'Three Little Critters' | Circle Round 118

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("Three Little Critters" by Sabina Hahn)
("Three Little Critters" by Sabina Hahn)

Think about all the things you like to do in the sun.

Maybe you enjoy splashing around in a pool, pond, or ocean, or running in the grass and playing games.

But now, think about what you would do if the sun went away — if it were dark all the time! That’s the world we’ll visit in today’s story, until three itty-bitty creatures decide to find the light.

Our story is called “Three Little Critters.” Versions of this tale originally come from the Sukuma people of East Africa.

Voices in this episode include Elle Borders, Bindy Coda, Robert Feng, Thais Harris, Delores King Williams, Mike Smith, Mason Gooding and Allen Maldonado. Grown-ups, check out Mason Gooding in Love, Victor on Hulu, as well as the upcoming feature film, Scream 5. And look for Allen Maldonado in The Last O.G. on TBS, Sneakerheads on Netflix, and the upcoming STARZ wrestling-drama series, Heels.

This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Kristin Torres. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.

Coloring Page

("Three Little Critters" by Sabina Hahn)
("Three Little Critters" by 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, 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 a time you helped somebody solve a problem. Maybe you gave advice to a friend, or helped a grown-up find something they’d lost.

Next, draw a picture of what happened, and show it to a grown-up. Then ask them to share a time they came to someone’s aid. After all, as the three little critters in our story show, anyone can be a hero — no matter how large or small.

Musical spotlight: The Mbira

Composer Eric Shimelonis playing the mbira. (courtesy of Rebecca Sheir)
Composer Eric Shimelonis playing the mbira. (courtesy of Rebecca Sheir)

The mbira is an African instrument consisting of a small wooden board with thin metal pieces attached to the top. The pieces are all different sizes, so they play different notes. As with the kalimba (which you’ll hear in our episode, “Sweet and Sour”), you hold the mbira’s board in your hands, then pluck the metal pieces with your thumbs. Experts say the mbira dates back 3,000 years, but back then the keys were made of wood or bamboo instead of metal. To learn more about the mbira, you can hear composer Eric Shimelonis talk about it in “What Am I Hearing?”: our special music episode of Circle Round!


NARRATOR: Long ago… when the world was fresh and new… it looked very different from the world we know today.

Back then, there were no people on the earth — just animals!

There was also no light — just darkness!

For the light, you see, was trapped high above the clouds, in the Kingdom of the Sky, where the greedy Sky King kept it all to himself.

After a while, the King of all the animals on earth… Lion... decided enough was enough.

LION: My friends! How much longer can we stumble and bumble around in the dark like this? (beat) Just think how wonderful it would be to have enough light to hunt and gather food! Enough light to gaze into the eyes of our children! (beat) I say one of us travels up to the Kingdom of the Sky and brings back some light. (beat) Now... who will volunteer?

NARRATOR: Eagle snapped open her hook-shaped beak.

EAGLE: I’ll do it, Lion! I’ll bring back the light! With these powerful wings of mine, I can fly above the clouds in a jiffy!

NARRATOR: So Eagle spread her long, black wings and took off toward the sky. But even though she flapped and soared, soared and flapped… she couldn’t fly high enough to reach the clouds.

EAGLE: (disappointed) Ohhhh!

LION: That’s alright, Eagle. You did your best. (beat) Will anyone else try to bring light from the Kingdom of the Sky?

NARRATOR: Leopard blinked her amber-colored eyes.

LEOPARD: I’ll do it, Lion! With my excellent climbing skills, I can scale the tallest tree and leap right into the clouds, into the Sky Kingdom!

NARRATOR: So Leopard loped over to the highest tree and clambered all the way to the top. But even though she stretched her front paws as far as they could go, she couldn’t reach the clouds.

LEOPARD: (disappointed) Ohhh!

LION: Chin up, Leopard. You worked hard, and we appreciate it. (beat) Can anyone else try to bring us light from the Kingdom of the Sky?

NARRATOR: Antelope nodded her horned brown head.

ANTELOPE: I’ll do it, Lion! My four legs are long and strong. With enough of a running start, I can leap over the clouds with just one jump!

NARRATOR: So Antelope set off at a sprint. But when she pushed off her hind legs and bounded into the air, she couldn’t leap high enough to reach the clouds.

ANTELOPE: (disappointed) Ohhh!

