Have you ever found yourself in a tough situation?
If so, were you tempted to take the easy way out?
As we’ll hear in today’s story, when we take shortcuts in life, very often they lead far from where we think they will!
Our story is called “The Little Blue Pebble.” You’ll find versions of this tale from a great number of countries across the world, including Mexico and Argentina; India and the Philippines; Kenya and Russia; Serbia and Yugoslavia; plus France, Denmark, Germany, and Italy.
Voices in this episode include Amy Brentano, Ryan Dalusung, Jason Ennis, Nick Sholley, Jeffrey Song, Dawn Ursula, Michael Zsoldos, plus Broadway performers, lifestyle bloggers, educators, and new dads Bret Shuford and Stephen Hanna: the dynamic duo behind Broadway Husbands and the Broadway Husbands Podcast.
This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Circle Round’s supervising producer Nora Saks. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.
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
When was the last time you relied on yourself to solve a problem?
Maybe you got frustrated putting the finishing touches on a puzzle, but you gathered your patience and worked it through to the end. Perhaps you got into an argument with a friend, but you found a way to talk it out and resolve the issue.
Find a grown-up and tell them about how you solved your problem. Then ask them to describe a time they relied on themselves to tackle a challenge. Hopefully, you can teach each other some invaluable problem-solving skills!
Musical Spotlight: The Mandolin
The mandolin is classified as a member of the lute family, yet it’s tuned like a violin. A high-pitched descendant of the ancient oud (which we featured in “The Unwelcome Guest,” “The Sultan’s Figs”, and “The Fire Within”), the mandolin evolved in Italy sometime around the 1600s. As with the oud, the mandolin has a hollow wooden body, and you use a pick to pluck strings on the fingerboard. You’ll hear the mandolin in all sorts of music, including bluegrass, blues, classical, country, folk, jazz and rock.
NARRATOR: Aksel and Otto were farmers who lived way out in the countryside. On a plot of land beside their small cottage they grew potatoes, carrots, and corn. Their chocolate-colored workhorse, Brown Eyes, helped them plow and plant and cart their crops to the market.
Aksel and Otto worked their tails off, sunrise to sunset. But as summer turned to fall, they began to worry about the long, bleak winter ahead.
AKSEL: Otto! The snow will be falling any day now! Money’s tight, and with our drafty cottage and threadbare clothing, I don’t know how we’ll make it through the season!
OTTO: I know what you mean, Aksel. And that’s why I’ve been thinking… We ought to sell Brown Eyes.
AKSEL: Sell Brown Eyes?! But she’s our one and only horse! And she helps with so much work on the farm!
OTTO: I know, I know. And I love her every bit as much as you do! But what other choice do we have, Aksel? We need money fast, and selling Brown Eyes is the only way.
NARRATOR: Aksel was quiet for a moment. Then he let out a sigh.
AKSEL: (Sigh.) Okay. I suppose you’re right. But I can’t bear to do it myself. So you take her to the market tomorrow. And be sure to fetch a good price – five-hundred silver pieces, at least! That much money is bound to get us through the winter, and then some.
NARRATOR: So the following day, Otto saddled up Brown Eyes and started the long ride to the market. After about an hour, he was stopped by a tall, bright-eyed woman by the side of the road. She was wearing a long green cloak.
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: Excuse me! Sir! Excuse me!
NARRATOR: Otto brought Brown Eyes to a halt.
[SOT: horse to halt]
OTTO: Is everything alright, ma’am?
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: Oh! Yes! I was just wondering…That’s a mighty fine workhorse you have there. So sturdy and strong… Is she for sale, by chance?
NARRATOR: Otto jumped down from the saddle and smiled.
OTTO: Actually, this horse is for sale! Her name is Brown Eyes, and I was just taking her to the market!
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: Well, how about I save you the trip? And you sell Brown Eyes… to me? How much are you asking for her?
NARRATOR: Otto remembered his promise to Aksel.
