'The Red Leather Shoes' | Circle Round 124

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("The Red Leather Shoes" by Sabina Hahn)
("The Red Leather Shoes" by Sabina Hahn)

Have you ever heard of “the golden rule”?

It’s an idea that goes all the way back to ancient Egypt, actually. And basically, the golden rule says that you should treat other people the way you want to be treated. Like if you want to borrow a friend's toy, maybe you can let your friend borrow one of your toys sometime.

In today’s story, we’ll meet a shoemaker who extends kindness to someone in need. And what she gets in return, she never saw coming!

Voices in this episode include Elle Borders, Jason Ennis, Thais Harris, Delores King Williams, Nick Sholley, Chris Tucci, Aasif Mandvi and Madhur Jaffrey. Madhur Jaffrey is an award-winning actress and chef who’s written dozens of cookbooks and starred in dozens of films, plus her own cooking show. Aasif Mandvi is a comedian and actor whom you grown-ups may know from The Daily Show on Comedy Central and Evil on CBS. You grown-ups can see both Madhur and Aasif in the films ABCD and Today’s Special, co-written by Aasif, and you kids can hear both actors in Mira, Royal Detective on Disney Junior.

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

Coloring Page

("The Red Leather Shoes" by Sabina Hahn)
("The Red Leather Shoes" 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 someone who has a skill that you admire.

Perhaps your aunt is a brilliant surgeon, your grandparent is an incredible chef, or your neighbor is an artist who makes beautiful paintings or pots.

Think about that person, then think of five questions you’d like to ask them — five questions about how they do what they do. You could ask what inspired them to get started, what keeps them going, what words of wisdom they’d offer someone who wants to follow the same path.

Ask a grown-up to help you write down your questions. Then, send those questions to your person. They’ll no doubt be tickled pink to answer. And when you get those answers back, you’ll no doubt learn something amazing and new!

Musical spotlight: The Sitar

The sitar is a member of the lute family. The sitar has strings, a pear-shaped gourd body, and, like a guitar or lute, a long hollow neck with ‘frets’: i.e. raised strips you put your fingers on to play different notes. The sitar can have up to 21 strings. The player plucks six or seven of these strings; the rest are there just to vibrate. All of these features give the sitar a notable vibration-rich sound popular in music from northern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. You can see a masterful sitar performance in this video of Anoushka Shankar playing a composition written by her father, Ravi Shankar.


NARRATOR: Long, long ago… in a small village in a sprawling kingdom… there lived a shoemaker.

Customers traveled from all corners of the kingdom to order shoes from the shoemaker. For everyone agreed the woman had a gift for making the most beautiful, comfortable footwear… and making it fast.

CUSTOMER 1: Can you believe this pair of leather sandals the shoemaker made for me?!? I ordered them on a Friday afternoon, just before she closed shop for the weekend, and they were waiting for me first thing on Monday!

CUSTOMER 2: Well, get a load of these silk slippers the shoemaker made for me! Not only are they as soft as butter, but I ordered them on a Monday morning, and they were ready by sundown!

CUSTOMER 3: That shoemaker is amazing! Simply amazing!

NARRATOR: Eventually, though, things began to change.

The shoemaker was growing older — so her eyes were growing weaker, her fingers were growing stiffer, and her work was growing slower.

The shoes she made were still as beautiful and comfortable as ever, but her customers were growing annoyed about how long they had to wait.

CUSTOMER 4: Uch! I can’t believe this! I placed an order a month ago, and my shoes still aren’t ready!

CUSTOMER 5: Well, that's nothing! I placed my order two months ago!

CUSTOMER 6: This is ridiculous! I say we find another shoemaker. One who doesn’t keep us waiting!

NARRATOR: So... they did. They found a cobbler in the capital city, a young fellow who could churn out shoes like they were pancakes on a griddle.

Before long, the shoemaker in the village had no customers. And with no customers, she had no income. She couldn’t afford material to make new shoes… or food to fill her belly!

One morning, as she sat down for a meager breakfast of rice and tea, she glanced around her dusty shop.

SHOEMAKER: Oh, look at this place. It’s like a ghost town in here! I haven’t seen a customer in ages... They’re all visiting that flashy cobbler in the capital city. Sure, he’s quick, but his work! It’s so shoddy! And his materials! They’re so cheap! So second-rate!

NARRATOR: The shoemaker frowned as she sipped her tea. If she didn’t get any customers soon, she’d be in trouble!

There must be something she could do.

Then all of a sudden, something caught her eye. She hobbled to the kitchen, stretched up her creaky arms, and brought a box down from the shelf. It was a wooden box hewn from a walnut tree, with elaborate, intricate designs carved along the sides and top.

When the shoemaker lifted the box’s dusty lid, her eyes lit up.

SHOEMAKER: (fondly, talking to what’s inside) There you are! I’d almost forgotten about you!

NARRATOR: The shoemaker reached inside and unfolded a big piece of leather. She rubbed the material between her fingers. It was as smooth as the petals of a rose, and as red as a pomegranate.

