'The Friend Ship' | Ep. 140

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

Think about the last time you opened your ears and listened.

Often, the best thing we can do for those we cherish is listen to them. We can hear them out as they tell us how their day was, how they're feeling, what they're thinking.

And in today's tale, we’ll find out what a wonderful gift a good listener can be!

Our story is called “The Friend Ship.” Versions of this folktale originally come from the island nation of Japan.

Voices in this episode include Robert Feng, Faith Salie, Dawn Ursula, and Carra Patterson. Carra Patterson stars in the Disney+ series Turner & Hooch. You Broadway fans may have seen her breakout performance as the only female in the 2017 Tony Award-winning play Jitney, written by August Wilson.

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 are some ways you can be a good friend? Find a piece of paper or posterboard and draw a big square. Then divide that big square into nine little squares — or three rows of three — and get ready to play Friendship Bingo!

In each of the nine squares, have a grown-up help you write one thing you can do to be a good friend. It can be as simple as giving a friend a compliment, telling a joke to cheer them up, or making a get-well card if they’re feeling under the weather.

Once you’ve written all nine squares, hang your Friendship Bingo board wherever you can see it. Then, every time you do something on your board, fill in that square with a sticker or stamp.

When you’ve completed your Friendship Bingo board, share it with us! Ask a grown-up to snap a photo and email it to

Musical spotlight: The Harp 

Ann Hobson Pilot performs on the harp, accompanied by the Boston Symphony Orchestra during the opening night gala of Carnegie Hall's 119th season in New York, Thursday, Oct., 1, 2009. (AP Photo/Stuart Ramson)
Ann Hobson Pilot performs on the harp, accompanied by the Boston Symphony Orchestra during the opening night gala of Carnegie Hall's 119th season in New York, Thursday, Oct., 1, 2009. (AP Photo/Stuart Ramson)

Dating back 6,000 years, the harp is the second biggest string instrument in the orchestra (check out our stories, Stella and the Dragon, Nilsa and the Troll, and Growing Courage, to see which string instrument is the biggest!). The harp’s sound has been described as gentle, clear, brilliant, glittering, and flowing, not to mention magical and mystical — just like the tall, tall tree in our tale.


NARRATOR: Long, long ago… at the tippy, tippy top of a steep, steep hill… there grew a tree.

It was a tall tree… its branches stretching so high they nearly brushed the clouds. It was a thick tree, too — with a trunk so broad it would take you a good five minutes just to walk around it.

Far below the tree… at the bottom of one side of the steep, steep hill... there lived a woman named Reina. Reina shared a small, drafty house with her mother — a frail old woman whose bones were so rickety and crickety, she hardly ever got out of bed.

MOTHER: Reina, could you please fetch me another blanket? I feel such a chill!

REINA: Of course, Mother! Here you go.

MOTHER: Thank you, dear.

NARRATOR: On the other side of the hill lived a rich landowner — or lord. The lord had a grand mansion with countless rooms, countless corridors, and countless servants — whom he bossed around to no end.

LORD: Cook! This soup is cold! … Tailor! These pants are torn! … Footman! These boots are dull! Polish them at once!

NARRATOR: Among the lord’s servants was Reina, who worked as a laundress, washing and scrubbing the wealthy man’s extravagant garments till they looked like new. But even then…

LORD: Laundress! 

NARRATOR: ...the lord never failed to complain.

LORD: ...This robe is dingy! Wash it again!

NARRATOR: Early each morning, when Reina climbed up the steep, steep hill to go to work, she’d always stop and say hello to the tall, tall tree.

REINA: Greetings and salutations, tree! Don’t your leaves look extra lush and green this morning!

NARRATOR: And late each evening, when she climbed the hill to get back home, she would say hello again.

REINA: Good evening, tree! That was some rain we had today, huh? I’m glad you got a nice, long drink!

NARRATOR: Reina had been passing by the tree for so long, she thought of it as an old friend. She talked to the tree when she was happy…

REINA: Great news, tree! Mother actually got out of bed today — for a moment, anyway.

NARRATOR: And she talked to the tree when she was sad.

REINA: Ugh. The lord fired yet another baker today, tree. Just because he burnt one cookie. One cookie! I feel so bad for him and his family.

NARRATOR: Every time Reina spoke, the tree’s branches waved and swayed, almost as if it heard her words and understood.

