'The Laughing Canoe' | Circle Round 139

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Sabina Hahn for WBUR
Sabina Hahn for WBUR

Think about a time you used teamwork.

You did one part of a task, somebody else did the other, and by working together — by collaborating — you shared in your success.

We’re about to meet a team that works so well together, it’s magic!

Our story is called “The Laughing Canoe.” It’s inspired by tales told in Brazil, the largest country in South America and Latin America.

Voices in this episode include Feodor Chin, Ken Jackson, Igor Shimelonis, Sid Sholley, and George Salazar, from NBC’s Superstore and the Broadway production of Be More Chill.

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

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 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

What’s one thing you wish could come alive and talk? Would it be a toy? A tree? A car? And once it comes alive, what would you two do together? Find a piece of paper and draw a picture of you with your living, talking friend. Then, if you’d like, share it with us! Have a grown-up email a photo of you and your drawing to

Musical spotlight: The Charango 

Eric Shimelonis playing a more modern-day (i.e. wooden) charango. (courtesy Rebecca Sheir)
Eric Shimelonis playing a more modern-day (i.e. wooden) charango. (courtesy Rebecca Sheir)

This member of the lute family is popular in much of South America. Much like a small guitar with a rounded back, the charango usually has ten strings in five double courses: i.e. each pair of strings plays the same note. The charango was originally made from the shell of the armadillo (for a theory about why, check out our story, "Armadillo's Song"), though modern charangos are typically made of various varieties of wood. A charango player is called a charanguista.


NARRATOR: There once was a fisherman.

Each and every morning... with a fishing pole and two baskets... the fisherman made his way to the wide, winding river, where his hand-carved wooden canoe waited on the riverbank.

The fisherman pushed off from shore... paddled to the middle of the river… then baited his hook and cast his line.

After that… he waited.

The moment he felt a tug, he rolled his line in, then proudly unhooked a wiggling, wriggling bass or catfish and tossed it into one of his baskets.

This he would do again and again, until both baskets were brimming with flipping, flopping fish. Then he would paddle the canoe back to shore and take his catch to market, where he would sell the bass and catfish for two coppers a piece.

But one day, the fisherman didn’t catch any fish. Not one! For hours he drifted in his canoe, waiting for a tug, but no tug came.

So after returning to shore, the empty-handed fisherman went home, where his two sons greeted him with big smiles.

CHILD 1: Welcome back, daddy!

CHILD 2: How was today’s catch?

CHILD 1: Did you hook a lot of fish?

CHILD 2: And sell a lot at market?

NARRATOR: The fisherman heaved a sigh.

FISHERMAN: I’m afraid not, my loves. The catfish and bass must have been sleeping. They simply refused to bite! But no use getting down, right? I’ll try again tomorrow! Surely the fish will be awake by then.

NARRATOR: So the next morning, the fisherman grabbed his fishing pole and baskets and went to work. He paddled his canoe to the middle of the river, then baited his hook, cast his line… and waited.

And waited.

And waited!

But the fish didn’t bite, and for the second day in a row, the fisherman went home empty-handed.

Much to the fisherman’s chagrin, the same thing happened the next day.

And the next.

And the next!

By the seventh day, the fisherman was beside himself. And as he sat in his canoe, drifting on the water and waiting for that elusive tug, he finally broke down...

FISHERMAN: (crying)

NARRATOR: …and cried!

FISHERMAN: What am I going to do? If I can’t catch any fish, I can’t sell any fish. And if I can’t sell any fish, I can’t feed my children! And if I can’t feed my children, the poor dears will go hungry!

NARRATOR: The poor man wept and wept, until...

CANOE: Hey! What do you call a canoe that’s fifty-percent off?

NARRATOR: The fisherman froze.

FISHERMAN: What?!? Who said that?!

CANOE: I did! I said, what do you call a canoe that’s fifty-percent off? A “sale” boat! Get it? Like, a sale? A discount? Only it’s a sail-boat?

NARRATOR: The fisherman looked to his left.. then to his right... then he looked down. And when he did, he saw that the front of his canoe — the bow -- had sprouted... a face! A cheery-looking face, with two twinkling eyes and a wide, grinning mouth.

