'The Magic Touch' | Ep. 159

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

Think about a time somebody showed you kindness.

Maybe a family member gave you a compliment, or a friend helped you solve a problem.

We’re about to meet a character who’s all about being kind to others, and the result is truly magical!

Our story is called “The Magic Touch.” Versions of this tale originally come from East Africa.

Voices in this episode include Feodor Chin, Thais Harris, Anthony Palmini, Erika Rose, Nick Sholley, Mike Smith, Alexia Trainor, Dawn Ursula, and Edi Gathegi. Grown-ups, check out Edi Gathegi in the American Western film, "The Harder They Fall." And watch for him in the third season of the space drama, "For All Mankind," on Apple TV+.

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 good deed you can do this week? Maybe you can donate extra toys to a charity, pick up trash or recycling you find in a park, or write a thank-you note to someone who’s always there for you – whether it’s a librarian, a postal worker, a bus driver, or family member.

Think about your one good deed, then go out and do it. And remember that little acts of kindness can do a lot.

In Africa, the mbira is often played at religious ceremonies and social gatherings such as weddings. (Eric Shimelonis for WBUR)
In Africa, the mbira is often played at religious ceremonies and social gatherings such as weddings. (Eric Shimelonis for WBUR)

Musical Spotlight: The Mbira 

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 and 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 weren’t made of metal; they were made of wood or bamboo. 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: There once were two brothers – twins, actually! Their names were Juma and Imani. Juma and Imani were raised by their mother – a kind, generous woman whom her sons loved with all their heart.

When the twins grew up, and it was time for them to go out and make their way in the world, something unexpected happened. Mother fell ill – so ill she had to take to her bed.

JUMA: Oh, Mother! Imani and I can’t leave you like this!

IMANI: Juma's right! We must stay here! And take care of you!

MOTHER: That’s very sweet, my sons. But I don’t want to stop you from making your way in the world!

NARRATOR: Mother turned to Juma.

MOTHER: Juma. You were born a handful of minutes before Imani was… so how about you go out into the world first, while Imani stays home and takes care of me. Once I'm well again, he can follow you.

JUMA: Of course, Mother. That’s a fine idea!

NARRATOR: So Juma kissed his family goodbye, then set out on a sailboat across the sea.

He had been drifting on the waves for a few days when he spotted an island.

JUMA: Ooooh! Look at this beautiful place! I don’t see any people, but get a load of those fruit trees! Their branches are dripping with bright-red fruit! This could be a nice place to stop for a while.

NARRATOR: Juma went ashore and began picking and eating fruit.

JUMA: (as he chews) Mmmm! This fruit is delicious! So sweet! So juicy! But oh - there are pits inside! Definitely don’t want to eat those! I’ll just spit them out. (ad-lib spitting pits onto ground)

NARRATOR: But the moment the pits hit the ground… an unbelievable sight met Juma’s eyes.

JUMA: Could it be?!? Each pit is growing into a whole new fruit tree! In the blink of an eye! It’s getting taller… and taller… and now it’s as tall as all the other trees! And it’s bursting with bright-red fruit! I’ve never seen anything like this!

NARRATOR: Juma grabbed some barrels from his boat, and began loading them up with fruit.

JUMA: I’m going to bring this magical fruit to another island. With the way these trees grow, I'll have an endless supply to sell!

NARRATOR: Juma hoisted his sails and put his boat back to sea. After a few days, he came to an island that was brimming with people. He made his way to the bustling marketplace and set out his barrels of fruit.

JUMA: (calling out, salesman-like) Magical fruit here! Get your magical fruit! Spit out the pit and watch a new tree grow in a flash!

NARRATOR: It wasn’t long before a curious crowd gathered. But when Juma went to demonstrate the magical powers of his fruit – chewing a handful of them… then spitting out the pits…

JUMA: (ad-lib spitting pits onto ground)

NARRATOR: …nothing happened!

JUMA: So sorry, ladies and gentlemen. Perhaps those pieces of fruit weren’t ripe enough. Let me try again.

NARRATOR: So he did! He grabbed another handful of fruit and began to chew. But once more, when he spit the pits out…

JUMA: (ad-lib spitting pits onto ground)

NARRATOR: …nothing happened!