One year, Mother’s health took a turn for the worse. Reina called the village doctor, and after paying the bill and buying the prescribed medicine, Reina was down to her last penny.

The next morning, on her way to work, she shared her woes with the tall, tall tree.

REINA: Oh, tree. I’m in such a pickle! I mean, I’m glad Mother will get better... but now all my savings are gone! Not that I had much, of course — but now I have nothing! I’ll have to start from scratch! And the lord pays me so little for my work as a laundress, it’ll take me forever to build up another nest egg.

NARRATOR: The tree’s branches waved and swayed as Reina racked her brain for an idea. Then, all of a sudden, it came to her!

REINA: I know what I’ll do! Every day the lord lets us servants have one plate of leftovers from the kitchen. I’ll take a few morsels for myself, then bring the rest home for Mother. That way, I can save some of the money I usually set aside for buying food!

NARRATOR: After that, every time Reina went to work, she began stashing away bits of food and bringing them home to Mother.

But then… one fateful day…

LORD: (catching Reina in the act) Excuse me! What do you think you’re doing? Why are you putting that food inside that basket? My servants are allowed to eat one plate of food from the kitchen. But you’re not permitted to bring it home!

REINA: I’m sorry, sir. It’s just that my mother, she’s so old and frail, and I spent our last coin to buy her medicine, and so we can’t afford to --

LORD: Spare me the sob story! Rules are rules, and what I say goes. You’re fired.

REINA: But, sir! This food isn’t for me! It’s for my --

LORD: I don’t care if it’s for the emperor himself! Your services are no longer needed.

NARRATOR: That night, when Reina climbed the hill, she couldn’t help herself. She fell to the ground, pulled her knees to her chest, then leaned back against the tall, tall tree and began to cry.

REINA: (through her tears/sobs) Oh, tree! I’m really in trouble now! Without a job, I have no income. And without an income I have no way to make ends meet! What will become of me and Mother? Oh, how I wish someone could tell me what to do...! (breaks down in sobs)

NARRATOR: A river of tears ran down Reina’s face. Her body shuddered as she sobbed and sobbed. And then… all of a sudden…

TREE: I know what you can do, Reina!

REINA: You what...?!?

NARRATOR: Reina sat bolt upright.

REINA: Who said that?! Where are you?!?

TREE: I’m right here, Reina! I’ve always been here. And I have a plan that won’t just help you make ends meet....It’ll set you up for life!

NARRATOR: Who do you think spoke up just now?

And what might their plan be?

We’ll find out, after a quick break.


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

NARRATOR: Before the break, the wealthy lord fired Reina for bringing food to her ailing mother. On Reina’s way home, she passed the tall, tall tree atop the steep, steep hill, and told her old friend everything that happened.

Usually when Reina spoke to the tree, it swayed and dipped its branches, as if it understood every word. But this time…

REINA: Wait a minute! That voice I heard just now — it didn’t belong to you, tree… did it???

TREE: Actually…

NARRATOR: The tree fluttered its leaves.

TREE: … it did!!!

REINA: Sooo… you talk?

TREE: Well, usually I just listen. And I’ve been listening to you for years now, Reina. Hearing you talk so lovingly about your poor old mother… hearing you complain about that disagreeable lord. And I’ve been watching you, too! Watching you trek up this hill at the crack of dawn to go to work… watching you bring morsels of food back home so your mother can eat. That’s why I am going to help you.

NARRATOR: Reina was stunned. All these years she’d been talking to the tree — not once did she expect it to talk back!

REINA: That’s so very kind of you, tree — so very kind! But — no offense — how can a tree help me support myself and my mother?

TREE: Oh, you’d be surprised!

NARRATOR: Again, the tree fluttered its leaves.

TREE: Listen, Reina. Word has it that that unpleasant former boss of yours is building… a ship. A gigantic ship. The most massive ship this part of the world has ever seen! And do you know what he’s using to make that ship?

REINA: I don’t know... Wood…?!?

TREE: That’s right! But not just any wood. He’s using… mine!

REINA: Your wood?

NARRATOR: Reina clamped a hand to her chest.

REINA: You don’t mean he’s chopping you down!!??!

TREE: I’m afraid he is. He wanted the very best wood from the thickest, tallest tree, and, well, that would be me. In a way, it’s kind of an honor.

REINA: But he can’t do that! He can’t just --

TREE: Oh, but he can — and he will! But here's the good part. The lord is going to turn me into this gargantuan ship, right? Thing is… I’m not going to move.

