The Stork King | Ep. 223

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

Ever heard the expression, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained”?

What it means is: to achieve something you often have to take risks.

In today’s tale, three characters take a big risk. And they wind up gaining more than they ever expected!

Our story is called “The Stork King.” It’s inspired by folktales from the Eastern European country of Ukraine.

Voices in this episode include: Feodor Chin, Dave Edson, Kym Miller, Jessica Rau, Marion Toro, and Julian Lerner. Julian Lerner most recently starred in the reboot of “The Wonder Years” on ABC. Kids, you can hear Julian’s voice in the PBS animated series, “Alma’s Way.”

This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Sofie Kodner. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.

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

GROWN-UPS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We invite you to share your picture on Facebook and Instagram, and tag it with #CircleRoundPodcast. To access all the coloring pages for past Circle Round episodes click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her HERE.

Now It’s Your Turn!

If you had the Stork King’s magic ring, and you could wish for anything at all, what would it be?

Draw a picture of what it would look like if your wish came true and show your picture to someone you have fun with.

Then, if you’d like, share it with us!

Grown-ups, snap a photo of your Circle Round fan and their artwork and email it to We may feature your picture in “The Lion’s Roar”: the monthly newsletter for members of the Circle Round Club (and to learn more about this exciting new community for Circle Round superfans like you, click here!).

In Ukraine, the hammered dulcimer is known as the tsymbaly. (courtesy of Rebecca Sheir)
In Ukraine, the hammered dulcimer is known as the tsymbaly. (courtesy of Rebecca Sheir)

Musical Spotlight: Hammered Dulcimer

The hammered dulcimer is a trapezoid-shaped instrument with strings running across its body. To play the instrument, you strike the strings with hammers.

No one is certain about the true origins of the hammered dulcimer, but experts believe the instrument showed up in Persia around 900 A.D. It was brought to North Africa, then to western Europe and eastern Europe, then to China, Thailand and Korea. In the early 1700s it made its way to North America, where some settlers called it the whamadiddle or hackbrett (“chopping board” in German).

As the dulcimer has evolved in different countries, it has developed different designs and names, from China’s Yangqin and Korea’s Yanggeum… to India’s Santoor and Ukraine’s Tsymbaly… to Italy’s Salterio and Spain’s Dulcémele.

Story Transcript:

NARRATOR: Once upon a time, way out in the country, there lived a wheat farmer. The wheat farmer had three children –- Maxim, Sasha, and Yuri – and the family spent long days diligently working the land.

…Okay, so maybe not everyone in the entire family. While Yuri was always quick to offer help…

YURI: I’ll help you, Mother!

NARRATOR: …Maxim and Sasha were quick to offer excuses.

MAXIM: (totally lying) Um, I would help you, Mother… but I feel a head cold coming on.

SASHA: (totally lying) And I feel a stomach bug!

MAXIM: And did I mention I have a backache?

SASHA: And I have the worst earache!

NARRATOR: One sunny morning, while Yuri was running errands, and Maxim and Sasha were running on about their aches and pains –

MAXIM: (interrupting) …and head colds!

SASHA:and stomach bugs!

NARRATOR: …the farmer went out to the stable where she kept her oxen. The two strong creatures were the only animals the farmer could afford, and they were excellent workers when it came to plowing, planting, and harvesting.

FARMER: Good morning, my brawny friends; it’s time for some plowing! I’ll just get the cart here and – (stops abruptly) (GASP!) What in the world!??????

NARRATOR: The farmer gasped as the wheat field suddenly grew dark, as if a large shadow had fallen across it.

FARMER: What happened to the sun? Did a whole bunch of storm clouds roll in and cover up the sky?

NARRATOR: The farmer tilted her head upward, but she did not see a bunch of storm clouds. Instead, she saw…

FARMER: … a STORK?????

NARRATOR: That’s right! But not just any stork! This stork… was huge! Its body was nearly as long as the oxen’s stable – and its outstretched wings were nearly as wide as the farmer’s house!

STORK KING: Greetings, farmer! I am the Stork King!

NARRATOR: As the enormous bird glided to the ground, the farmer was at a loss for words. She had never been in the presence of a gargantuan stork before – let alone a royal one who spoke!

FARMER: (nervous, trying not to show it) Um, uh, greetings… (not sure what to call her) Your Highness! To what do I owe the pleasure of this most unexpected visit?

STORK KING: Well… it just so happens that I, too, have a farm – right outside my silver palace. My workers could use an extra hand. (beat) So I’ve come to take your oxen.

FARMER: Take my oxen??!?

NARRATOR: The farmer felt her heart clench.

FARMER: You can’t take my oxen! I need them to plow, plant, and harvest wheat! So my children and I can make a living!


NARRATOR: The Stork King blinked his bright gray eyes.