The leather had been a gift from her mother… a brilliantly talented shoemaker who passed all of her skills down to her one and only child. And years and years ago, just before the old woman cobbled her final pair of shoes and let out her final breath, she pulled her daughter aside and placed the leather in her hand.

MOTHER: (with reverb, to denote flashback) This leather, my child, is for you. It will make for a marvelous pair of shoes someday. But don’t be too hasty in using it. Keep this leather with you, treasure it. (beat) You’ll know when the time comes to use it. 

NARRATOR: As the shoemaker recalled her mother’s words, she felt a ripple of joy.

For she knew... the time had come. At last, she would use her beloved red leather to make a magnificent pair of shoes — so magnificent that she could make a pretty penny selling them!

The shoemaker fetched her cobbling tools and got to work. Hour after hour she sat hunched over the table, trimming and stitching, hammering and gluing, until her shoulders were aching and her fingers were numb.

She woke up early the next morning and did the same thing… trimming and stitching, hammering and gluing. Day after day, week after week, month after month, she hunkered down at her table, until… at last…


NARRATOR: … the red leather shoes were finished.

SHOEMAKER: Oh, my pretties - look at you! You’re gorgeous! Divine! (beat) Mother would be so proud.

NARRATOR: There was almost a spring in the shoemaker’s shuffling step as she placed the shoes in the front window of her shop.

SHOEMAKER: There! (beat) Now I’ll just wait for somebody to stroll past my window, notice the shoes, and snatch them up! I’m sure it won’t be long.

NARRATOR: And indeed…

[SOT: door opening]

NARRATOR: wasn’t!

CUSTOMER 1: Excuse me, but I was wandering by just now when I saw those exquisite red leather shoes in the window! I have to ask… how much are they?

NARRATOR: The shoemaker grinned. At long last, a customer! Her plan was working!

SHOEMAKER: (casually, yet proud) The red leather shoes, you say...? They’re fifty silver coins.

NARRATOR: The customer did a double take.

CUSTOMER 1: Fifty silver coins? But the cobbler in the capital city would charge way less than that!

NARRATOR: The shoemaker bristled.

SHOEMAKER: But the cobbler in the capital city would never craft such a fine pair of shoes! I can assure you, each and every stitch was made with the utmost of care. And that leather - you won’t find higher quality anywhere! These shoes will last you a lifetime!

NARRATOR: But the customer was not convinced.

CUSTOMER 1: I’m sorry. But fifty silver coins sounds way too steep to me. (beat) Good luck with the shoes.

NARRATOR: Well, as it turned out, the shoemaker needed far more than luck. For no matter how many curious customers waltzed into her shop…

CUSTOMER 2: How much for the red leather shoes?

CUSTOMER 3: What are you asking for the red leather shoes?

NARRATOR: ...when they learned the price…

CUSTOMER 4: Fifty silver coins?!

CUSTOMER 5: That’s outrageous!

NARRATOR: ...all of them made a beeline for the door.

CUSTOMER 6: Sorry, but good luck!

CUSTOMER 2: Good luck!

CUSTOMER 2: / 3: / 4: / 5: / 6: Good luck! 

NARRATOR: Well, it wasn’t long before the shoemaker’s cupboards were bare, her pockets were empty, and she was left with little more than a heavy heart and a hungry belly.

But little did she know… all of that was about to change.

[theme music in]

NARRATOR: What do you think will happen to the shoemaker?

We’ll find out, 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 “The Red Leather Shoes.”

[theme music out]

NARRATOR: Before the break, a struggling shoemaker put her heart and soul into making a beautiful pair of red leather shoes. But alas, no one would buy them.

One evening, as a ferocious storm raged outside, the shoemaker sat huddled by the fire. She was rubbing her bony hands and trying to ignore her grumbling belly when all of a sudden...

[SOT: knock]

SHOEMAKER: Oh dear! Who could be wandering around in all this wind and rain?

NARRATOR: The shoemaker heaved herself to her feet and shambled to the door. Shivering outside was a haggard man. His face was smudged with soot. Raindrops pelted down on his long, shabby coat and tattered hat.

KING: (disguised as beggar) Good evening, madam. Sorry to disturb you, but I spotted the glow of your fire through your front window. I’ve been begging in the streets all day long and I am chilled to my bones! May I please come in and warm myself?

SHOEMAKER: Of course!

NARRATOR: The shoemaker took the beggar’s arm and led him to the fire.

SHOEMAKER: Here. Take off that soaking-wet coat and hat and make yourself comfortable. I’d offer you some food, but I ate my last bowl of rice days ago, and I haven’t been able to --

NARRATOR: The shoemaker stopped short. For her eyes had wandered down to the beggar’s feet. The man wasn’t wearing any shoes, or socks... and his toes, soles and heels were all dirty and wet.

SHOEMAKER: I’m sorry, sir... but your feet! Have you no shoes to wear?

KING: No, madam. I have no shoes. As a poor beggar, I have nothing at all, really! (beat) But you... How is it you’ve fallen on such hard times?