PERSON 1: Ah, this guy is a phony!

PERSON 2: A fake!

PERSON 3: A total fraud!

PERSON 4: We knew your “magical fruit” was too good to be true!

NARRATOR: Juma was flummoxed.

JUMA: But ladies and gentlemen! I assure you! I am not a phony! On the island where I picked this fruit, it worked like a charm! I swear! I just spit the pits out and right there before my very eyes –

NARRATOR: Before Juma could say another word, he felt someone grab his shoulder.

GUARD: So you’re the one making up stories about “magical fruit,” huh?

NARRATOR: Juma whirled his head around. Standing before him was a burly man in uniform.

GUARD: Listen, pal. I am part of the Queen’s royal guard. And it is my duty to tell you that on this island we are honest! Because Her Royal Majesty despises dishonesty! She loathes lying! She forbids any fibs!

JUMA: But I’m not telling any fibs! And I’m not lying! I’m telling you, this fruit –

GUARD: Enough arguing, mister! I’m taking you to the palace dungeon and putting you behind bars. Queen’s orders.

[SOT: dungeon cell door closes]

NARRATOR: Meanwhile, back at home, Mother and Imani were completely unaware of Juma’s misfortune. Instead, the pair was in high spirits, because Mother had finally recovered from her illness!

MOTHER: (healthy again) Imani, now that I’m feeling fit as a fiddle, it’s your turn to make your way in the world. Now go out there and make me proud!

IMANI: You bet I will, Mother!

NARRATOR: So, like his twin brother before him, Imani kissed his mother goodbye, then headed out in his boat.

Little did he know that ahead of him lay some stormy seas… and some unimaginable adventures!

[theme music in]

NARRATOR: What do you think will happen to Imani? And what about his twin brother, Juma? Will he ever go free?
We’ll find out, after a quick break.

[theme music out]


[theme music in]

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

[theme music out]

NARRATOR: Before the break, twin brothers Juma and Imani set off to make their ways in the world. Juma went first, and wound up in jail. But Imani didn’t know that! So when it was his turn to leave home and go traveling, he was in high spirits as he hopped into his boat and took to the sea.

[SOT: storm at sea]

NARRATOR: Unfortunately, the sea was not kind to Imani. The clouds rolled in, the wind picked up, and sheets of rain surged down from the sky. After being tossed for days across the choppy, foam-topped waves, Imani ran aground on a cold, rocky island.

IMANI: Look at this place! So bleak and dreary! I definitely don’t want to stay long, but the sea is too rough to head out again. I’ll wait for the skies to clear and have a snack. All that sailing has me famished!

NARRATOR: Imani plopped down on a rock and reached into his bag for a pot of cooked millet. But just as he was spooning the grain into his mouth...

BIRD: Excuse me, sir? Any chance you could share some of that?

NARRATOR: Imani looked up. Perched on a cliff above him was a black and white bird. Its body was scrawny and its feathers were rough and matted.

IMANI: Was that you talking just now, bird? Or did those crazy waves toss my boat and my brains?!?

BIRD: Oh, it was me, alright. And I’m sorry to bother you, sir, but the storm stranded me on this desolate island and I haven’t eaten in days!

NARRATOR: The bird fluttered down and perched on Imani’s shoulder. Imani gave the scraggly creature a pat.

IMANI: I’d be happy to share my millet with you, bird. And please – call me Imani!

NARRATOR: The ravenous bird stuck its beak into the pot and gobbled up all the millet.

BIRD: Wow! That hit the spot! I appreciate your kindness, Imani. And I promise – one day I'll repay you somehow!

NARRATOR: Then the bird spread its wings and took off across the island.
Imani felt his stomach growl; he was still hungry! So he reached into his bag and fished out a small jar of honey. But just as he was about to suck down a spoonful…

ANT: Pardon me, sir? Any chance you could share some of that?

NARRATOR: Imani looked down. There, on the ground, was an ant! Its little black body was all shriveled, and it seemed to be walking with a limp.

IMANI: Was that you talking just now, ant? Or am I hearing things?

ANT: Oh, it was me, alright. And I’m sorry to interrupt, sir, but I am downright famished! This island is so rocky and barren, and I’ve had a devil of a time finding anything to eat!