OTTO: Five-hundred silver pieces, ma’am. She’s a good, strong horse, and worth every penny!
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: Five-hundred silver pieces…
NARRATOR: The woman’s eyes glittered.
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: What if… in exchange for Brown Eyes… I give you something even more valuable than five-hundred silver pieces?
OTTO: You mean, like six-hundred silver pieces?
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: Oh no, no, no! I’m talking about something so valuable, so precious, it’s priceless! I’m talking about this!
NARRATOR: The woman thrust a hand into her pocket and brought out… a pebble. Otto noticed the smooth, round stone was the size of a plump green grape, and the color of a clear blue sky.
OTTO: You want me to sell you my prize workhorse… for a blue pebble?!?
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: Not just any blue pebble! A magic blue pebble! Rub this little stone three times, and it will give you powers beyond your wildest dreams!
NARRATOR: Otto gaped at the woman.
OTTO: “Powers beyond my wildest dreams”? Look. I’m sorry, ma’am. But I don’t believe in magic spells and all that hocus-pocus mumbo-jumbo.
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: Oh you don’t, huh? Then watch this!
NARRATOR: The woman closed her eyes and rubbed the pebble three times. All of a sudden there was a puff of smoke…
NARRATOR: …and standing in the woman’s place… was an elephant!
[SOT: quick elephant sound]
OTTO: What in the world?! That did not just happen!
NARRATOR: To Otto’s surprise, there was another puff of smoke…
NARRATOR: …and the elephant was replaced by a tiger!
[SOT: quick tiger sound]
NARRATOR: … then a monkey…
[SOT: puff / quick monkey sound]
NARRATOR: …then a donkey…
[SOT: puff / quick donkey sound]
OTTO: This is bananas!
NARRATOR: …then a rainbow-colored parrot!
[SOT: puff / quick parrot sound]
OTTO: Okay, what on earth is going on here? Where did all these animals come from? And where are they going?
NARRATOR: After yet another puff of smoke…
NARRATOR: …the woman appeared again, her bright eyes shining like the sun.
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: Impressive, isn’t it…? What one little pebble can do…?
NARRATOR: Otto was dumbfounded.
OTTO: That little blue pebble did all that? It turned you into the elephant, then the tiger, then the –
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: It did! Rub the pebble three times and you can transform into any creature you choose! Any creature at all! So…? What do you say? Do we have a deal…?
NARRATOR: The wheels in Otto’s mind began to turn. Aksel had asked him to bring back at least five-hundred silver coins. But surely the little blue pebble was worth more than that – way more! If he used the pebble in just the right way, he could turn his and Aksel's bad fortune around. Perhaps he could even make them a fortune!
OTTO: Alright, ma’am. We have a deal. I’ll sell you my workhorse for the little blue pebble.
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: Wonderful! But listen…
NARRATOR: The woman’s face turned very serious.
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: Always be sure to use the pebble’s powers wisely. Use them unwisely, and trust me: you will pay the price.
NARRATOR: Otto cocked his head.
OTTO: What exactly do you mean “unwisely”?
NARRATOR: A mysterious smile crossed the woman’s lips.
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: Let’s hope you never find out!
NARRATOR: And with that, she pressed the pebble into Otto’s hand, and hopped into Brown Eyes’ saddle.
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: Goodbye, sir! Be well! And be wise!
NARRATOR: Then she and the horse galloped away.
[SOT: galloping away]
NARRATOR: Otto watched the woman disappear over the crest of a hill. Then he turned around and headed toward home. He had no workhorse, and no silver pieces, but he did have one little blue pebble, and one-million ideas for getting rich quick!
[Theme music in]
NARRATOR: What might Otto do now that he has the little blue pebble?
What would you do if you were Otto?
We’ll find out what happens, 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 Little Blue Pebble.”
