A traditional story of social courage
for today has its origins in China. Or Bosnia – I’ve seen it identified both ways. It was retold very well in storybook form by author-illustrator Demi, and this is my retelling. If you want to learn it and retell it in your own words, here are my tips for how to tell a story
Long, long ago, the reigning emperor realized that because he had no son, he must select an heir to be emperor after him. Throughout the land, the news was sent: there would be a contest. Every eligible boy must come forward and receive one special seed. After one year, the boy whose seed had become the most thriving plant would wear the crown.
This was a contest that appealed to the boy, Jun. He loved plants, and his shadow was like both sun and water in the garden: wherever he went and attended to the green, growing things, the plants would thrive. His mother encouraged him to try the contest, and so he went with the other boys, and brought home his one, royal seed.
Jun filled a pot with good garden earth, and carefully pressed the seed into its soft bed. He watered it neither too much nor too little, and kept it in a sheltered spot where cold winds would not chill it, nor hot sun bake it. And yet, to his dismay, nothing sprouted. Other boys were reporting the strength and vigor of their seedlings, but Jun’s seed was as silent as a stone.
Thinking that perhaps he must take even greater care, Jun repotted the seed with new earth. Every day, even as the reports of flourishing plants reached his ears from around town, he looked at the empty pot – or empty of everything but soil – and despaired.
At last the year was up, and all the boys who had entered the contest were told to bring their pots to the emperor. “Go anyway,” Jun’s mother told him. “You did your best, and you must not be ashamed.”
With some reluctance, Jun carried his pot to the palace. He tried to ignore the giggles and taunts of the other competitors, who pointed at his empty pot with amusement. On all sides were boys whose pots overflowed with abundant, luxuriant growth. Row upon row of boys were lined up before the emperor, who inspected their entries with great interest. At last, the emperor reached Jun’s pot and stopped.
“This pot is empty,” the emperor said. “What can this mean?”
Jun bowed. “I tried everything I could think of, great emperor, but I could not make this seed grow. I am so sorry for my failure.”
The emperor gazed at all the other pots, where plants with glossy leaves and brilliant flowers made a garden out of the palace courtyard. “I don’t know where those plants came from,” he said. “It was not from the seeds I gave you; those seeds you all received had been boiled, and no plant could grow from them. You must have all started with a fresh seed when you failed. But here is one boy honest and courageous enough to be emperor.”
Here is a link to the Demi version, if you feel you’d rather read this social courage story than tell it. But perhaps if you are shy about your ability to tell a story well, you might need a bit of additional social courage yourself… just a suggestion!