NARRATOR: The ant wiggled its antennae. Imani knelt down and gave the creature a smile.

IMANI: I’d be happy to share my honey with you, ant. And please – call me Imani!

NARRATOR: Imani drizzled all of his honey on the ground, and the ant went to work lapping up the sticky, sweet stuff.

ANT: Mmm! That was just what I needed! I appreciate your kindness, Imani. And I promise – one day I'll repay you somehow!

NARRATOR: Then the ant scurried away.

Imani rummaged through his bag and found a cup of rice. But just as he was about to stick a fistful into his mouth…

JINN: I beg your pardon, sir? Any chance you could share some of that?

NARRATOR: Imani looked up. Floating in the air before him was a jinn! His mother had told many tales about these supernatural spirits, but this was the first time Imani had actually seen one!

IMANI: Woah! Was that you talking just now, jinn? Or am I so hungry I’m hallucinating?!?

JINN: Yup! It was me! I hope I didn’t freak you out, sir, but evil spirits have banished me to this island and it’s an absolute wasteland! I’ve been without food for days!

NARRATOR: Imani gave the jinn a sympathetic nod.

IMANI: I’d be happy to share my rice with you, jinn. And please – call me Imani!

NARRATOR: The jinn took hold of the rice and poured every single grain down its gullet.

JINN: Yum! That was perfect! I appreciate your kindness, Imani. And I promise – one day I'll repay you somehow!

NARRATOR: Then the jinn disappeared with a poof.

[SOT: poof]

IMANI: Well that was crazy! I met a talking bird… an ant… I even met a jinn! But I’m so hungry I could pass out – and it’s obvious I won’t find any food in this dismal place. Now that the skies have cleared, I’ll get back in my boat and move on.

NARRATOR: So Imani hoisted his sails and took off across the calm, peaceful water.
Before long he caught sight of another island… and to his delight, it was covered with…

IMANI: …Fruit trees!

NARRATOR: Now, as you might guess, this was the exact same island that his brother Juma had found!
But Imani didn’t know that! So he docked his boat, sprinted to the fruit trees, and stuffed handfuls of the bright-red fruit into his mouth.

IMANI: This fruit is delectable! But wait - it has pits inside! Better spit them out. (ad-lib spitting pits onto ground)

NARRATOR: Of course, the moment Imani spit out the pits, and the pits hit the ground, you know what happened, right?

IMANI: Would you look at that?!???

NARRATOR: They instantly blossomed into new trees!

IMANI: My goodness! Not only is this fruit delicious, juicy, and sweet, but it’s magic! I’ll bring a bunch with me to my next destination. I bet it could come in very handy.

NARRATOR: But just as Imani went to fetch some barrels from his boat…

JINN: [SOT: reverbed] Imani, wait!

NARRATOR: Imani flicked his head around. He couldn’t see anyone, but he could have sworn he heard the jinn! The supernatural spirit with whom he’d shared his rice on the desolate, barren island!

IMANI: Jinn?? Is that you??? Are you here?

JINN: [SOT: reverbed] Not exactly… I’m still stuck on that bleak, forlorn island! But I’ve used my powers to watch over you ever since you left! And since I promised I’d repay you for your kindness, I must tell you – that fruit you’re picking… it won’t grow just anywhere!

IMANI: It won’t?

JINN: [SOT: reverbed] No! It will only grow on the soil of the island where you’re standing right now! If you take the fruit with you, you must take some of the soil with you, too. Only then will the fruit work its magic and grow before your very eyes.

NARRATOR: Imani felt his heart overflow with gratitude.

IMANI: Thank you, jinn! Thank you so much!

JINN: [SOT: reverbed] Always happy to help a friend in need, Imani!

NARRATOR: Imani smiled to himself as he filled his barrels with fruit and soil. Then he got back in his boat and sailed off.

He soon arrived at another island – and as fate would have it, it was the same island where his twin brother was imprisoned! But again, Imani didn’t know that. So he snatched up his barrels and hustled over to the marketplace.

IMANI: Magical fruit here! Get your magical fruit! Spit out the pit and watch a new tree grow in the blink of an eye!

NARRATOR: Imani expected a crowd to gather round, eager to catch sight of his marvelous, mystical fruit. But instead…

PERSON 1: Magical fruit, you say???

