'The Bags of Seeds' | Ep. 150

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

This episode is the second in a special three-part series recorded live with musicians from the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood in Lenox, Massachusetts, in front of a very excited audience of children and grown-ups. 

Think about a food that we grow — like a fruit, vegetable, or grain.

Now, think about how that food grows. Does it ripen on a tree or a vine? Does it grow on a bush? Or under the earth?

We’re about to hear a legend about a very popular food, and the surprising way it came to grow!

Our story is called “The Bags of Seeds.” Versions of this folktale come from Vietnam, in southeast Asia. Some really great people came together to bring you this story — at a really great place!

Joining us on stage at Tanglewood was a trio of musicians from the Boston Symphony Orchestra — Suzanne Nelsen on bassoon, Cindy Meyers on flute, and Rachel Childers on horn — plus a quintet of all-star actors: Karen Allen, Megan Boone, Scott Cohen, Mari Heller, and Peter Riegert.

Karen Allen’s many films include Raiders of the Lost Ark, Animal House, and The Perfect Storm. She’s also an acclaimed playwright, screenwriter and director. Megan Boone is an actress known for The Blacklist and The Underground Railroad, as well as the dramatic film Leave Me Like You Found Me. Scott Cohen has starred in such television hits as Gilmore Girls, Necessary Roughness, Allegiance, and The 10th Kingdom, as well as the romantic comedy Kissing Jessica Stein. Mari Heller is a writer, director and actor who’s helmed such films as A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, and Can You Ever Forgive Me. She also starred in The Queen’s Gambit. And Peter Riegert is an actor and director with nearly 100 film and television credits including Animal House, Crossing Delancey, and Local Hero. He also hosts the podcast, Peter Riegert’s Vocal Heroes.

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. Sound-recording engineering at Tanglewood provided by Matt Reed.

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

If you could plant something across the earth, what would it be? Would it be your favorite flower? Your favorite kind of fruit? Maybe it would even be something fantastical, like trees full of pizza, or bushes full of your favorite toy!

Think about what you would plant, then find some paper and draw a picture of it. Show that picture to someone you love and then – if you’d like – show it to us! Your grown-ups can snap a photo of you and your drawing and email it to


NARRATOR: Did you know that one of the hardest crops to grow… is rice?


First you have to fill the rice paddy with water… then you have to drain it… then you have to cut the rice plants — often by hand — before laying them out and drying them.

But wait - that’s not all!

Because then you have to thresh the rice plants, or separate the grain from the stalk — again, often by hand. After that, you have to dry the rice a second time, and in some cases mill it, or remove its outer layers.

All in all, it’s a ton of work.

But according to legend… it wasn’t supposed to be that way.


Way, way back… when the heavenly deities — the gods and goddesses — put people on this earth… the divine beings intended growing rice to be as easy as 1-2-3.

Or, really, just “1.”

DEITY 1: Okay, my fellow gods and goddesses. Let’s talk about the people. We created them not so long ago, and I want your honest opinion. How do you think it’s going so far?

DEITY 2: Oh, I think it’s going great! The people are living in harmony with the rest of the earth! They’re not polluting the air…

DEITY 3: …or the water…

DEITY 4: Absolutely! Plus, they’re friendly with all the animals we created!

DEITY 2: Though, if you ask me, I’m not sure why they’ve chosen the dogs and cats to keep as pets. I would have gone for something much more fun. Like goats.

DEITY 3: (getting excited) Oh, yeah! Goats are hilarious! Especially the baby ones! They’re like (impression of a goat)!!!

DEITY 4: No, no! It’s more like (impression of a goat)!!!

DEITY 2: / DEITY 3: / DEITY 4: (laughter as they crack each other up)

DEITY 1: Okay, okay! I guess we’re all in agreement then: the people are great. So, I was thinking… what if we reward them? Give them something to make their lives easier?

DEITY 2: Ooooh, that’s a great idea! How about an engine-powered, four-wheeled vehicle to help the people get around more quickly? They just have to fasten their seat belts

DEITY 1: Nahhh… it’s too early in history for that. Remember what the Narrator said? This story takes place “way, way back”!!!!