LION: Well, thanks anyway, Antelope. You get an A-plus for effort! (beat) Of course, now I’m worried that none of us can bring light from the Sky Kingdom! And we’ll live in darkness forever!

NARRATOR: Just as Lion hung his shaggy head in despair, a voice called out.

SPIDER: Wait a minute, Lion! What about me?

NARRATOR: Lion squinted his golden eyes and peered down toward the ground… at Spider.

LION: You?!? Spider?!? But you’re so small! If big, strong animals like Eagle, Leopard and Antelope can’t get light from the Sky Kingdom, what makes you think you can succeed?

SPIDER: (confident) That’s for you to find out, Lion! But I’ll need a little help from my friends. (beat) Ant?

NARRATOR: Ant nodded her tiny head.

ANT: Yes, Spider?


NARRATOR: Fly flicked his teeny wings.

FLY: Yes, Spider?

SPIDER: You two are coming with me to the Sky Kingdom. If the three of us work together, I know we can bring light back to the earth!

NARRATOR: The other, bigger animals could hardly keep a straight face.

EAGLE: (snickering) Oh, come now, Spider!

LEOPARD: (snickering) You, Ant and Fly...?

ANTELOPE: (snickering) There’s no way you pint-sized pipsqueaks can succeed!

ANTELOPE: / LEOPARD: / EAGLE: (ad-lib laughter)

LION: Friends! Please! Pipe down!

[SOT: animals stop laughing]

NARRATOR: Lion fixed Spider, Ant and Fly with a steady, serious gaze.

LION: Alright, you three. If you really believe you can bring light to this dark, dark world... then let’s see what you can do!

SPIDER: Aye, aye, sir!

NARRATOR: Spider took a deep breath, then began spinning… a web. A sticky, silky web that reached all the way from the earth to the sky!

SPIDER: Okey-dokey! Ant? You and I will start at the bottom of this web and climb all the way to the top. And Fly? You buzz up alongside us.

NARRATOR: So, they did. The three little critters got higher and higher and higher… past the trees, past the mountains... until at last… they reached the clouds!

SPIDER: Way to go, friends! I knew we could do it! (beat) Now, Ant? You nibble a hole in the clouds, so the three of us can enter the Kingdom of the Sky!

NARRATOR: Ant did as she was told, and the three little critters crawled through the tiny opening in the clouds. When they emerged into the Sky Kingdom, they found themselves bathed in the warm, yellowish-golden glow… of light.

SPIDER: / ANT: / FLY: (marveling at the light) Wooooooowwww!

NARRATOR: But just as they were marveling at the colorful brightness around them...

SKY KING: Who are you?? And what are you doing in my Kingdom??

NARRATOR: Spider, Ant and Fly looked way, way up… right into the angry eyes of the Sky King!

SPIDER: (trying not to sound nervous) Um, greetings, Your Majesty! I’m Spider, and this is Ant…

ANT: (trying not to sound nervous) Hi!

SPIDER: ...and Fly...

FLY: (trying not to sound nervous) Hello!

SPIDER: ...And down on earth, where the three of us live, the world is dismally dreary and dark. (beat) So we’ve journeyed all the way up to your kingdom to humbly ask… could you please share some of your light with us?

NARRATOR: The king was surprised. No one had ever ventured all the way to the Sky Kingdom to ask for light before! In a way, the spirit and pluck of these three tiny creatures was impressive.

But the stingy ruler would never say that out loud. Instead, he crossed his great arms over his great chest and looked Spider, Ant and Fly up and down.

SKY KING: Sooooo… you want to share some of my light, eh...? My precious, precious light...? (beat) First you must prove that you’re worthy of such a treasure. You must pass… a test.

NARRATOR: Spider glanced at his friends. They gave him a supportive nod.

SPIDER: Alright, Your Majesty! That’s fine by us. If the three of us work together, there’s no test we can’t pass!

NARRATOR: The Sky King smiled. Little did Spider know, but the selfish sovereign was about to propose a test that no one could pass.

Or so he thought!

[theme music in]

NARRATOR: What test do you think the Sky King will give to Spider, Ant and Fly?

We’ll find out what it is, 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 “Three Little Critters.”

[theme music out]

NARRATOR: Before the break, the animals on earth were living in the dark, because the greedy Sky King was hoarding all the light in his kingdom above the clouds!

Three of the bigger animals tried bringing light from the Kingdom of the Sky… but they couldn’t get close to the clouds.