PERSON 2: You’re seriously gonna play that trick again?!?

PERSON 3: Last time you pulled that stunt, you wound up locked in the Queen's dungeon!

PERSON 4: Given how much she despises dishonesty and loathes lying, I can hardly believe she let you out!

NARRATOR: At first, Imani was utterly confused.

IMANI: Wait! What are you talking about? I’ve never been to this island before! You must be talking about someone who looks just like me! Someone who – (gasp as he realizes) OHHHHH!

NARRATOR: Suddenly, Imani understood. They must be referring to his twin brother! In which case, Juma was locked in the Queen’s dungeon!

Imani rushed to the palace and demanded to speak with the Queen. But when the Queen caught sight of Imani, her royal face broke into a scowl.

QUEEN: You again!! Need I remind you that because I despise dishonesty, because I loathe lying, because I forbid any fibs, I threw you into the dungeon…? How in the world did you break out?

IMANI: But that wasn’t me, Your Majesty! It was my twin brother! And he didn’t mean to deceive you! Those fruits he brought to this island… he couldn’t get them to grow because he didn’t know their secret! But I do! (beat) Please, Your Highness. Give me a chance to prove myself. First thing tomorrow, come to the palace garden and I will show you this miraculous fruit.

NARRATOR: The Queen gave Imani a very long, very stern look.

QUEEN: (grudgingly) Alright. Fine. Tomorrow morning you may show me this so-called miracle. But remember. If you fail, you will be cast into the dungeon with your treacherous twin, and the two of you will live out your dishonest days behind bars!

NARRATOR: The next morning, Imani woke before sunrise, hurried to the palace garden, and sprinkled the magic soil upon the ground. By the time the Queen arrived, Imani had covered the entire garden with a thin layer of the enchanted earth.

QUEEN: Well, young man? I don’t have all day! Show me this supposed magic of yours!

NARRATOR: Imani grabbed a piece of fruit and popped it into his mouth. He began to chew, and chew… and then…

IMANI: (ad-lib spitting pit on to ground)

NARRATOR: … he spat the pit onto the ground – right on top of the magic soil. And just like that, a whole new tree began to grow! Springing from the earth in the blink of an eye!

The Queen was gobsmacked.

QUEEN: That was phenomenal! Extraordinary! (beat) I must try it for myself!

NARRATOR: She reached into Imani’s barrel of fruit and popped a handful into her mouth. Then she began spitting…

QUEEN: (ad-lib spitting seed on to ground)

NARRATOR: …and spitting…

QUEEN: (ad-lib spitting seed on to ground)

NARRATOR: …until – much to her delight – the royal garden was filled with magical fruit trees!

QUEEN: This fruit of yours is utterly spectacular, young man!

IMANI: Thank you, Your Majesty. Now that you know I was telling the truth, will you please free my brother from his cell?

NARRATOR: The Queen gaped at Imani as if he had three heads.

QUEEN: Free your brother?!? No, I will not free your brother! A fib is a fib, and he told me a real whopper!

IMANI: But Your Highness! I assure you – my brother didn’t know it was a fib! He just didn’t know the secret! Only I know the secret!

QUEEN: (intrigued) I see… Young man, you appear to be some sort of magician, and that intrigues me. (beat) So I tell you what. If you can work two more feats of magic, I will free your brother.

NARRATOR: At the thought of his brother going free, Imani’s heart leapt. But at the thought of having to perform two more magic tricks, his heart fell.

IMANI: Um, Your Majesty, with all due respect, is there any way you can just let my brother go without me having to –

QUEEN: (interrupting) Absolutely not! You must work more magic, or your brother will never see the light of day. (beat) Here is the first thing I want you to do.

NARRATOR: The Queen pointed a bejeweled finger.

QUEEN: Do you see that field over there?

IMANI: You mean that huge field that stretches on for miles and miles?

QUEEN: That’s the one! I want you to plant it. Not with that fruit of yours, but with wheat – all the wheat in the royal storehouse. The entire field must be planted by tomorrow morning. (beat) Now get to it!