NARRATOR: Reina cocked her head.

REINA: Not going to move? You mean, you’re not going to launch?

TREE: Nope! The lord will try to launch me, of course. After spending all this money and all this time building this whale of a ship, he’ll have this big launching ceremony, right? He’ll show me off to all the people, and he’ll try to set me afloat in the water… but I’m not going to budge.

REINA: Oh, tree!

NARRATOR: Reina found herself grinning.

REINA: That’s positively wicked of you!

TREE: I know, right? And the lord will be so desperate to get me to launch that he’ll do anything -- anything — to propel me into the water. And that’s where you come in. Now listen up.

NARRATOR: Reina leaned in and listened as the tree told her exactly what she should do. Then Reina gave her friend a big hug, and went back down the hill to her mother.

Sure enough, the next morning, Reina could hear the whacking and hacking of axes as the lord’s woodcutters began chopping down the tall, tall tree. Reina was sad to lose her friend, but she knew what she must do.

The day of the big launch, the lord invited everyone in the land to come to the shore and view his magnificent creation.

LORD: Ladies and gentlemen! Have you ever seen such a wonder? See how it glimmers and gleams as its glorious wooden hull reflects the rays of the sun! (beat) I am convinced that this is the greatest ship ever created. And now… I will prove it, as we launch this ship! On the count of three. One! Two! Three!

NARRATOR: But… just as the tree had predicted… the ship would not launch.

LORD: Well, this is odd. Perhaps my crew hasn’t untied all the ropes. Deckhands! Make sure the ship is no longer moored to the dock!

NARRATOR: The lord’s deckhands double checked and triple checked, but sure enough, the ship was completely unmoored. All the ropes were untied.

LORD: Well, let’s try again then! One! Two! Three!

NARRATOR: But, again, the ship refused to launch. The lord was growing flustered.

LORD: Okay, so that didn’t work... Perhaps the ship’s too heavy...? We need to unload some cargo...?

NARRATOR: So, they did. But still…

LORD: One! Two! THREE!

NARRATOR: … the ship refused to launch.

The lord tried everything. Raising more sails...

LORD: (getting more and more flustered) One! Two! THREE!

NARRATOR: ...rowing with oars...

LORD: (getting more and more flustered) One! Two! THREE!

NARRATOR: ...he even had his deckhands get into the water and push.

LORD: (getting more and more flustered) One! Two! THREE!

NARRATOR: But the ship wouldn’t move an inch.

Finally, the lord couldn’t take it anymore.

LORD: Ohhhh, I give up! If anyone here can get this ship to launch, I’ll give you anything you want. Anything at all!

NARRATOR: At first, no one in the crowd spoke up. But then…

REINA: I’ll do it!

NARRATOR: ...Reina stepped forward.

REINA: I’ll launch your ship, sir. I’ll send it clear across the water.

NARRATOR: The lord pointed a finger at Reina.

LORD: You...?!? Aren’t you the laundress who stole food from my grand mansion? You’re nothing but a common thief, yet you think you can launch this boat?

REINA: Oh, I don’t think I can, sir…

NARRATOR: Reina looked the lord right in the eye.

REINA: I know I can.

NARRATOR: And with that, Reina marched right up to the boat. In her hand she held a long, gnarled stick, which she suddenly lifted into the air, as if casting a spell. Then she spun in a circle and waved her arms this way and that.

The people on the shore watched in wonder. Was this laundress actually an enchantress? Was she casting a spell? And would it work?

Reina was stomping her feet on the shore now, kicking great clouds of sand every which way. Then she stopped and crouched down low, before exploding into the air in a graceful leap, and tapping the side of the ship with her stick.

And the moment she did, do you know what happened?

The ship eased away from the dock… and began sliding into the sea!

The lord was gobsmacked.

LORD: My ship! You’ve launched my ship! However did you do it?

NARRATOR: Reina smiled.

REINA: Let’s just say I had help from an old friend.

NARRATOR: Well… after that... Reina had no trouble making ends meet.

As a reward for launching the ship, the lord gave her exactly what she wanted: a bit of money, plus enough clothing and food to keep her and her mother warm and fed for years to come.

Reina wasn’t exactly rich as a lord, but she was comfortable. Because thanks to her old friend, the tree, her ship had finally come in.

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



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