[Theme music out]
NARRATOR: Before the break, poor farmers named Otto and Aksel decided to sell their one and only workhorse, Brown Eyes. Aksel asked Otto to sell Brown Eyes at the market for no less than five-hundred silver pieces. But instead, Otto traded the horse to a mysterious woman on the road… for a little blue pebble that changed you into whatever creature you wished!
Otto fidgeted with the pebble as he began the long trek home.
OTTO: Oh, man. It’ll take me hours to get home on foot. What I wouldn’t give to have a pair of wings right now! (Gasps.) Wait a minute! I can have a pair of wings! I’ve got the little blue pebble!
NARRATOR: Otto rubbed the pebble three times and pictured an eagle. Next thing he knew, there was a puff of smoke…
[SOT: quick eagle sound]
NARRATOR: …he was an eagle!
Otto flapped his great, wide wings and took to the sky, soaring and swooping through the air.
[SOT: more eagle sounds]
NARRATOR: Once Otto spotted his cottage, below he glided down to the yard – and landed right in front of Aksel, who was hanging laundry on the line.
AKSEL: What is this eagle doing here? In all my years, I’ve never seen an eagle land anywhere near my –
OTTO: (playful) Hello, honey! I’m home!
NARRATOR: At the sudden sight of Otto appearing where the eagle had been, Aksel nearly fainted into his laundry basket.
OTTO: Yup! It’s me! How’d you like my trick?
AKSEL: Your trick?! You mean I wasn’t hallucinating just now? That really happened?
OTTO: Sure did!
AKSEL: But - but - how?!?
NARRATOR: So Otto told Aksel the story of the mysterious woman in the green cloak, and the trade he’d made for Brown Eyes.
AKSEL: Okay, so let me get this straight. We now have this magic blue pebble…
AKSEL: …but we don’t have our one and only workhorse, Brown Eyes?
OTTO: We don’t need Brown Eyes, Aksel! Not anymore! I spent the entire walk home thinking. And planning. And I’ve figured out a way to use this pebble so that we can make it through the long bleak winter! Tomorrow I will turn myself into a nice, big pig. You’ll take me to the market, and you’ll sell me for the highest price you can get. I’ll take everything from there.
NARRATOR: Aksel could see the mischievous gleam in Otto’s eye. But he could also see their drafty cottage - not to mention the holes in his ratty old sweater.
AKSEL: Okay, fine. I guess it’s worth a try.
NARRATOR: So the next morning, Otto did as he said he would. He rubbed the little blue pebble three times…
NARRATOR: …and turned himself into a big, plump pig.
[SOT: quick pig sound]
NARRATOR: Aksel grabbed a leash and looped it over the pig’s neck.
AKSEL: I know I say the house looks like a “pigsty” every time you forget to clean, but I never thought it would come to this! Well, anyway. Here goes nothing…
NARRATOR: Once Aksel reached the market, the pig turned many a head, and Aksel received many an offer!
CUSTOMER 1: I’ll give you a-hundred silver pieces for him!
CUSTOMER 2: I’ll give you two-hundred!
NARRATOR: But the highest offer…
CUSTOMER 3: I’ll give you five-hundred!
NARRATOR: …came from a tall man wearing a top hat and shiny shoes.
AKSEL: Alright, sir! Five-hundred it is!
NARRATOR: Aksel felt strange selling the pig to a rich stranger, but he trusted that Otto had a plan.
And indeed, he did!
Once the tall man led the pig out of the market and down a dirt road, the portly creature suddenly turned around, started to run, and knocked the man clear off his feet!
CUSTOMER 3: Oof!
NARRATOR: Then the pig raced away, running as fast as its legs could carry it.
CUSTOMER 3: Come back, pig! Come back!
NARRATOR: But the pig did not come back! Instead, once it was out of the man’s view, there was a puff of smoke…
NARRATOR: …and it changed into a wolf!
[SOT: quick wolf sound]
NARRATOR: The wolf raced down the road, leaving big paw prints in the dirt. The moment the road curved into a forest, there was another puff of smoke…
NARRATOR: …and the wolf turned back…
OTTO: Whew! That was fun!