DEITY 3: Okay… Then how about an engine-powered, two-wheeled vehicle to help the people get around more quickly? They just have to wear a helmet!

DEITY 1: No, too early for that one too!

DEITY 4: Alright, then how about a powered flying vehicle with fixed wings and a weight greater than that of the air it displaces, so that it can literally soar above the clouds and get people from A to B in record time?

DEITY 1: No, no, no! I’m thinking we give them something more useful, more practical. Something like… food!

DEITY 2: Food?!? 

DEITY 3: But we’ve already given them food!

DEITY 4: Yeah! We’ve given them fruits and vegetables and livestock…

DEITY 1: Right… but those things take a lot of work! They have to prune the fruit trees… they have to plant the vegetables… they have to fatten up the livestock. I’m thinking we give them something that is 100% no-muss, no-fuss. Like… rice.

DEITY 2: Rice?!?

DEITY 3: What is…

DEITY 4:rice?!?

DEITY 1: Oh, it’s something I just invented! It’s this tiny little grain that you can boil or bake or steam to make just about anything! Uh, Messenger? Will you come here please?

NARRATOR: The divine Messenger snapped to attention and came scurrying over.

MESSENGER: Yes, Your Divine-ness? How may I help you?

DEITY 1: Messenger, you see these two piles of seeds here?


DEITY 1: And you see these two bags?

MESSENGER: I do! A red one and a yellow one!

DEITY 1: Super-duper. Now I want you to take the pile of seeds on the right… put them in the red bag… then go down to earth and deliver them to the people. Tell them these seeds will grow the minute they touch the ground — and they’ll give a plentiful harvest, with very little effort.

MESSENGER: Okay, I can do that! But what about the other seeds? The ones on the left?

DEITY 1: I want you to put the seeds on the left in the yellow bag. Tell the people that the seeds in this bag require more effort to grow... but it’s worth it, for they will give the earth great beauty.

MESSENGER: Okay, so… right pile, red. Left pile, yellow.

DEITY 1: Right.

MESSENGER: (confused) You mean left?

DEITY 1: Right.

MESSENGER: (more confused) And by right, you mean left?

DEITY 1: Left is right!

MESSENGER: But wait, I’m not sure I --

DEITY 1: Look, no more chit-chat, okay? The other deities and I have work to do, so we’ll be off now. But you know what to do, Messenger. So get to it!

NARRATOR: Now… the deities intended for the seeds in the red pouch to become rice… which would provide tasty nutrition to all the people on earth and be wonderfully easy to grow.

They intended for the seeds in the yellow pouch to become grass… which would blanket the earth in beautiful, brilliant green, but would take more work to cultivate.

Unfortunately, however, the Messenger got a little… confused.

MESSENGER: So, wait! What did the deity say? Was it right pile, red? Or left pile, red? Well, I might as well take a guess. I have a fifty-fifty chance of getting it right, after all! Or getting it... left…?

NARRATOR: So the Messenger poured one pile of seeds into the red bag, and the other pile into the yellow bag.

Then, holding each bag tight, he flew away from the realm of the deities and soared down to earth.

NARRATOR: What do you think will happen next?

Did the Messenger get left and right… right?

We’ll find out… after a quick break.


NARRATOR: I’m Rebecca Sheir, and welcome back to Circle Round, live at Tanglewood Music Center! Today our story is called “The Bags of Seeds.”

NARRATOR: Before the break, the heavenly deities wanted to reward the people of the earth. So they asked their Messenger to fill two bags: one with rice seeds, which would be easy to grow and delicious to eat… and one with grass seeds, which would take more effort to grow but would make the world beautiful and green.

When the Messenger reached the earth, he called out to the people.

MESSENGER: Hey there, everybody! It’s me, your friendly divine Messenger. And I’m here with a gift… from the deities!

NARRATOR: As the people gathered round, the Messenger held out the two bags.