The astonished fisherman jumped so high he nearly tipped the canoe over!

CANOE: Easy there, buddy! I’ve heard of rocking the boat, but it's supposed to be a figure of speech! Although, come to think of it, if your canoe tips over in the water, you can always wear it on your head… because it’s cap-sized! (laughter) Get it? Capsized? Oh! I am on fire today!!!

NARRATOR: As the canoe exploded into a peal of laughter, the fisherman rubbed his eyes.

FISHERMAN: What is going on here? I was out on the water so long… did I fall asleep while I was waiting for a bite?!? I must be dreaming! I must be --

CANOE: Well, in the words of the greatest song in the history of music: (singing) “Row row row your boat, gently down the stream, merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream”!! But no, friend. I’m totally for real. No doubt a-boat it!! (laughter) Oh, I crack myself up!

NARRATOR: Although he’d been crying just a moment ago, the fisherman couldn’t help but smile.

CANOE: Hey, now that’s better! I haven’t seen your frown turn upside-down all day!

FISHERMAN: Well, that’s because I haven’t caught any fish! And if I can’t catch any fish, I can’t sell any fish. And if I can’t --

CANOE: ...and if you can’t sell any fish, you can’t feed your children! Yeah, yeah, yeah, I heard the whole thing. But I am pleased to report that your ship has come in, my friend — or, your canoe, if you want to be technical about it… Either way, I am here to save the day. No longer will you be up the creek without a paddle. Just sit back… and check this out!

NARRATOR: What do you think the canoe does next?

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


NARRATOR: I’m Rebecca Sheir. Welcome back to Circle Round. Today our story is called “The Laughing Canoe.”

NARRATOR: Before the break, a wise-cracking canoe told a struggling fisherman that his days of paddling back to shore empty-handed were over.

As the fisherman watched in wonder, the water around the canoe began to quiver… then ripple… then gurgle… then bubble and churn. And just like that, a massive silver catfish shot up from the river, arched its sleek, silvery-gray body in midair, then landed in one of the fisherman’s baskets.

NARRATOR: The same thing happened with another catfish…

NARRATOR: ...then a bass...

NARRATOR: ...then another catfish…

NARRATOR: ...and in no time both baskets were teeming with wiggling, wriggling fish… the biggest and plumpest fish the fisherman had ever seen!

Once the baskets were full, the stream of flying fish stopped, and the water went quiet.

FISHERMAN: This is amazing! Simply amazing! There’s no way my children will go hungry now!

NARRATOR: The fisherman gave the canoe a friendly pat.

FISHERMAN: Tell me, friend… how can I repay you? I’m so very grateful, but I don’t have much to offer...

CANOE: Oh... I wouldn’t be so sure a-boat that!!!

NARRATOR: Quick as a wink, the canoe whipped its head around until it faced the back of the boat — the stern — and then it opened its wide mouth…

CANOE: [opening mouth wide]

NARRATOR: ...and sucked all the fish from one of the baskets, like a vacuum cleaner!

CANOE: [gulping basket of fish]

CANOE: There! We’re even! One basket for you, one basket for me. You scratch my ‘bow,’ I scratch yours! And when you come back tomorrow, we’ll do it all over again. Whuddya say?

FISHERMAN: I say… this is the beginning of a boat-iful friendship!

CANOE: / FISHERMAN: (laughter)

NARRATOR: After that... every single day... the fisherman would paddle the canoe to the middle of the river.

The water would bubble and churn...

NARRATOR: ...the fish would fly through the air...

NARRATOR: ...the baskets would fill to the brim…

NARRATOR: ...and the canoe would snarf down one of the baskets with a great big gulp.

CANOE: [gulping basket of fish]

NARRATOR: No longer did the fisherman worry about putting food on his family’s table. The fish he brought to market were so large, so plump, he could sell them for four coppers apiece, instead of just two. And it wasn't long before those coppers added up… and the fisherman was prospering.

Now it just so happens that the fisherman had a brother — a farmer, who lived several villages over. And the two siblings were as different as June and January.