Then, Spider teamed up with his two tiny friends — Ant and Fly — and spun a web to the sky. When the three little critters reached the top, the Sky King told them he would share some light with them... if they could prove they were worthy.

All they had to do was pass… a test.

SKY KING: Listen up, you three. I’ll make this snappy because it’s time for my royal nap. (beat) But do you see that field of grass over there? If all the grass in that field is cut down before I wake up from my snooze... you may have some light.

NARRATOR: Then he turned on his heel and strode off to his palace.

Spider, Ant and Fly hurried to the grassy field. Fly buzzed high in the air to get a better look.

FLY: Hmmmmm…. I don’t know about this one, friends. This field stretches as far as my five eyes can see!!!!

ANT: Fly’s right, Spider! This field is huge!

SPIDER: I know, I know. To cut all this grass in time, we either need the king’s nap to last a-hundred years... or we need an army! (beat) (a-ha moment) (gasp) Wait! That’s it! An army!

NARRATOR: Spider turned to Ant.

SPIDER: Ant! How big would you say your family is?

ANT: Well… there are my one-hundred-thousand brothers, and my two-hundred-thousand sisters… plus at least a-million cousins, or is it two-million…?

SPIDER: No matter! Ant, I want you to scurry down the spiderweb and bring back all of your brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, aunts — everyone! If you all work together with those sharp teeth of yours, you can cut down that grass in no time!

NARRATOR: So Ant rushed down the web and brought back her entire family. In the blink of an eye, millions of ants were chomping and chewing away at the grass. And by the time the Sky King rose from his nap and came striding back to the field, the ants were gone… and the grass was all cut down.

The Sky King could hardly believe his eyes. Had these three miniscule creatures really passed his test?!?

SKY KING: (trying to hide his utter disbelief) Well, well, well! I see you managed to cut this entire field! Nice work!

SPIDER: Thank you, Your Majesty! (beat) Now, may we please have some light?

NARRATOR: The Sky King tilted his mighty head.

SKY KING: (thinking fast) Well… I would give you some light, but you see, the more I think about it, the more I realize that my treasured light is so priceless, so invaluable, it deserves more than just one silly little test. (beat) So I’m giving you another.

NARRATOR: Spider, Ant and Fly were disappointed, but they knew better than to argue with the Sky King.

SPIDER: Alright, Your Majesty. What is our next test?

SKY KING: Well, do you see that orchard over there? My gardeners spent all morning in that orchard, picking fruit for a royal banquet I’m throwing today. But they left plenty of fruit behind. If every single piece of remaining fruit is eaten before my party is over... you may have some light.

NARRATOR: Then he marched back to the palace.

Spider, Ant and Fly rushed to the orchard. Fly buzzed up to a tree and nibbled a plum.

FLY: Mmmm! This fruit is delicious! (beat) But there’s no way the three of us can eat it all… even if the king’s banquet lasts all year!

ANT: Fly’s right, Spider! There must be a thousand trees here, which means there are, what, a-hundred-thousand pieces of fruit…?!??

SPIDER: I know, I know. If I could, I’d just tell that impossible Sky King to stuff it, you know? To buzz off! To go fly a kite! To — (beat) (a-ha moment) (gasp) That’s it! Buzz! … Fly!

NARRATOR: Spider turned to Fly.

SPIDER: Fly! Any chance your family is free right now?

FLY: Well, if we tell them about the feast of fruit waiting for them, I’m pretty sure they’ll clear their schedule!

SPIDER: Marvelous! Fly, I want you to wing down to earth and bring back everyone in your family! If you all work together whizzing and whirring around the trees, you can gobble up that fruit in a flash!

NARRATOR: So Fly zipped down the web and brought back his entire family. In an instant, thousands of flies were munching, guzzling and slurping up fruit. And by the time the Sky King finished his banquet and came strutting back to the orchard, the flies were gone… and so was the fruit!

The Sky King was impressed… and flummoxed. How did these tiny critters possess such great powers?

SKY KING: (trying to hide his utter disbelief) (again) Well, would you look at that! Every single piece of fruit has vanished! Disappeared!

SPIDER: Indeed it has, Your Majesty! (beat) Now, may we please have some light?

NARRATOR: The Sky King’s mind raced. Clearly, he would need another plan.

SKY KING: (thinking fast) You know… you’ve worked so hard to pass my first two tests… if you’re truly worthy of my light, you’ll be able to pass just one more.

