Once there was a woman who longed for a child, and finally, her wish was granted. A fairy gave her a seed, which she planted in a flower pot, and grew into a wonderful flower. It looked like a tulip, only much prettier. One day the woman was so overcome by the flower’s beauty she kissed it, and the bud opened. There, sitting inside the flower, was a beautiful girl no bigger than her thumb. The woman loved her new daughter very much and called her Thumbelina.
Thumbelina and her mother spent many happy days singing and playing together until one day, a toad heard Thumbelina singing, and she was determined to capture her as a wife for her son. That night, she snuck in through Thumbelina’s window and snatched her in her little walnut shell bed. Then she brought her to the foul-smelling swamp where she lived.
Knowing Thumbelina wouldn’t want to marry her son, the toad placed her on a water lily leaf, making her unable to escape. While the toad prepared for the wedding, Thumbelina awoke and saw where she was. Seeing she could not escape, poor Thumbelina began to cry. She cried even more when the toad and her son approached, saying she had to marry this hideous creature.
After the toads left, fish gnawed at the water lily’s root, breaking the leaf free. Thumbelina took a stem as an oar and rowed away from the toads! She had many great adventures rowing down the stream, meeting fish and many other creatures. These adventures lasted the whole summer, but when autumn came, a fish gave her a warning:
“Winter is coming,” he said. “The stream will become very cold, and if you fall, you would soon freeze to death. You’d better row your leaf to land and find shelter before autumn ends!” Thumbelina was frightened, for she had fallen into the water many times, but the water was warm and pleasant then. Heeding the fish’s warning, she rowed her leaf to the bank and climbed up onto dry land.
Once on the land, Thumbelina wove herself a bed from blades of grass and found a leaf for a blanket. This is where she slept, and she ate honey from the flowers and drank dew from leaves. When winter came, all the birds flew to warmer places Thumbelina had never seen, but longed to travel to. All the trees and flowers wilted, and even her leaf blanket shriveled up to nothing.
Poor, freezing Thumbelina searched a cornfield for shelter. Suddenly, she found a small door just her size. She knocked, and a little field mouse answered.
“You poor creature!” said the mouse. “Please, come out of the cold and have some lunch with me!” Thumbelina came inside and saw the field mouse had a very nice home.
“If you help me keep house and tell me stories,” the mouse said, “then you can stay here all winter long.” Thumbelina was most grateful for this, and she gladly did as she was asked.
Thumbelina lived happily with the mouse until one day, a mole came to visit.
“You will like this mole very much,” promised the mouse. “He is very rich and learned.” Rich and learned he was, but Thumbelina did not like this mole at all. He lived in darkness all year round and hated birds, sunshine, flowers, and all the other things she loved and missed. The mole, however, liked Thumbelina very much, and secretly wanted to marry her.
One day as the mole gave Thumbelina and the mouse a tour of his home, the three of them found a bird lying lifeless in the passage.
Thumbelina knew the mouse and mole disliked birds, but seeing this swallow lying in the passage made her very sad. The bird looked like he might just be sick, not dead, but Thumbelina dared not help him while the mole and mouse were watching. She promised to help him at night when they slept, even though he could not hear her.
That night, Thumbelina crept over to the bird and covered him with a hay blanket. She rested her head on his soft feathers and heard his heartbeat. He was alive, just greatly weakened by the cold.
The next morning, Thumbelina returned to the bird, who was beginning to stir. He wanted to leave this dark place and fly in the sunshine, but, as it was still winter, Thumbelina promised to take care of him if he stayed.
Thumbelina kept her promise, and when spring arrived, the bird bid her farewell and flew back to his nest, after giving Thumbelina a special whistle she could call him with.
The following autumn, Thumbelina needed the bird’s help. The mole had asked her to marry him, and the mouse insisted she say yes. Not wanting to marry this creature, Thumbelina took the whistle and called for her friend. Down he flew, and, since he was about to fly to a warmer place for winter, Thumbelina climbed on his back and went with him.
When they got there, the swallow showed Thumbelina to a palace where he and other swallows lived. It was surrounded by flowers, and the swallow told her to choose a flower for her home. She was just about to do so when suddenly, the flowers opened! One by one, out flew delicate little people with wings! They were just Thumbelina’s size, and many of them looked a lot like her.
“These are the flower fairies,” explained the swallow. “They will welcome you and help you find a flower to call your own.” The flower fairies did exactly this, and they fashioned Thumbelina her own pair of wings so she could fly around with them. Very glad to be in this beautiful place full of little people like herself, Thumbelina lived happily ever after.