STORK KING: In that case, how about I take one of your children instead? Some human assistance could be useful. (beat) The choice is yours.

NARRATOR: The farmer shuddered down to her work boots. Was this talking bird really forcing her to decide between her oxen and her offspring?

FARMER: Listen. I am not about to part with any member of my family. So, fine. You can take the oxen.

NARRATOR: The Stork King gazed at the farmer. Then he lowered his head until he was looking her straight in the eye.

STORK KING: I see you possess a good heart, farmer. So… in return for your oxen… I will offer payment. Have one of your children visit my palace. I will send them home with whatever reward they choose.

NARRATOR: The farmer felt relieved… and confused.

FARMER: I appreciate the offer, Your Highness, and I will take you up on it. But we don’t know where your palace is! How are we supposed to find it?

STORK KING: Let’s just say anyone can find it if they play their cards right. But you can start by looking east of the Morning Star. (beat) Thank you for the oxen!

NARRATOR: And with that, the great bird seized both oxen in his talons…

NARRATOR: …and with a few flaps of his enormous wings, he disappeared from view.

NARRATOR: Will one of the farmer’s children find the Stork King’s palace?

And if they do, what reward do you think they’ll bring home?

We’ll find out what happens, after a quick break.


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

[theme music out]

NARRATOR: Before the break, the Stork King took both of the farmer’s oxen. In exchange, he promised a reward – which one of her three children would have to pick up at his silver palace.

That evening, as the family gathered around the kitchen table for a humble dinner, the farmer made an announcement.

FARMER: Maxim, Sasha, Yuri… I have something to tell you.

YURI: What is it, Mother?

MAXIM: And please make it quick, because I’m fighting off this stomach bug.

SASHA: And I’m dealing with this backache!

MAXIM: I thought you said it was an earache!

SASHA: And I thought you said it was a head cold!

FARMER: (trying to get them to stop quibbling) Children! Please! (beat) I called you here because I have… some news. So listen up.

NARRATOR: The farmer took a breath, then told the story of her visit from the Stork King. Maxim and Sasha gaped at their mother as if she’d just declared she was from outer space.

MAXIM: So, Mother… you’re telling us you met a giant, talking stork?

FARMER: Yes, Maxim.

SASHA: And this giant, talking stork made off with our oxen?

FARMER: That’s right, Sasha.

MAXIM: And you’re sure you didn’t doze off in the fields and start dreaming or something?

SASHA: Because this story sounds ridiculous!

YURI: Oh come on, you two!

NARRATOR: Yuri wagged a finger at his siblings.

YURI: Stop making fun! I, for one, believe Mother’s story. And I volunteer to visit the Stork King’s palace to get our reward. Surely it will be valuable enough to take into town and trade for two new oxen – maybe even more!

NARRATOR: The farmer shook her head.

FARMER: I appreciate the offer, Yuri. But I can’t send you to the Stork King’s palace; there’s too much for you to do here on the farm. Without our oxen, we’re in danger of going hungry, so I’ll need you to work extra hard.

NARRATOR: The farmer flashed Yuri a smile, then turned toward Maxim.

FARMER: Maxim. I want you to visit the Stork King’s palace and bring back the reward.

MAXIM: Me???

NARRATOR: Maxim shifted in his seat. He certainly didn’t love the idea of embarking on a potentially dangerous journey to a destination that he may or may not ever find. But he didn’t want to go hungry, either.

MAXIM: (not too willing) Alright. Fine. I’ll do it. I’ll leave first thing tomorrow.

NARRATOR: So the next morning, just before dawn, Maxim pulled himself out of bed, stuffed some crusty bread into a bag, then set off east of the Morning Star.

He traipsed through flower-covered meadows and walked across babbling brooks. He trekked up and down grassy knolls. With each step he grew wearier, and hungrier, and after winding his way into a thick green forest, he stopped beside a rushing stream for a rest and a snack. But just as he tore off a hunk of bread, he heard a voice!

INJURED STORK: (tired) Pardon me, sir? Could you please share your bread with me?

NARRATOR: Maxim turned his head. Hopping into the clearing… was a stork! A regular-sized stork, with one of her wings drooping and dragging behind her.

INJURED STORK: With this injured wing of mine, it’s so hard to find food! I’d appreciate a nibble!

NARRATOR: Now… if you were in Maxim’s shoes, you’d probably feel pity in your heart, right? Well, all Maxim felt was hunger in his stomach.

MAXIM: Look, stork. It’s not gonna happen. I’ve been traveling for hours and I am famished! Not only that, but I have a long journey ahead so I’ll need every bite I have. I’m going to visit the palace of the Stork King!

NARRATOR: The stork cocked her head.

INJURED STORK: The palace of the Stork King? I know how to get there! If you let me perch on your shoulder, I’ll show you the way!

NARRATOR: Maxim scoffed.

