Circle Round for Stories Around the World

illustration credit: WBUR’s Circle Round

When I was in middle school, I would hustle up to my room by 10 pm, turn on my radio and hide under the covers to get ready to listen to Frank Peretti read chapters of his books. His books had a spiritual element and often talked about the battle that was happening in the unseen realm. As a child raised with Christianity plus a little Buddhism and shamanism, stories that had anything to do with the spiritual word fascinated me, spooked me and were right up my alley. As I heard the stories read on the radio, I could vividly imagine the battles that were happening and each of the characters would come alive in my mind. It was better than TV!

Ninjette at the Boston Children’s Museum for the live recording of the Circle Round podcast and launch party.

As the age of the internet took over, my days of huddling around the radio to hear stories became a fond memory. But after I met my husband, I fell in love with listening to stories all over again through podcasts. My husband, an avid reader and podcast listener, introduced me to public radio and the world of podcasts. I quickly became wrapped up in The Moth Radio Hour as well as a host of other shows on WBUR and NPR. It was the perfect thing to listen to while driving and definitely sparked some interesting conversations between my husband and me. And then, my husband introduced podcasts that our whole family could listen to on one of our drives to visit my in-laws. Some of these podcasts were aimed more for our daughter, but the storytelling was still intriguing for the adults in the car.

A selfie with the fabulous Christine.

Since that moment, I have been searching for new and different types of podcasts for children—mostly by asking for recommendations from friends. And I am glad that I asked because my friend Christine Koh of BostonMamas.com (and a whole bunch of other things including her amazing t-shirt shop) introduced me to Circle Round. It’s the latest podcast from WBUR produced by Jessica Alpert and hosted by Rebecca Sheir. Circle Round is a storytelling podcast aimed for kids 4-10 and is narrated by Rebecca, but also stars some cool theater, film and TV actors who perform folktales from around the world. Recently, they had their launch party at the Boston Children’s Museum and I was thrilled to be able to go because we got to be a part of a live recording of the podcast!

My daughter and I were also really fortunate enough to interview the team behind Circle Round, including Eric Shimelonis who creates the original music for each of the episodes. I was really curious how they put the shows together and how they went about with the recording. I always marvel at podcasts because they craft this amazing story that surrounds you—all through sounds, music and voices!

Rebecca Sheir and Eric Shimelonis doing a live recording of a Circle Round episode. (Yes, that is an accordion!)

Rebecca and Eric let me know that they have an in-home studio where they do a lot of the mixing. Many times, the actors will record their voices remotely, but with direction from Rebecca. It was really neat to hear that after Rebecca, Eric and Jessica think about who could deliver the story the best, that all the celebrities are always more than willing to contribute their voices and acting skills to each episode. You can hear the talented voices of celebrities like Jason Alexander, Kathryn Hahn and Lou Diamond Phillips.

Another character that plays a big part of the podcast is the music you will hear. Eric brought along his accordion for the launch party and live recording. When I asked him what influenced him to play the accordion, he said that he picked it up in high school because of They Might Be Giants. (Yes, I’m a fan too!) He also told me that he is going to try to never use the same instrument twice for the first season of the podcast. (The challenge was accepted and everyone should message or tweet him about the kinds of instruments you want to hear!) The music of the podcast is a beautiful compliment to each of the characters of the Circle Round stories and definitely has a wonderful way of shaping the story.

Jessica Alpert, Rebecca Sheir and Eric Shimelonis of the Circle Round podcast.

When I asked producer Jessica about why she wanted to produce a children’s podcast, she told me that she wanted families to learn to listen to each other and hoped the podcast could be used as a tool. The podcast is a way for us to keep traditions alive and get us talking to each other about the rich story we each have in our lives. There’s always a prompt at the end of the story that helps to kick off the conversation. Rebecca, who narrates and hosts the podcast, also chimed in by saying that she hoped the podcast would “inspire imagination. And build a movie in their minds.”

Each of the stories is from a different part of the world, so if you have a folktale that you would want to hear on the podcast, please let them know! Every Tuesday, there is a new episode up and you can subscribe to the Circle Round podcast through iTunes, Stitcher, Downcast or your favorite podcast app. Let me know which is your favorite episode! We loved the one about how the ocean became salty. Happy listening!

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