NARRATOR: …into Otto.
OTTO: Now I’ll just sit here… and wait!
NARRATOR: After a while, Otto saw the tall man with the top hat and shiny shoes come dashing into the forest.
CUSTOMER 3: You there! Beneath the tree! Did you happen to see a pig running this way? A real nice plump one?
NARRATOR: Otto gave the man a nod.
OTTO: I’m afraid I did see a pig, sir. But he was carried off by a wolf! See the tracks there?
NARRATOR: Otto pointed to the paw prints in the road.
CUSTOMER 3: Oh dear! That pig was going to be my prize animal at the next country fair! I paid five-hundred silver pieces for it!
NARRATOR: To be fair, Otto felt a tiny bit bad for the man. But he also felt excited. After all, his plan was working out! He scrunched up his forehead and shot the man what he hoped was a sympathetic look.
OTTO: I’m sorry about your loss, sir. It sounds like an amazing pig. I hope you can find another one just like it.
CUSTOMER 3: Thank you. I do, too.
NARRATOR: And with that, the tall man slumped his shoulders and trudged away.
Once he was gone, Otto turned into an eagle again…
NARRATOR: …and flew back home to Aksel, who was tossing the five-hundred silver pieces he’d made into a jar.
OTTO: Honey! I’m hoooome!
AKSEL: You have to stop doing that! It gets me every time!
OTTO: Sorry! But what did I tell you? Now that we’re five-hundred silver pieces richer, we won’t have to worry about the long, bleak winter ahead!
NARRATOR: Aksel put down the jar and nodded.
AKSEL: You’re right. We are five-hundred silver pieces richer. But what about the man who bought the pig? I’m assuming you ran off and disappeared without a trace…
AKSEL: And now we’ve got five-hundred silver pieces, and that man has nothing!
OTTO: I know. But just yesterday, we had nothing! We were working our tails off, and for what? A life of empty cupboards and threadbare clothing? You saw that man! He was wearing a top hat! And shiny shoes! He’ll be fine! And now… thanks to me… so will we!
NARRATOR: And wouldn’t you know it, they were fine!
All winter long, Otto and Aksel lived in comfort. Their bellies were full, their clothing was warm, and after a while, they never even talked about the little blue pebble. It just sat on a bookshelf in the corner.
But when spring rolled around, and it was time to go out and plant the potatoes, carrots, and corn, Otto had an idea.
OTTO: Aksel! Growing vegetables is so much work! What if… this spring… we don’t bother to do any planting? We’ve been living so well these past few months, why not keep the party going?
NARRATOR: Aksel wagged his finger at Otto.
AKSEL: I’ve seen that gleam in your eye before, Otto! You want to use the little blue pebble again!
OTTO: I don’t see why not! Look how well it’s taken care of us! We’re worlds away from the life of hardship we used to know! Come on, Aksel. Please…?
NARRATOR: Eventually, Otto wore Aksel down and he gave in. And over the weeks that followed, Otto turned himself into animal after animal…
[SOT: puff / rooster sound]
[SOT: puff / goat sound]
[SOT: puff / cow sound]
NARRATOR: …all of which Aksel sold at the market…
CUSTOMER 4: I’ll give you one-hundred silver pieces!
CUSTOMER 5: I’ll give you two-hundred silver pieces!
CUSTOMER 6: I’ll give you three-hundred silver pieces!
NARRATOR: …and all of whom promptly ran away.
CUSTOMER 4: Come back!
CUSTOMER 5: Come back!
CUSTOMER 6: Come baaaaaaack!
NARRATOR: Through it all, Aksel couldn’t help but feel guilty about what he and Otto were doing. Sure, it was nice living so high on the hog, but at what cost?
Eventually he decided he’d had enough.
AKSEL: Otto! We can’t do this anymore! We can’t keep cheating all these innocent people out of their money!