NARRATOR: The shoemaker heaved a sigh.

SHOEMAKER: Well, I’m a shoemaker by trade. I learned everything from my mother - the most remarkable shoemaker you ever did meet. But as I grew older, I grew slower, and now everyone would rather buy shoes from the cobbler in the capital city! He uses far cheaper materials than I do, but he can throw together a shoe in the blink of an eye.

NARRATOR: The beggar nodded. Then he gestured toward the front window.

KING: I couldn’t help but notice those red leather shoes you have on display. They’re utterly spectacular! I’ve never seen anything like them! (beat) Are you telling me nobody will buy those?

SHOEMAKER: Not a one! Everyone who comes into my shop says the shoes are too expensive.

KING: I see.

NARRATOR: The beggar rose to his bare, begrimed feet and began pulling on his ragged coat.

KING: Well, I believe it’s time for me to move on. (beat) Thank you for the fire, madam. And for the company. It means more than I can say.

NARRATOR: As the man began trudging toward the door, the shoemaker stopped him.

SHOEMAKER: Wait! It’s pouring buckets out there. You can’t walk around like that. (beat) Here.

NARRATOR: The shoemaker went to the window and brought back the red leather shoes.

SHOEMAKER: Take these. It’s clear that no one will buy them. At least I know they’ll be put to good use, by a good person.

NARRATOR: The beggar’s eyes twinkled as he slipped the shoes on. They fit like a glove.

KING: Thank you, madam! I can’t tell you how grateful I am.

NARRATOR: Then he tipped his tattered hat and disappeared into the dark and rainy night.

By morning, the storm had passed. Outside the shoemaker’s shop, the sky sparkled a brilliant blue, and the sun shone high in the sky. But inside the shop, the shoemaker felt bleak and gloomy. Because while tossing and turning in bed last night, she had come to a very difficult decision:

She would sell her cobbling tools.

SHOEMAKER: I mean, what else can I do? Clearly my career is all washed up. These tools will bring me a bit of money, then I can decide what I’ll do next.

NARRATOR: But just as the shoemaker began gathering up her hammers and scissors, her pincers and pliers...

[SOT: knock]

NARRATOR: When the shoemaker opened the door, she saw an elegant horse and carriage on the street outside. The finely-dressed driver waved his velvet-gloved hand and grinned.

MAN: Good morning, madam! Please, come with me. We don’t have a moment to waste. (beat) The King wishes to see you immediately!

NARRATOR: The shoemaker was confused. The king?!? But she did as she was instructed and climbed into the carriage.

When the carriage reached the palace, the shoemaker was ushered into a great hall. The moment she spotted the king sitting on his plush velvet throne, decked out in his lush satin robe, she bowed low to the ground.

KING: Good morning, dear madam! (beat) Please. You may rise.

NARRATOR: The shoemaker froze. That voice! It was so familiar! She’d never met the King before, so how did she recognize that voice?

Slowly, she rose to her feet.

SHOEMAKER: I am honored to be in your presence, Your Majesty. But I must confess, I’m confused as to why you’d summon a poor shoemaker like me to your palace!

NARRATOR: The king smiled.

KING: I’ve summoned you to my palace… to repay you. (beat) For the red leather shoes.

SHOEMAKER: The red leather shoes?!??

NARRATOR: The shoemaker blinked her eyes.

SHOEMAKER: With all due respect, Your Excellency... I gave those red leather shoes to a beggar! Not a King!

KING: That’s where you’re wrong, dear madam! (beat) You see, nobody outside these palace walls knows it… but from time to time, I like to disguise myself, so I may wander about my kingdom unrecognized. I wish to see first-hand how my people live… and how they treat each other. (beat) Last night I disguised myself as a beggar. A haggard and weary man so down-and-out, so penniless... he couldn’t even afford shoes. I made my way to your shop in the thunder, wind and rain and I knocked at your door. And what did you do? You took me in, you sat me by the fire, and you gave me your most prized possession. (beat) The red leather shoes.

NARRATOR: The shoemaker felt her cheeks flush.

SHOEMAKER: Well, Your Highness... I couldn't just leave you out there shivering in the cold!

KING: So you say... But do you know how many of your fellow citizens turned me away as I wandered from house to house? Do you know how many of them slammed their door in my face — if they even answered it to begin with? (beat) And so… I’d like to repay you. By making you the official royal shoemaker. Henceforth, you shall be charged with making all my shoes. And in return, you may live in this palace and enjoy all the comforts therein. (beat) Do you accept my offer? 

NARRATOR: The shoemaker’s heart stuttered and skittered inside her chest. It felt like a dragonfly fluttering its delicate wings.

SHOEMAKER: (humbled, delighted) Yes, Your Majesty. I accept your offer.

NARRATOR: And so, the shoemaker packed up her shop in the village and moved into the palace, where she spent her days making beautiful, comfortable shoes for the king.

She worked slowly, but the king didn’t mind. For what the shoemaker lacked in speed, she made up for in skill. And even if her hands weren’t quick, her heart was warm, and that’s what mattered most of all.

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



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