATOR: The first birds to offer up their plumage were Dove and Owl, who plucked out some of their brown, tan and bronze feathers and attached them to Little Cu’s tail.

CU: (feel free to ad-lib expression of excitement/pleasure/etc.) Ooooo!

NARRATOR: Next, Cardinal pressed some of his red feathers onto the top of Little Cu’s head.

CU: (feel free to ad-lib expression of excitement/pleasure/etc.) Ahhhh!

NARRATOR: Then Canary stuck some of her yellow feathers on Little Cu’s chest.

CU: (feel free to ad-lib expression of excitement/pleasure/etc.) Wowww!!!

NARRATOR: Parrot fixed some green feathers to Little Cu’s wings.

CU: (feel free to ad-lib expression of excitement/pleasure/etc.) Heyyyy!

NARRATOR: And finally Bluebird smoothed some sapphire-colored feathers over Little Cu’s tiny face.

CU: (feel free to ad-lib expression of excitement/pleasure/etc.) Yeahhhh!

NARRATOR: Soon Little Cu was covered in feathers, from head to tail. He looked himself up and down.

CU: Oh my gosh! Check me out! Have you ever seen a bird clothed in such a rainbow of color? My tail is as brown as chocolate, cinnamon and ginger! My head is as red as the sun in the sky! My chest is as yellow as the corn in the fields! My wings are as green as emeralds, and my face is as blue as sapphires!

DOVE: It’s nice to see you so happy, Little Cu.

NARRATOR: Dove laid a beige wing on Little Cu’s rosy head.

DOVE: But remember, with all this new plumage comes a very special purpose. You’re the official bird messenger now… so get to work! 

NARRATOR: To Dove’s credit, Little Cu’s first days on the job were quite successful! The colorful creature was constantly winging to and fro, delivering all the birds’ messages swiftly and sweetly.

[SOT: wing-flapping sound]

CU: Listen up, turtledoves! The crows are hosting a party! They want you to know that all the birds will be there, and they hope you will, too!

[SOT: wing-flapping sound]

CU: Hey, ducks! The geese told me there are way more snakes than usual lurking around the lake, so keep an eye on those eggs!

[SOT: wing-flapping sound]

CU: Attention, all birds! Roadrunner just had a new brood of babies! I repeat, Roadrunner just had a new brood of babies! Feel free to deliver your gifts to her nest in the thorny bushes up the mountain!

NARRATOR: But then... things began to change.

You see, instead of taking to the skies and conveying information to his fellow birds, Little Cu started spending more and more time down by the river… and staring at his reflection in the water.

CU: (staring at his reflection) Well, hello there, handsome! Greetings, gorgeous! Salutations, you stunner, you!

NARRATOR: The day soon came when Owl had a very important message he needed to convey. But when the leader of the birds flew over to Little Cu’s nest...

OWL: Little Cu! I — (seeing he’s not there) Huh?!?

NARRATOR: ...Little Cu wasn’t there!

I bet you can guess where he was, though!


Down by the river! Gazing into the water and talking to his reflection!

CU: (self-indulgent sigh/exclamation) Ahhh! Is it just me or am I even better-looking today than I was yesterday? My brown tail looks even browner... my red head looks even redder... my yellow chest looks even yellower, my — (gets interrupted)

OWL: Little Cu!

NARRATOR: Little Cu whirled around.

CU: Um, hi there, Owl! I didn’t expect to see you here!

OWL: And I didn’t expect to see you here, either! I’ve been looking all over for you! (beat) (carefully) Little Cu, I need you to deliver a message. A vicious storm is rolling in;  it will be here by the end of the week! All of us birds must form a plan, to stay safe! So please... tell your brothers and sisters that I wish to hold a meeting. First thing tomorrow!

CU: (totally lying) Um... sure, Owl! No problem. I’ll communicate your message. Right away.

NARRATOR: Owl thought he saw Little Cu roll his little eyes — but perhaps it was just his imagination…?

In any case, the next morning, Owl eagerly awaited the arrival of the other birds.

He waited…

OWL: Okayyyyy…

NARRATOR: ...and waited…

OWL: Uh-huhhhh...

