The Wheat and the Chaff | Ep. 185

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

Have you ever felt left out? It’s no fun being excluded by others, right?

In today’s story, we’ll meet two animals who are always excluding others – until one crafty critter finds a way to invite himself, and everyone else, to the party!

Our story is called “The Wheat and the Chaff.” Versions of this tale come from the Northern European country of Finland. (“Chaff,” by the way, is the husk that you usually throw out when you harvest a grain like – yes – wheat!)

Voices in this episode include Jefferson A. Russell, Igor Shimelonis, Alexia Trainor, Michael Zsoldos, and Christopher Rivas. Grown-ups, you can see Christopher Rivas in the Fox comedy Call Me Kat. You can also check out his podcasts, Rubirosa and Brown Enough. His new memoir, Brown Enough, is out now.

This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Nora Saks. 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

Now it’s your turn.

If you could have your very own farm, what would it look like? What would you grow? It could be something real, like corn stalks or grape vines… or it could be something straight out of your imagination, like Lego trees or French toast bushes!
Imagine your garden in your head, then grab some markers, crayons, or colored pencils, and draw it on paper! When you’re done, share it with someone you have fun with – and, if you’d like, share it with us!

Grown-ups, you can email a photo of your kiddo and their garden to Or post the picture on Instagram and tag us @circleroundpodcast.

Musical Spotlight:  The Kantele

The kantele is the Finnish version of an instrument known throughout the world as either a ‘zither’ or ‘lap harp.’ (Courtesy of Eric Shimelonis)
The kantele is the Finnish version of an instrument known throughout the world as either a ‘zither’ or ‘lap harp.’ (Courtesy of Eric Shimelonis)

The kantele is the national instrument of Finland. It’s part of a large family of string instruments called zithers (a.k.a. lap harps), which have a resonating body, and strings which you can pluck, strum, strike, or bow. In the case of the kantele, you pluck or strum the strings. Kanteles come in different sizes: 5-string, 10-string, 11-string, all the way up to the 36-string concert kantele.

According to Finnish folklore, the first kantele was created from the jaw bones of fish and the hair of young maidens. When the first kantele was played, the sound was so beautiful that every single living thing started to cry. The tears rolled into the ocean, and when they touched the sea they turned into beautiful blue pearls.


NARRATOR: Wolf and Bear were the biggest animals in the forest.

They were also the best of friends.

They played together…

WOLF: How about another round of hide-and-seek, Bear?

BEAR: You’ve got it, Wolf! You hide, I’ll seek!

NARRATOR: They ate together…

WOLF: Mind catching us another salmon from this river, Bear?

BEAR: Not at all, Wolf!

NARRATOR: They even lived together – in a comfy, cozy den inside a hollow tree.

WOLF: Time to hit the hay! Good night, Bear!

BEAR: Good night, Wolf!

NARRATOR: Wolf and Bear were basically inseparable, like two members of their own club.

Or should I say, their own exclusive club. Because they never let any of the other, smaller forest animals join in the fun!

RABBIT: Uh, hey, guys! You’re always having such a good time. Mind if I tag along with you today?

WOLF: Of course we mind, Rabbit!

BEAR: We’re too big and fast to hang out with a runt like you!

SQUIRREL: How about me?

WOLF: Not in a million years, Squirrel!

BEAR: A pipsqueak like you could never keep up with us!

MOUSE: What about me then?

WOLF: Are you kidding, Mouse?!?

BEAR: You’re like twenty times smaller than Rabbit and Squirrel, and forty times weaker! The answer is no!

NARRATOR: There was one animal in the forest who knew better than to ask Wolf and Bear if he could join their club.

And that animal was sly, crafty Fox.

FOX: Sheesh! Wolf and Bear are such snobs! Always boasting about their large size and excluding the other animals from their fun and games… There must be some way to teach those two a lesson!

NARRATOR: Fox put his clever mind to work. He thought and he thought until finally…

FOX: A-ha!

NARRATOR: …he came up with an idea.

FOX: Oh! This is gonna be good!

NARRATOR: The next morning, as Wolf and Bear sat by the river, gobbling up a hearty breakfast of freshly-caught salmon, Fox came sauntering over.

FOX: Hey there, Wolf! How’s it going, Bear! Wow! Good-looking fish!

WOLF: They are good-looking fish!

BEAR: Good-tasting, too!

WOLF: But if you’re going to ask us to share some with you, Fox... you can dream on.