NARRATOR: As the Queen marched away, Imani felt a pit form in his stomach. How could he possibly do as the Queen asked? He spent the rest of the day trying to formulate a plan, but by nightfall he hadn’t come up with a single idea.

IMANI: Oh, man. That field is bigger than my hometown! How in the world will I single-handedly plant it with wheat?

BIRD: That’s easy! You won’t!

NARRATOR: Imani glanced up, and do you know who he saw?

IMANI: Bird!

NARRATOR: The same bird with whom he had shared his millet on the desolate island!

BIRD: I told you I’d find a way to repay you, Imani. So here I am! (beat) Or rather, here we are! I brought along a few friends!

NARRATOR: Imani heard a great whoosh of wings, and suddenly the night sky filled with black-and-white birds – so many birds they blocked out the moon and stars!

The birds swooped into the royal storehouse, scooped up grains of wheat in their beaks, then went about planting the field, dropping the wheat on the earth then using their wings to smooth the soil.

By morning, the job was done, and Imani was overcome with gratitude.

IMANI: Thank you, bird! Thank you so much!

BIRD: Always happy to help a friend in need, Imani!

NARRATOR: The black and white bird took off into the air, followed by its flock of friends. Once the last feathered creature was out of sight, the Queen came riding over on horseback. She galloped up and down the field, her gleaming eyes fixed on the ground.

QUEEN: (in shock/resentful that he succeeded) Well, young man! Seems you managed to plant my entire field by morning!

IMANI: (ready to come clean) I did, Your Highness! Though if you must know, I actually had a little bit of –

QUEEN: (resentment bubbling over as she snappishly interrupts) I don’t care what you had. You passed my test; that’s all that matters. But you still have one more trick to perform. (beat) Do you see that tree over there?

NARRATOR: Imani peered into the distance.

IMANI: You mean that tall one with a trunk as wide and broad as a house?

QUEEN: That’s the one! I want you to cut through that tree with one stroke of a sword. Just one. If you succeed, I will free your brother.

NARRATOR: Then the Queen turned around and galloped away.
Imani spent the rest of the day racking his brain, trying to figure out how he could possibly cut down such a massive tree with just one stroke of a sword.

IMANI: Oh boy. I’m in real trouble now! There’s no way one hack can knock that tree down!

ANT: I wouldn’t be so sure of that!

NARRATOR: Imani glanced down, and do you know who he saw?


NARRATOR: The same ant with whom he’d shared his honey on the rocky island!

ANT: I told you I’d find a way to repay you, Imani. So here I am! (beat) And I didn’t come alone.

NARRATOR: Imani heard a rustling, tapping, skittering sound, and suddenly the ground was swarming with ants!

The army of ants marched over to the tree and scuttled up its trunk. They chewed a hole, burrowed inside, then began eating their way through the trunk’s wood.

By morning, the bark of the trunk still stood in place, but the inside of the trunk was all hollowed out. Imani felt a rush of gratitude.

IMANI: Thank you, ant! Thank you so much!

ANT: Always happy to help a friend in need, Imani!

NARRATOR: As the ants marched up and over the hill, the Queen came riding over. She hopped off her horse and handed Imani a steel sword.

QUEEN: Alright, magician. Let’s see what you can do!

NARRATOR: Imani took the sword, lifted it high in the air, then brought it down across the tree’s trunk. Because the inside was hollow, the enormous tree immediately toppled over!

[SOT: tree falls]

NARRATOR: And guess what?
So did the Queen! She was so astounded by what Imani did that she fainted to the ground!

QUEEN: (ad-lib cartoonish faint)

[SOT: thud]

NARRATOR: When she finally came to, she knew she had no choice but to make good on her promise and set Juma free; she was a staunch supporter of honesty, after all.
But before the twin brothers could set sail and leave her island…

QUEEN: Imani – wait! I wonder… Will you stay here and join my court as the new royal magician? You can cast your spells all over the palace! All over the kingdom, even!

NARRATOR: Now, if you were Imani, what would you say? Yes or no?

Well, Imani answered without hesitation. And he said:


NARRATOR: Because he knew the Queen wanted a magician whose magic comes from a wand, or a hat, or a big book of wizardly spells.

But Imani’s magic came from something else entirely: a kind, generous heart. And he was eager to go out and share that heart with the world.

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



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