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'Queen of the Forest' | Ep. 161

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

An old African proverb says: “If you think you are too small to make a difference, you haven't spent a night with a mosquito.”

In other words, you don’t need to be enormous in size to be strong and powerful.

And in today’s story, we’ll meet a tiny critter who demonstrates that in a big way!

Story continues below

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    Our story is called “Queen of the Forest.” Versions of this tale come from the Native American peoples who originally inhabited modern-day California, on the west coast of the United States.

    Voices in this episode include Ryan Dalusung, David Swanson, Alexia Trainor, Dawn Ursula, and real-life husband-and-wife team Jorma Taccone and Mari Heller.

    Jorma Taccone is a member of the musical/comedy group The Lonely Island, and he’s the director of MacGruber, now streaming on Peacock. You kids can find Jorma’s book, Little Fox and The Wild Imagination, at a bookstore or library near you.

    Mari Heller has directed a number of films, including A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, and Can You Ever Forgive Me, and starred in The Queen’s Gambit. She also co-starred in three Circle Round episodes recorded live at Tanglewood: “Lookalike Falls,” “The Bags of Seeds,” and “Treasure Mountain.”

    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 way you can help those around you?

    Maybe you can lend a hand setting the table at dinner; you can volunteer time at a food pantry; or you can do a favor for a relative or friend.

    Helping out is a win-win situation. It makes others feel great, and it builds your self-esteem, too!

    The frame drum goes back so far in history, experts believe it may have been the very first drum invented. (Courtesy of National Museum of World Cultures)
    The frame drum goes back so far in history, experts believe it may have been the very first drum invented. (Courtesy of National Museum of World Cultures)

    Musical Spotlight: The Frame Drum 

    One of the most ancient musical instruments, the frame drum consists of a simple wooden shell with one side covered by a stretched skin. You’ll find many iterations of frame drums around the world, all of which are played either with the hands and fingers, or with sticks or mallets. A great variety of sounds are possible with just one drum, as each part of the skin has a different character.


    NARRATOR: In a thick, green forest on a steep, rugged hillside… lived Mountain Lion.

    Mountain Lion had a sleek brown body and a long tan tail tipped with black. She was a beautiful creature… but she was also a very bossy one, who took great delight in pushing around all the other animals in the forest.

    MOUNTAIN LION: Chipmunk!! Can you quit skittering around like that? You’re making me nervous!

    CHIPMUNK: But Mountain Lion! I have to build my nest! My family is expecting a new litter and we need a place to – [SOT: gets cut off somewhere]

    MOUNTAIN LION: (interrupting) Not my problem! (beat) And Elk!! What do you think you’re doing grazing in this part of the forest?! I was about to take a nap here!

    ELK: But Mountain Lion! Couldn't I graze here for a little while, just this one time? I promise I’ll only eat a little bit – [SOT: gets cut off somewhere]

    MOUNTAIN LION: (interrupting) Absolutely not! Go graze somewhere else!

    NARRATOR: This kind of thing went on and on. And the more Mountain Lion bullied the other animals, the less they bothered to stand up for themselves.

    MOUNTAIN LION: Badger!! Did you really just drink from that stream? I always get the first sip!

    BADGER: (meek) Sorry, Mountain Lion! How could I forget?! I'll be sure to remember next time!

    MOUNTAIN LION: That’s more like it! (beat) And Beaver!! Enough with the dam-building already! The way you're splashing those logs around in the water, I can hardly hear myself think!

    BEAVER: (meek) Sorry, Mountain Lion! I just won’t build a dam this year!


    NARRATOR: Mountain Lion turned into such a dictator – such a tyrant – that she actually came up with a title, officially declaring herself…

    MOUNTAIN LION: …Queen of the Forest!

    NARRATOR: Well, as you can imagine, the other animals were extremely unhappy about their new so-called Queen.

    So one morning before sunrise, while Mountain Lion was still snoozing away, Beaver called everyone together for a secret meeting.

    BEAVER: Okay, folks. This Mountain Lion thing is getting out of hand! Thanks to that bully, I can’t even build a dam this year!

    CHIPMUNK: And I’m afraid to build my nest!

    ELK: And I’m afraid to graze anywhere!

    BADGER: And I’m afraid to take a drink!

    BEAVER: But what can we do? Other than… give up?

    CHIPMUNK: Surrender?

    ELK: Throw in the towel?

    BADGER: Raise the white flag?

    CRICKET: Um, you guys all know that those mean the same thing, right?

    NARRATOR: The animals whipped their heads around, trying to see who had just piped up.

    CRICKET: Down here, folks! It’s me! (beat) Cricket!