BEAR: Yeah! Wolf and I would never share with a shrimp like you!

NARRATOR: Despite Wolf and Bear’s rudeness, Fox tried his best to smile.

FOX: No, Wolf. No, Bear. I won’t ask you to share your fish. But I would like to ask you something else. Have you ever considered… farming?

WOLF: / BEAR: Farming?!??

FOX: Yes! Growing your own food! That way, you won’t always have to catch fish by the river. You can plant and harvest your very own crops!

NARRATOR: Wolf and Bear looked at Fox. Then they looked at each other. Then…

WOLF: / BEAR: (Laugh.)

NARRATOR: …they burst out laughing.

WOLF: (Laughs.) Oh! That’s a good one, Fox!

BEAR: (Laughs.) Us?!? Plant our own crops?

WOLF: And harvest them?!?

BEAR: That’s work for people!

WOLF: Not animals!

FOX: So you say…

NARRATOR: Fox waited for Wolf and Bear’s laughter to die down.

FOX: … But you two are such icons! Such trendsetters! The other animals look up to you so much! Who’s to say you couldn’t blaze a new trail and become the forest’s first farmers? Think of how jealous everyone else would be!

NARRATOR: Wolf and Bear looked at each other again. Fox could tell he had piqued their interest.

WOLF: Huhhhhhh… “jealous,” you say?

BEAR: Hmmmm… and what might you suggest we grow on this farm?

FOX: Oh, that’s easy! You should grow wheat!

WOLF: Wheat?

BEAR: Why wheat?

FOX: Well, the people plant wheat all the time! Once the wheat is done growing, the people separate the teeny-tiny kernels, or “berries” – that’s the part you eat – from the chaff and stalks – the parts you don’t eat. And then… voila! They use the wheat berries to make all sorts of yummy things! Breads, biscuits, noodles…

WOLF: Noodles?

BEAR: What are noodles?

FOX: Only one of the tastiest foods ever invented! And you could make your very own! So? Whuddya say? Are you ready to start your own farm?

NARRATOR: Wolf and Bear went into a huddle. When they came out, they responded exactly as Fox hoped they would.

WOLF: We are ready to start our own farm, Fox!

BEAR: Yeah! What do we do first?

FOX: Well, folks, I’m glad you asked. And I’ll tell you the answer – on one condition. That you let me work on the farm, too.

WOLF:  You’ve got to be kidding!

BEAR: Why would we let a shrimp like you work on our farm?

FOX: Well… I may be shrimpy in size, but I’m big in brains! I’ve seen how the people farm, and I can teach you each and every step. All I ask is that when it’s time to harvest, you share some of the wheat crop with me.

WOLF: Share?!?

BEAR: With you?!?

FOX: Well, yes! But how about we divvy up the crop according to our size? Bear, since you’re the largest of us three, you will have the largest share. Wolf, you come next in size, so you will have the next largest. And since I’m the smallest, I’ll be content with the smallest share.

NARRATOR: Wolf and Bear looked confused.

WOLF: The smallest share?!?

BEAR: I thought you said you were “big in brains,” Fox! Yet you want the smallest share?!?

FOX: That’s right! The smallest share and nothing more! So? Whuddya say? Are you in… partners?

NARRATOR: Wolf and Bear went into another huddle. And then…

WOLF: Yes, Fox!

BEAR: We are in!

FOX: Terrific! I’ll meet you at the edge of the forest first thing tomorrow. See you then!

NARRATOR: And with that, Fox bounded away from the river with a spring in his step… and a gleam in his eye.

FOX: Oh boy! Wolf and Bear have no idea what’s coming to them. They may think they’re a big deal, but this “shrimpy” fox is going to cut them down to size!

[Theme music in]

NARRATOR: What do you think Fox is planning?

And is he sly enough to make it work?

We’ll find out, after a quick break.

[Theme music out]


[Theme music in]

NARRATOR: I’m Rebecca Sheir. Welcome back to Circle Round. Today our story is called “The Wheat and the Chaff.”

[Theme music out]

NARRATOR: Before the break, Fox hatched a plan to teach Wolf and Bear a lesson about excluding other animals because of their size.

He suggested the three of them start a wheat farm, and that he get the smallest share come harvest time.

The next morning Wolf and Bear met Fox at the edge of the forest, so he could talk them through the steps.

FOX: The first thing we need to do is clear some land. After all, we can’t grow wheat with all these bushes, rocks, and tree stumps around, right? So we need to move everything away! Here! I’ll show you!