MAXIM: You’re joking, right? I’m already exhausted! How could I possibly carry a lanky bird like you on my shoulder!?? No way!

INJURED STORK: Alright! Suit yourself!

NARRATOR: And with that, the stork blinked her gray eyes, then spread both of her wings and flew away!

MAXIM: Would you look at that?!!!! That bird flew away without any problem! Yet she tried to convince me she had an injured wing? What a phony! Good thing I didn't fall for her trick.

NARRATOR: Maxim took a bite of bread, then rose to his feet and resumed his journey through the thick green forest.

MAXIM: Okay… so if I want to head east of the Morning Star, then I need to go this way. (beat) Or perhaps that way? (beat) Oh dear. This forest is so dense I’ve gotten all turned around!

NARRATOR: Maxim zigged and zagged, zagged and zigged, until he found himself helplessly, hopelessly lost. He staggered over to a tree, curled up beneath it, then dropped off to sleep.

MAXIM: (ad-lib sleeping)

NARRATOR: Meanwhile, back at the farm, the rest of Maxim’s family was patiently awaiting his return. But after a few days, the farmer was losing hope.

FARMER: Sasha! Yuri! It’s been days, and Maxim has yet to return. I fear he never will.

YURI: Don’t you worry, mother! I’ll go out and look for him! Then he and I will go to the Stork King’s palace together!

FARMER: I appreciate the offer, Yuri… but no. I need your help on the farm!

NARRATOR: She turned toward Sasha.

FARMER: Sasha. I want you to go out and find Maxim. And the Stork King’s palace – if you’re able. Otherwise, we’ll have some very hard times ahead!

NARRATOR: Like Maxim, Sasha wasn’t too keen on heading into the great unknown – but she didn’t want to starve, either.

So the next morning, she stuffed a boiled potato into a bag, and headed east of the Morning Star. She wound up taking the exact same path Maxim had –  traipsing through flower-covered meadows, walking across babbling brooks, trekking up and down grassy knolls - and before long she found herself in the same thick green forest.

Like her brother before her, she found the rushing stream and stopped for a rest and a snack. But just as she was taking her boiled potato out of her bag…

INJURED STORK: (meek) Excuse me, miss? Could you please share your potato with me?

NARRATOR: Sasha turned her head and wouldn't you know it, there was the same stork Maxim had seen! With one of her wings dragging behind her!

INJURED STORK: With this injured wing of mine, it’s so hard to gather food! I’d appreciate just one bite!

NARRATOR: Now, you know what Maxim said to the stork, right? Well, as you can probably guess, Sasha was no different.

SASHA: Not a chance, stork! I’ve been wandering all day and I am ravenous! Plus, I have a lengthy voyage ahead, so I’ll need all the food I can get. I’m on my way to the palace of the Stork King!

INJURED STORK: The palace of the Stork King? I know how to reach it. If you let me perch on your shoulder, I’ll show you the way!

NARRATOR: Sasha rolled her eyes.

SASHA: Oh come on! Do you really think I’m about to chauffeur around a big unwieldy bird like you? Hitch a ride from someone else!

INJURED STORK: Very well! Suit yourself!

NARRATOR: And with that, the stork took to the air and flew off.

SASHA: Get a load of that! That bird wasn’t injured at all! Lucky for me I didn't fall for her trick!

NARRATOR: Sasha took a bite of potato, then got to her feet and continued her journey through the thick green forest. But, just like her brother before her…

SASHA: If I’m trying to head east of the Morning Star, then I need to take this path. (beat) Or maybe that one…?

NARRATOR: … Sasha zigged and zagged, zagged and zigged, until she had no idea where she was. She stumbled over to a bush, snuggled up beside it, then drifted off to sleep.

SASHA: (ad-lib sleeping)

NARRATOR: Meanwhile, back at the farm… the farmer was worried sick about Maxim and Sasha. So, once again, Yuri volunteered his services.

YURI: I’ll go out and find them, Mother! Maybe I’ll find the Stork King’s palace, too! Then we’ll be doubly rewarded! 

FARMER: I admire your confidence, Yuri. But you’re all I have left! What if something happens to you out there?!??

YURI: Look, Mother. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Please. Let me do this.

NARRATOR: The farmer finally gave in, and early the next morning, Yuri stuffed half a head of cabbage into a bag and began journeying east of the Morning Star.

As it happens, he took the exact same path his siblings did, and wound up in the thick green forest. And just as he paused by the stream for a rest and a snack, who should he see but the stork with the drooping wing!

INJURED STORK: I beg your pardon, sir? Could you please share your cabbage with me?

NARRATOR: Now, you remember what Yuri’s siblings told the stork, right? Well, as you can guess, Yuri’s answer was completely different.

YURI: Of course I can share my cabbage! It must be hard to find food with an injured wing. So here! Have as much as you want!

INJURED STORK: Thank you! You are so kind.