    [SOT: cricket chirp]

    NARRATOR: The animals stared down at tiny, chirpy Cricket… with his short, stubby body, his six little legs, and his double sets of miniature wings.

    CRICKET: Okay. Now that I have your attention, you’ll be happy to know that I have the perfect plan for teaching Mountain Lion a lesson. All I have to do is get a hold of—

    BEAVER: (interrupting) Um, thanks for chiming in, Cricket – or, uh, chirping in! (beat) But no offense… If we bigger animals can’t figure out how to cut Mountain Lion down to size… then how in the world can a teeny little bug like you?

    CRICKET: Okay first of all, I am not a “bug,” I am an “insect.” (quickly going into faux-lecture mode) Bugs are a type of insect, but they have straw-shaped mouths known as “stylets,” as well as partially-hardened wings.

    BEAVER: Oh! So that’s the difference! Did you guys know that?

    CHIPMUNK: / ELK: / BADGER: I definitely didn’t! Wow, I had no idea! Whaddya know? Isn’t that wild?

    CRICKET: (cutting them off to get back on track) Okay folks, we’re getting off track here. The point is, I know exactly how to solve our problem! (beat) (dramatically, slowly) And believe it or not… the solution is even teenier than I am!

    [theme music in]

    NARRATOR: What do you think little Cricket’s big idea is?

    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 “Queen of the Forest.”

    [theme music out]

    NARRATOR: Before the break, Mountain Lion declared herself “Queen of the Forest”... and the other animals were growing tired of her bossiness.
    Then one of the smallest critters – Cricket – told Chipmunk, Elk, Badger and Beaver that he had an idea for teaching Mountain Lion a lesson.

    CHIPMUNK: Well? Tell us your idea, Cricket!

    ELK: Yeah! Come out with it!

    BADGER: Spill the beans!

    BEAVER: Let the cat out of the bag!

    CRICKET: I actually don’t have time to explain right now, friends. The sun will be up soon, and so will Mountain Lion! And to set my plan in action, I must get to her before she wakes up. (beat) Toodle-oo!

    CHIPMUNK: (calling out as CRICKET leaves) Good luck!

    ELK: (calling out as CRICKET leaves) Godspeed!

    BADGER: (calling out as CRICKET leaves) Break a leg!

    BEAVER: (calling out as CRICKET leaves) May the forest be with you!

    NARRATOR: Quickly and quietly, Cricket made his way to the thicket where Mountain Lion was sleeping. Then he crept inside one of Mountain Lion’s big pointy ears… rubbed his wings together… and let out a chirp!

    [SOT: cricket chirp]

    NARRATOR: Immediately, Mountain Lion snapped open her eyes…

    MOUNTAIN LION: (immediately waking up) Wha – what?!?

    NARRATOR: … looked around wildly…

    MOUNTAIN LION: Who goes there??! Who?!?

    NARRATOR: …then narrowed her gaze on Cricket.

    MOUNTAIN LION: (furious) You! You woke me up with your chirping, you pesky little bug!

    CRICKET: Actually, I’m not a “bug,” I’m an “insect.” (quickly going into faux-lecture mode again) A bug is a type of insect, but it has a straw-shaped mouth known as a “stylet,” as well as—

    MOUNTAIN LION: I don’t care! The point is, you roused me from my sleep! And no one rouses the Queen of the Forest from her sleep!

    CRICKET: (trying to get a rise out of MOUNTAIN LION as he sets his plan in motion) “Queen of the Forest,” huh? You really think you’re the mightiest one around, don’t you?

    MOUNTAIN LION: “Think” it?!? I know it, you pipsqueak! One swipe of my powerful paw, one bite of my ferocious fangs, and anyone in this forest would be a goner!

    CRICKET: (continuing his plan) Huh. So you say…
    NARRATOR: Cricket’s bulging eyes gleamed.

    CRICKET: But what would you say if I told you I have a cousin who’s far mightier than you are…? And she’s barely half my size?

    MOUNTAIN LION: (laughs) I would say you’re out of your tiny little mind! It’s crazy to think that someone half your size could possibly – [SOT: gets interrupted after “size”]

    CRICKET: (interrupting/correcting MOUNTAIN LION) Barely half my size!

    MOUNTAIN LION: Even better! (finishing his thought) …Barely half your size could possibly be mightier than I am!

    CRICKET: Then let me prove it to you! Come back to this thicket tonight at sundown. I’ll bring my cousin… you bring your “powerful paws” and “ferocious fangs”... and we’ll see who comes out on top. (beat) Do we have a deal?