NARRATOR: Fox sprang over to a broad pine stump and began to pull.

FOX: Okay… I just need to get a good grip around the base, and then…

NARRATOR: Wolf and Bear watched as Fox’s stump stayed right in place. It didn’t move an inch.

WOLF: Okay! Move over, shrimp!

BEAR: Let us bigger, stronger animals take over!

NARRATOR: Fox collapsed in a heap, then watched as Wolf and Bear grabbed onto the stump and tugged it right out! After that, they went about chopping bushes and hoisting rocks until they’d cleared a sizable patch of earth.

WOLF: See that, shrimp?

BEAR: That is how you clear land!

FOX: Impressive! Very impressive! Thanks to you, we can move on to the next step!

WOLF: Yeah?

BEAR: And what would that be?

FOX: Why, plowing the earth of course! Plowing loosens the dirt and makes it ready for planting. Here! I’ll show you!

NARRATOR: Fox picked up a thick branch and began dragging it across the newly-cleared land.

FOX: Wow… this branch is heavier than I thought! But I’m sure I can use it to make a nice long row here…

NARRATOR: Wolf and Bear watched as Fox stumbled under the branch’s weight.

WOLF: Alright! Step aside, shrimp!

BEAR: Wolf and I have got this!

NARRATOR: Fox flopped down on the ground, then watched as Wolf and Bear picked up branches, thrust them into the earth, then trudged up and down the patch of land, leaving behind long, straight rows of freshly-plowed dirt.

WOLF: See that, shrimp?

BEAR: That is how you plow the earth!

FOX: Amazing! Simply amazing! Now that you’ve made quick work of that task, we can move on to the next!


BEAR: And what would that be?

FOX: Why, planting the seeds of course! And it’s important that we plant every single one of them so that we have an abundant harvest. Here! I’ll show you!

NARRATOR: Fox pulled out a huge bag of seeds and began lugging it toward the newly-plowed field.

FOX: Whew! This bag is big! But surely I can make it down the rows and plant all the seeds…

NARRATOR: Wolf and Bear watched as Fox tugged at the bag. He wasn’t getting anywhere. So I’ll bet you can guess what happened next!

WOLF: Out of the way, shrimp!

BEAR: Watch and learn, pipsqueak!

NARRATOR: Fox staggered off the field, then watched as Wolf and Bear took turns hauling the bag and planting the seeds.

WOLF: See that, shrimp?

BEAR: That is how you plant seeds!

FOX: Incredible! Just incredible! Now that you’ve shown those seeds who’s boss, we can move on to the next step!

WOLF: You mean there’s more?

BEAR: What do we do after we plant?

FOX: We wait! We let the sun and rain work their magic. Then in a few months, we come back and harvest our crops! I’m assuming you two won’t mind taking a few months’ break. You do look pretty worn-out!

WOLF: “Worn-out”?!?

BEAR: Us?!?

WOLF: We big, strong animals don’t get worn-out!

BEAR: We just get… lightly fatigued!

FOX: Well, in any case, let’s meet back here in, say, four months. That should give our wheat plenty of time to grow nice and tall and strong!

WOLF: Four months? That works for us!

BEAR: Yeah! Wolf and I will just go back to our den and take a little nap in our –

WOLF: Bear!

BEAR: A little nap… kin! Yeah! We’ll go take a little napkin and wipe our brows! Light fatigue brings light perspiration, ya know...

NARRATOR: So Wolf and Bear went off to take a little nap.

BEAR: (Correcting Narrator.) KIN! Nap-KIN!

NARRATOR: Sure! Right! Of course!

And Fox, meanwhile, went off to do a little gloating.

FOX: This is terrific! Wolf and Bear are falling for my trick! Come harvest time, those bullies will realize that just because they’re the biggest, it doesn’t mean they’re the brightest. Ha ha ha!

NARRATOR: Well, one month went by… then two… then three… and finally, after four months had passed… Fox met Wolf and Bear back at their patch of earth. Only now, that patch of earth was covered with tall, golden shafts of wheat, billowing in the breeze and glowing in the sun.

FOX: Nicely done, partners! Look at all this gorgeous wheat we grew!

WOLF: We grew?!?

BEAR: Perhaps your itty-bitty brain doesn’t remember, Fox, but Wolf and I did all the work!

FOX: So you did. You big, brawny beasts did all the clearing, plowing, and planting. So now I’d like to make it up to you. I will pick all the wheat… then you can thresh it.