NARRATOR: Spider, Ant and Fly sighed. They should have known the sneaky sovereign would throw them another curveball!

SPIDER: Okay, Your Majesty. What is our final test?

SKY KING: Well, this one is more of a… choice. (beat) Wait right here.

NARRATOR: Spider, Ant and Fly watched as the king bustled back to his palace.

When he returned, he had ten servants in tow. One was holding a small black box. The other nine were all carrying a big yellow box, so large and unwieldy they had to hoist it up on their shoulders.

The Sky King’s eyes glittered as he addressed Spider, Ant and Fly.

SKY KING: Do you see these two boxes here? The big yellow one... and the small black one? One of the boxes holds darkness — the same darkness you’ve been stumbling and bumbling around in down on earth. The other box holds light — bright, radiant, glorious light. My question is…

NARRATOR: His lips curled into a grin.

SKY KING: (slowly, with a devilish grin) ...which one do you choose?

NARRATOR: Spider, Ant and Fly exchanged a look. Spider raised one of his eight tiny hands.

SPIDER: Your Majesty, do you mind if my friends and I talk it over for a bit? Discuss it amongst ourselves?

SKY KING: (assuming they’ll never choose correctly) As you wish.

NARRATOR: So Spider, Ant and Fly went into a huddle.

SPIDER: Okay, friends. What do you think? Is the light in the small black box, or is it in the big yellow one?

ANT: Well, yellow is the color of the sun, so maybe it’s that one...?

FLY: Ant’s right! The black box is so dark. Just like the murky gloom back on earth!

SPIDER: I see your point, Fly. But we need to get this right. I mean, the three of us have come so far, and accomplished so much… Remember when all the big animals were laughing at us? Doubting what we can do, just because of our size? Well, look at us now! The way we’ve worked together, we’ve definitely proven that good things come in small packages! Why, we’ve shown everyone that — (beat) (a-ha moment) (gasp) That’s it! I know which box holds the light! (beat) Do you trust me, friends?

FLY: Absolutely, Spider!

ANT: Without a doubt!

NARRATOR: Spider flashed his pals a grateful smile, then scuttled back to the Sky King.

SPIDER: Your Majesty. My friends and I know which box we’re going to pick. (beat) We choose… the small black one!

NARRATOR: The King froze. His eyes grew wide.

And in that moment, Spider knew he had made the right choice.

Quick as a wink, Spider, Ant and Fly grabbed the small, black box and raced down the web to earth. Down, down, down they went, and the minute they touched the ground, Lion, Eagle, Leopard, Antelope and all the other animals gathered round.

LION: Spider! Ant! Fly! Welcome back!

EAGLE: Did you make it all the way up to the Kingdom in the Sky?

LEOPARD: And did you find the light?

ANTELOPE: ...And bring it back?

NARRATOR: Spider beamed at all the bigger animals.

SPIDER: We did indeed, friends! (beat) (with a flourish) And here it is!!!

NARRATOR: But the moment Spider, Ant and Fly lifted the lid off of the small, black box...

EAGLE: / LEOPARD: / ANTELOPE: (ad-lib laughter)

NARRATOR: … all the bigger animals began... to laugh!

EAGLE: (laughing) Oh, you silly little critters!

LEOPARD: (laughing) There’s no light inside this box!

ANTELOPE: (laughing) It’s pretty hard to see, but I’m thinking it looks more like… a bird?!?

NARRATOR: Indeed, it was a bird! A bright-eyed bird with long, curved tail feathers, a floppy flap of skin beneath its chin, and a comb on top of its head.

Poor Spider, Ant and Fly! After all they had been through, the three little critters were about to burst into tears!

Until… all of a sudden… the strange bird jumped out of the small, black box... tipped its feathery head toward the sky... and let out a big…

[SOT: rooster crow]


[SOT: rooster crow]

NARRATOR: And in the twinkling of an eye, what should come bursting into the sky… but the sun!

As the animals watched in wonder, the glowing, fiery orb flooded the earth with light — for the very first time.

And do you know why?

Because that strange, bright-eyed bird in the small, black box… was a rooster!

And ever since then... all across the world — on every continent except Antarctica — it’s been the job of the rooster to crow his head off… and summon the day.

All thanks to three little critters who joined forces to prove that sometimes the smallest package contains the very best thing.

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



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