OTTO: I don’t think of it so much as “cheating” them out of their money, as “cleverly separating them from” their money! But I hear you. And I promise we’ll stop. After just one more sale. To build up our nest egg. Please…?
AKSEL: Alright. Fine. One more sale. Then that’s it! No more pebble!
NARRATOR: So the next day, Otto changed himself into a fine black bull. Aksel led the bull to the market, where he was approached by a tall, bright-eyed man wearing a green suit.
GREEN SUIT MAN: What a fine, strapping bull! Tell me – is he for sale?
AKSEL: Why, yes!
GREEN SUIT MAN: Excellent! I’ll give you six-hundred silver pieces for him!
AKSEL: Alright! Six-hundred it is!
NARRATOR: The man in the green suit led the bull out of the market and down the road. And then – just like that – the bull took off running, bellowing and snorting and kicking up dust with its hooves!
But the man in the green suit did not call out, begging the bull to come back. Instead, there was a puff of smoke…
NARRATOR: …and the man changed into a lion!
NARRATOR: For the man, you see, was actually the mysterious woman who’d first given Otto the little blue pebble! And the woman was actually a sorceress! A mystical enchantress capable of all sorts of magic!
The lion opened its mighty mouth and charged after the bull. Just as the great beast was about to grab the bull’s tail in its sharp, pointy teeth…
[SOT: puff / hawk]
NARRATOR: … the bull changed into a hawk! Which soared upwards until its wings brushed the clouds!
But the lion, meanwhile…
[SOT: puff / falcon]
NARRATOR: …changed into a falcon: the fastest bird on earth! It whizzed through the air, in hot pursuit of the hawk. Just when the falcon was about to snatch the smaller bird with its talons, the hawk dove down toward the ground…
[SOT: puff / hunting dog]
NARRATOR: …and changed into a hunting dog! Which sprang away on its slender, muscular legs!
But just then, the falcon swooped down…
[SOT: puff / coyote]
NARRATOR: …and changed into a coyote! Which raced after the hunting dog at a full sprint.
The coyote got closer and closer… until…
OTTO: Wait! Stop!
NARRATOR: …the hunting dog turned back… into Otto.
OTTO: I know who you are. And I’m sorry about what I did. Truly. You can have your money back. Just please don’t eat me!
NARRATOR: The coyote tilted its head one way, then the other. And then…
NARRATOR: … suddenly standing before Otto was the sorceress.
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: Alright, Otto. I will spare your life. But I don’t need my money back. What I need is… my pebble.
NARRATOR: Otto’s mouth dropped open.
OTTO: The pebble? But I bought it from you fair and square!
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: “Fair and square”?!?
NARRATOR: A fiery spark danced in the woman’s eyes.
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: What do you know about fair and square, Otto?!? You used the little blue pebble to be deceitful! Dishonest! Dishonorable! I once told you you must use the pebble’s powers wisely. But instead, you’ve used it to take advantage of others! For your own personal gain! Now I’m taking it back so you can never use it again!
NARRATOR: The sorceress raised her arm into the air. There was a flash of light…
[SOT: light flash]
NARRATOR: …and in an instant, what should Otto spy clutched in the woman’s hand, but the little blue pebble!
MYSTERIOUS WOMAN: Goodbye, Otto! Be well! And from now on… be wise!
NARRATOR: Then there was another flash of light…
[SOT: light flash]
NARRATOR: …and the sorceress was gone.
OTTO: Well, I’ll be!
NARRATOR: As Otto walked back home, he thought about what the sorceress had said. Then he began cooking up yet another plan.
Over the next week, he tracked down every single customer he had cheated — or, uh, ‘separated from their money’ – and gave all their money back. After that, he and Aksel went back to farming – growing potatoes, carrots, and corn.
The pair never got rich, but they were comfortable – and comforted – knowing their success came from hard, honest work… and not a little blue pebble.