WOLF: “Thresh” it?

BEAR: What does “thresh” mean?

FOX: Well, it’s like I said back when we first got started. You separate the teeny-tiny wheat berries – the part you eat – from the chaff and stalks – the parts you don’t eat… and then, voila!

WOLF: You can bake breads and biscuits!

BEAR: And noodles!

FOX: That’s right! But first things first. Before anything else, we have to gather the crop. So I will use my teeth to chop down the stalks. Here I go!

NARRATOR: Fox leaped over to a stalk of wheat and sunk his teeth in.

FOX: Hmmmm… this stalk is tougher than I expected! I really thought my teeth would be sharp enough but…

NARRATOR: Wolf and Bear watched as Fox chewed and gnawed, gnawed and chewed – to no avail.

WOLF: Okay! That’s enough, shrimp!

BEAR: Wolf and I will use our big, sharp teeth to get the job done!

NARRATOR: Fox spit out a mouthful of stalk, then smiled as Wolf and Bear ran up and down the rows of wheat, slicing and dicing each stalk with their razor-sharp chompers.

WOLF: See that, shrimp?

BEAR: That is how you harvest wheat!

FOX: Fantastic! Simply fantastic! Ya know, since you were so helpful with the harvesting, perhaps I should do the threshing! I’ll just use a very large stick to beat the plants and separate the teeny-tiny wheat berries from the chaff and stalks!

NARRATOR: So Fox picked up a very large stick. Wolf and Bear watched as Fox struggled to balance the stick in his mouth and beat it against the wheat.

FOX: Woah! This is awkward! Somehow I just can’t – (Gets interrupted.)

WOLF: (Impatiently.) Oh, for crying out loud, shrimp!

BEAR: Let us do it!

NARRATOR: Fox dropped the stick and grinned as Wolf and Bear seized even larger sticks and clamped them between their teeth. They thumped the wheat, they bumped the wheat, and when they were done, on the ground lay a large mess of teeny-tiny wheat berries, dry, powdery chaff, and long, straw-like stalks, all jumbled up and mixed together.

FOX: Terrific! Just terrific! Our job is done, folks! Now it’s time to divvy up the harvest! Like I promised, Bear, you will take the largest share, since you’re the largest. Wolf, you will take the next largest, since you’re the next largest. And I will take the smallest. So now, I shall divide up the shares.

NARRATOR: Fox began splitting the harvest into three piles. By the time he was finished, there were three shares on the ground. One was very large. One wasn’t quite as large. And one was very small indeed.

But they weren’t at all what Wolf and Bear expected!

Bear’s face fell as Fox gestured toward the largest share:

A heaping pile… of stalks.

FOX: Bear, the stalks were by far the largest part of our harvest! So the stalks are for you!

BEAR: But - I - uh - what -

FOX: You’re welcome! And Wolf…

NARRATOR: Wolf grimaced as Fox gestured toward the next-largest share:

A medium-sized pile… of chaff.

FOX: Wolf, the chaff was the next largest part of our harvest, so the chaff is for you!

WOLF: But that’s not - what? - you can’t -

FOX: And you’re welcome, too! Now! As for my share…

NARRATOR: He pointed to the smallest share: a neat little pile of ripe, white, wheat berries.

FOX: The teeny-tiny berries were the smallest part of our harvest, so the berries are all for me! Mmmm. I can already taste those breads, biscuits, and noodles…

NARRATOR: Wolf and Bear stared with wide eyes at their shares of stalks and chaff. Then they stared with hungry eyes at Fox’s share of berries. Then they hung their big, furry heads in shame.

WOLF: Well Fox… you may be small in size, but you are big in brains!

BEAR: Here we were, thinking we’re better just because we’re bigger, and what have we got to show for it? A useless pile of stalks and chaff! While you make off with all the good stuff!

NARRATOR: Fox flashed Wolf and Bear a little smile.

FOX: Well actually, folks, I’d be happy to share it with you – but only if you start sharing with the other forest animals! Stop leaving them out of everything! They may be smaller, but you could have some big fun together! Can you do that?

NARRATOR: Wolf and Bear didn’t need to go into a huddle to respond to this question. Instead, they answered without hesitation.

WOLF: Alright, Fox.

BEAR: We can do that!

NARRATOR: And they did.

From that point on, Wolf and Bear never again acted like members of their own exclusive club. Thanks to a small critter who used his big brains to out-fox them both, they invited everyone to join in.

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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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