Whereas the fisherman was humble and caring, the farmer was greedy and jealous.

So when the farmer heard about the fisherman’s good fortune, he grew green with envy.

FARMER: How is my brother suddenly doing so well? I must uncover his secret!

NARRATOR: Early one morning, the farmer snuck out to the river and hid behind a bush. He watched the fisherman glide his canoe into the water, then paddle to the middle of the river. It was a wide river, so the fisherman was pretty far away and the farmer couldn’t see much. But what he did see made his eyes bulge!

FARMER: Oh my goodness! Look at all those big, beautiful fish jumping out of the water and into my brother’s boat!! It’s like magic!!

NARRATOR: Again, the canoe was quite distant, so the farmer didn’t see what happened next. He didn’t see the canoe spin its prow around… and he didn’t see it open its gaping mouth… and he didn’t see all the fish in one of the baskets suddenly disappear.

But what he did see set his greedy mind awhirl… and that night, under a dark, moonless sky, the farmer crept back to the river, with two gigantic baskets strapped to his back; they were far bigger than any baskets the humble fisherman ever used!

The farmer brought his brother’s canoe to the water’s edge, and placed his jumbo baskets inside; they were so huge, they barely fit!

But just as the farmer was about to step inside and push off...

CANOE: Hey! Which paddle do you use when you sit in the front of a canoe?

NARRATOR: The farmer tensed.

FARMER: What?!?? What did you say?

CANOE: I said, “Which paddle do you use when you sit in the front of a canoe?” “Either oar”! (laughing) Get it? Like an “oar,” like a paddle? Only it’s “either/or”!? Oh! I kill me! (laughter)

NARRATOR: The farmer’s eyes traveled down to the canoe. At first when he spotted the cheery face with its twinkling eyes and smiling mouth, he was startled. But then… he smiled.

FARMER: Ahhhhh! Now I understand! You’re a magic canoe! My brother has a magic canoe! So that's how he’s been catching all those big, beautiful fish!

NARRATOR: The farmer leaped into the canoe and began to paddle. When they reached the middle of the river, he looked at the canoe expectantly.

FARMER: (entitled) Okay! Here we are! Now get me those fish!

CANOE: Boy, oh boy! Aren’t you a pain in the stern! But hey... whatever floats your boat...

NARRATOR: To the farmer’s delight, the water began to quiver, ripple, gurgle and churn. Then fish after fish began hurtling through the air and landing in the farmer’s enormous baskets.

NARRATOR: The baskets were so big, and could hold so much, before long the canoe was weighted down with fish — and its sides were barely above the water!

CANOE: Uh, fella? We’re gonna need a bigger boat!

FARMER: Nonsense! I want these baskets filled to the brim!

NARRATOR: Eventually, they were… at which point the fish stopped jumping, and the water went still.

FARMER: Well, well, well! Look at all these fish. And they’re mine, all mine! Now let’s get back to shore so I can sell them.

CANOE: Not so fast, fella. Aren’t you forgetting something?

NARRATOR: Now remember — the farmer didn’t know that his brother always shared his fish with the canoe. The farmer had been too far away to see.

FARMER: I’m not forgetting anything, you hopeless heap of whittled wood! I’m going back to shore, and I’m selling these fish and I’m making a mint.

NARRATOR: But just as the farmer lifted his paddle…

CANOE: Oh... I wouldn’t be so sure a-boat that!!!

NARRATOR: ...the canoe whipped its head around, its twinkling eyes flashing with fury. Before the farmer knew what was happening, the canoe opened its gaping mouth wide and swallowed both baskets of fish!

Then, the canoe stretched its jaws even wider, and tried swallowing the farmer!

FARMER: Aaaaaaaahhhh!

NARRATOR: The terrified fellow sprung from his seat and dove into the water, swimming away as fast as his legs and arms could carry him. When he reached the shore, he took off running through the forest.

And for all we know, he’s running still.

As for his brother, the humble fisherman… he and his canoe continued their daily fishing trips, sharing ample amounts of catfish, bass — and bad boat puns.

You know, I’m kind of tempted to make one right now, but I can’t think of any.


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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