    NARRATOR: Mountain Lion’s face broke into a smug grin.

    MOUNTAIN LION: (smug, ominous, even a bit dismissive) Oh yeah, Cricket. We have a deal.

    NARRATOR: Well, it wasn’t long before the other animals caught wind of Cricket’s challenge – and thought he was out of his mind!

    CHIPMUNK: Cricket is off his rocker!

    ELK: He’s lost his marbles!

    BADGER: He’s flipped his lid!

    BEAVER: He’s gone off the deep end!

    CHIPMUNK: Does he really think that someone half his size could possibly—

    ELK: (interrupting/correcting CHIPMUNK) Barely half his size!

    CHIPMUNK: Right. (finishing the thought) …Barely half his size could defeat Mountain Lion?

    ELK: Apparently… yes.

    BADGER: Well, this I’ve gotta see.

    BEAVER: Me too! Let’s go!

    NARRATOR: As the sun balanced on the horizon like a big orange ball, Mountain Lion came loping over to the thicket. Cricket – and all the other forest animals – were waiting.

    MOUNTAIN LION: Okay, Cricket! The Queen of the Forest has arrived! Where is that mighty cousin of yours?

    CRICKET: She’s not here yet.

    MOUNTAIN LION: Perhaps she’s had second thoughts, then! Gotten cold feet! Though goodness knows those feet couldn't be anywhere near as big as my powerful paws! (laughter)

    NARRATOR: As Mountain Lion cracked up at her own joke, the other animals leaned down toward Cricket.

    CHIPMUNK: (stage-whisper) Um Cricket, are you sure your cousin didn’t get cold feet?

    ELK: (stage-whisper) Chicken out?

    BADGER: (stage-whisper) Fly the coop?

    BEAVER: (stage-whisper) Cut and run?

    CRICKET: Don’t worry, friends. My cousin will be here. She likes it best right after the sun goes down. Which should be right about…

    NARRATOR: Cricket fixed his eyes on the horizon.

    CRICKET: …Now!

    NARRATOR: The moment the sun dropped out of sight, a high-pitched buzzing sound filled the air…

    [SOT: mosquito buzz]

    NARRATOR: …and suddenly Mountain Lion was leaping this way and that, gnashing her “ferocious fangs” and swatting her face with her “powerful paws”!

    MOUNTAIN LION: Ouch! Ow! What’s going on?!? I feel as if I’m being nipped and bitten all over! Yow! Ow! Oh!

    NARRATOR: As the animals looked on, they realized exactly who Cricket’s mysterious cousin was! The one “barely half his size”? It was none other than…

    CHIPMUNK: / ELK: / BADGER: / BEAVER: (slowly) Mosquito!!!!

    NARRATOR: Indeed! And as the tiny bug nipped and bit Mountain Lion all over her—

    [SOT: buzzing stops]

    MOSQUITO: (interrupting) Actually, if I might interrupt… Like my cousin, I’m not a “bug,” I’m an “insect.” (quickly going into faux-lecture mode) A bug is a type of insect, but it has a straw-shaped mouth known as a “stylet,” as well as—

    NARRATOR: Right! Sorry.

    [SOT: buzzing starts up again]

    NARRATOR: As the tiny insect nipped and bit Mountain Lion all over her body, the so-called “Queen of the Forest” leaped and howled as if she were being attacked by a creature twice her size.

    MOUNTAIN LION: (yelps, leaps, howls)

    CRICKET: Well, Mountain Lion? Now what would you say if I told you I have a cousin who’s far mightier than you are…?!? And she’s barely half my size?!?

    MOUNTAIN LION: I would say – Ouch! Eek! Ooo! – that you’re right! And I’m sorry! Oo! Eek! Ouch! I surrender!

    CRICKET: (proud, satisfied) That’s what I thought! Our work is done here!

    NARRATOR: Cricket rubbed his wings together and let out a chirp, to signal Mosquito to stop.

    [SOT: cricket chirp]

    NARRATOR: Mosquito took one last nip at Mountain Lion’s neck…


    NARRATOR: …then flitted away through the darkness.

    [SOT: mosquito buzz gets quieter and quieter, then disappears]

    NARRATOR: Well, that was the last time Mountain Lion lorded over the animals as the so-called “Queen of the Forest.”

    Now that she’d been humbled by two little critters with the power of small, she became friendlier, kinder, and never again “bugged” anyone with her bullying.

    CRICKET: Um, nice play on words, but like Mosquito and I said, we’re not “bugs,” we’re “insects.” (tired of reciting this at this point) A bug is a type of insect, but— oh… never mind.

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



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