MESSENGER: Okay, so… you see these bags here? The red one, and the yellow one? Both bags contain seeds! The red bag has seeds that will grow abundantly and with very little effort! And once they grow, you can eat them! The yellow bag has seeds that are more difficult to grow, but if you tend them properly, they’ll make the world look gorgeous and green!

NARRATOR: The people rejoiced when they heard this news. Graciously, they thanked the Messenger, snatched up the red and yellow bags, then hurried off to plant their seeds.

MESSENGER: Oh, I love seeing the people so happy! I just hope I got those seeds right…

NARRATOR: Well, what do you think?

Did the Messenger get the seeds right? Shout “yes” or “no”!

[audience response]

NARRATOR: Well, if you said ‘no’… you were correct! The Messenger did not get the seeds right.

Or, rather, he got the right seeds... wrong!

He was supposed to put the rice seeds in the red bag… and the grass seeds in the yellow bag… but he got it backwards!

As a result, when the people planted the rice seeds, they found the seeds required a massive amount of painstaking work and attention… whereas the grass seeds freely grew everywhere.

Well, when the heavenly deities saw what was happening, they were dumbfounded. So they called for the Messenger again.

DEITY 1: Messenger! What has happened?!

DEITY 2: What have you done!

DEITY 3: Why are the people struggling to grow their rice…

DEITY 4: ...while their grass sprouts so freely and easily?

NARRATOR: Immediately, the Messenger realized his mistake.

MESSENGER: I’m sorry, deities. I must have gotten mixed up!

DEITY 1: Well, “sorry” won’t cut it, friend!

DEITY 2: You’ve left our people in quite the muddle!

DEITY 3: Quite the muddle!

DEITY 4: So now… we’re going to make things right.

NARRATOR: Before the Messenger knew what was happening, there was a great whoosh of air, then — suddenly — he was down on earth again.

MESSENGER: What happened?!? Where am I?!? And why do I see nothing but green? Green around me, green beneath me, green above me… But wait! What’s that?!?

NARRATOR: The Messenger leaped out of the way as something colossal came barreling down toward him. He realized… to his surprise… that it was…

MESSENGER: A foot...?!? A human foot!?!! But how did it get so big?!? Or, rather… how did I get so small?!?

NARRATOR: Looking around, the Messenger realized that all the green stuff around him, and beneath him, and above him… was grass! And he was no longer a divine Messenger. Instead, he was a tiny, hard-shelled beetle. A helpless little critter who had to scamper and scurry...


NARRATOR: that he could dodge the great big footsteps of human beings as they plodded through the grass! The freely-sprouting grass that, thanks to the Messenger’s mistake, now grew absolutely everywhere. 

The deities were pleased to teach the Messenger a lesson, but they knew his punishment didn’t make things any easier for the people.

DEITY 1: Oh, those poor souls down on earth!

DEITY 2: They still have to labor and toil to grow their rice!

DEITY 3: It’s too much work!

DEITY 4: We must do something about it!

NARRATOR: So… they did!

The deities ordered the grains of rice to shape themselves into little round balls, then roll over to the people's homes, so the people could collect them, and cook them.

The rice grains did as they were told. But when they rolled over to the people’s houses...

PERSON 1: (screams)

PERSON 2: (screams)

PERSON 3 : (screams)

PERSON 4: (screams)

NARRATOR: …the people were so shocked and frightened that they immediately grabbed brooms, rakes, shovels — anything they could find — and began swatting at the rice balls!

The balls tried rolling away, but it was no use. One by one, the people struck the balls with their brooms, rakes, shovels…

PERSON 1: (striking ball with broom)

PERSON 2: (striking ball with rake)

PERSON 3: (striking ball with shovel)

PERSON 4: (striking ball with broom, rake, or shovel)

NARRATOR: ...and each and every ball scattered into a thousand pieces!

After that, the rice grains were so furious that they went right back to the fields… and vowed never to make things easy for the people.

And according to legend? That’s why growing rice is such a difficult, complex process! It’s all thanks to a muddled Messenger who “left” “rightness”... up to chance.

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



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