NARRATOR: ...and waited…

OWL: Any second now…

NARRATOR: ...but nobody came!

OWL: Hmmmm…. this is odd. We have such urgent business to discuss, yet no one is here!

NARRATOR: Just then, who should chance to fly by… but Dove.

DOVE: Hey there, Owl! Whatcha up to?

OWL: Why, I’m waiting for you, Dove! And all the other birds! I called a very important meeting! I told Little Cu to spread the word!

NARRATOR: Dove cocked her head.

DOVE: Well, I never heard about any meeting! And definitely not from Little Cu. In fact, I haven’t seen him in forever!

NARRATOR: Owl took a deep breath.

OWL: Is that so…? (beat) Well, when we birds gave Little Cu our feathers, you said you would vouch for him, Dove. And if he never communicated my message, then it’s up to you to learn what happened! (beat) So go! Find Little Cu! … Something tells me he might be hanging out down by the river...

NARRATOR: And sure enough, that’s exactly where Dove found Little Cu… standing at the river’s edge and, yes…

CU: (to his reflection) Good day, good-looker! What’s up, wonderful?

NARRATOR: ...gazing at his reflection.

DOVE: Little Cu!!!

NARRATOR: Little Cu turned around.

CU: (totally casual) Oh, hey there, Dove! How’s it shakin’?

DOVE: (upset/ticked off) “How’s it shakin’?...”?!? … Little Cu! You didn’t deliver Owl’s message! I’m the one who got you this messenger job! Do you have any idea how bad you made me look?

NARRATOR: Little Cu burst into laughter.

CU: (laugh) (super-conceited/haughty) Oh, you don’t need me to make you ‘look bad,’ Dove! Those boring brown feathers of yours? They’re so plain! So drab! Unlike my own glorious plumage!

NARRATOR: The tiny bird fluffed and preened his many-colored feathers. Dove felt her heart sink.

DOVE: But… Little Cu… the other birds and I gave you that “glorious plumage”! We took pity on you, so — (gets interrupted)

CU: “Pity”!??? (ad-lib scoffing sound) Pshaw! You want to talk about “pity”?!? Well, I pity all of you! I am so much more magnificent than any of you will ever be! In fact…

NARRATOR: His tiny eyes flashed.

CU: (arrogant) … I am way too magnificent for some silly little messenger job! A stunning specimen like myself shouldn’t be tiring out his marvelous wings delivering invitations to parties! (beat) No offense, Dove, but that job you gave me is for the birds! ...Or for the other birds, anyway... the less gorgeous ones! (beat, arrogant, definitive) I quit!

NARRATOR: And with that, Little Cu flapped his wings, lifted his rainbow-colored body into the sky, and flew far, far away.

As Dove watched Little Cu disappear behind the clouds, she felt her cheeks burn… both with anger... and embarrassment!

DOVE: (little sigh/cry of anger/embarrassment) How could Little Cu do this...? After all we did for him…? (beat) (pulling herself together) But I assured Owl that if things went wrong, I would make them right... and a promise is a promise. Guess it’s time to be true to my word!

NARRATOR: Then she took off into the sky to chase after Little Cu.

Legend has it she’s still looking for him, calling out for Little Cu wherever she goes.

In fact, some say that’s why we describe the call of a dove...

[SOT: actual dove call]

NARRATOR:… a coo!

[SOT: actual dove call]

NARRATOR: But here’s the thing:

As Dove searches high and low for Little Cu... she’s not alone.

You see, despite everything that happened, Owl knew that Dove’s heart was in the right place when she hatched her plan.

So guess what?

Owl has been helping Dove out... and looking for Little Cu, too!

Only Owl is no longer known as just “Owl.” In parts of North and South America, he became what’s known as the burrowing owl!

Unlike other owls, who sleep all day, the burrowing owl stays up all day... with his head sticking out of a hole in the sand.

And while other owls call out with a “hoo hoo”... do you know what the burrowing owl says?

You guessed it!

He calls out with a “Cu cu”! 

In hopes that someday, somehow, he’ll track down the vain little bird... who got away.

This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Circle Round’s executive producer, Katherine Brewer. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.

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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