NARRATOR: Yuri handed the stork his cabbage. The grateful bird took a nibble.

INJURED STORK: So tell me: where are you off to?

YURI: Well… I’m supposed to be looking for the Palace of the Stork King, so I can get a reward for the oxen he took from my family’s farm. But I’m also trying to find my brother and sister.

INJURED STORK: Hmmm. I don’t know about your siblings. But I do know how to find the Stork King’s palace! If you let me perch on your shoulder I’ll show you the way!

NARRATOR: Now… we all know that Maxim scoffed at the bird’s offer… as did Sasha… but Yuri sympathized.

YURI: Of course I’ll let you perch on my shoulder! Climb on!

NARRATOR: Yuri held out his shoulder. To his surprise, however, the bird did not climb on. Instead she spread both her wings and motioned toward her back.

INJURED STORK: Actually… how about if you climb on instead?

NARRATOR: Yuri was astonished – and overjoyed. He slung a leg over the stork’s back, and they soared into the sky. They flew over mountains and rivers and plains, and then… as they passed above a wide green valley…

INJURED STORK: We’re nearly there! Hold on tight!

NARRATOR: Yuri clung to the stork’s neck as they dove downward. When they landed, towering above them was a magnificent palace, with every last inch crafted from pure sparkling silver.

INJURED STORK: Here we are! The Stork King’s palace. This is where we part ways, my friend. (beat) But before I go, one piece of advice. When the Stork King asks what you want in exchange for the oxen, tell him you want nothing more than what he puts under his pillow each night.

YURI: “What he puts under his pillow each night”…? (beat) Alright… You’ve been so kind, so I’ll do as you say. (beat) But will I ever find my brother and sister?

INJURED STORK: If you play your cards right!

NARRATOR: And with those words, the stork spread her wings and flew away.

Yuri knocked at the palace’s silver door. A pair of stork guards let him in, and ushered him into a great hall, where he found the Stork King wearing a long silver robe and sitting high on a silver throne.

STORK KING: You must be one of the farmer’s children! I owe you for two oxen, and I always keep my word. So tell me. What would you like as payment?

NARRATOR: Yuri glanced around the grand room. He saw all sorts of riches: silver platters on a silver table, silver candlesticks mounted on silver walls, a silver chandelier sparkling from the silver ceiling…

YURI: I can see your palace is filled with many valuable things, Your Highness. But all I ask in return for the oxen… is what you put under your pillow each night.

NARRATOR: The Stork King’s gray eyes grew dark.

STORK KING: That is what you request? What I put under my pillow each night?

YURI: Yes! Nothing more, nothing less.

NARRATOR: The Stork King fell silent. It looked to Yuri as if he were gnashing his teeth – if storks had teeth. But then the King took a deep breath, and let it out slowly.

STORK KING: Very well. You may have what you ask for. (beat) Guards? Bring this fellow his reward.

NARRATOR: The guards rushed out of the hall. When they returned, they handed Yuri… a ring. A plain round ring, not made of silver but some other dull metal.

STORK KING: Now take your reward and go. Before I change my mind!

NARRATOR: Yuri stuffed the ring into his pocket and ran from the palace. Once he burst through the silver doors, he took out the ring and stared at it.

YURI: Hmmm… I wonder why the Stork King was so upset about me taking this ring! Compared with the riches in his palace, it seems worthless. And here I was, thinking I would bring home something valuable enough to trade for two new oxen! Now all I have is this silly ring, and my brother and sister are still missing! (beat) Ugh. What horrible fortune! I wish I could just be back at the farm… enjoying a delicious meal with my family – my entire family! I wish, I wish, I wish!

NARRATOR: As Yuri fretted, he absentmindedly pushed the ring onto his finger and twisted it around.

And the moment he did, do you know what happened?

There was a flash of light…

NARRATOR: …and next thing Yuri knew, he was back at his farm, sitting at his kitchen table! The table was piled high with delicious food, and clustered around it were none other than his mother – and his siblings! They all looked just as surprised as Yuri was.

FARMER: Yuri! You’re back! And Maxim! Sasha! You’ve returned, too! (beat) But how???? … And where did all this food come from???

NARRATOR: Maxim and Sasha were flummoxed.

MAXIM: I have no idea, Mother!

SASHA: Me either!

NARRATOR: But as for Yuri… suddenly he knew exactly how they all came to be sitting in the kitchen, gazing at this beautiful feast.

Under the table, he gave the ring on his finger a quick turn. Then, under his breath, he made one more wish.

The next day, when the farmer woke up, she was pleasantly surprised at what she found outside. Standing in the stable was an entire team of new oxen. And working in the fields were all three of her children! Yuri was plowing, Maxim was planting, and Sasha was harvesting – without a headache, backache, or earache to be found.

Headshot of Rebecca Sheir

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



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