The Adventures of Tom Thumb by Marianna Mayer

The Adventures of Tom Thumb by Marianna Mayer
The Adventures of Tom Thumb by Marianna Mayer

today’s children storybook summary is

The Adventures of Tom Thumb

By Marianna Mayer

Pictures by K.Y. Craft

The takeaway

Doesn’t matter your size, you can still defeat a giant if you put your mind to it.


This is a classic story written and published in a modern age. It comes from medieval English folklore and it is a perfect candidate for this opening line:  once upon a time…

Indeed, as the story goes, once upon a time, during the reign of King Arthur, there lived Tall Tim and his wife, Kate. They lived on a farm, for Tall Tim was a farmer and a trader. And they wanted nothing more than to have a child, even if it was the size of a thumb. But they had none.

One day, Kate advised her husband to go seek the help of Merlin, King Arthur’s wizard. Tall Tim left his farm at once and meet the wizard in a deep, dark forest. With a big surprise, Tim found out that the wizard already knew what he wished for. He granted the wish to Tall Tim with these words:

“And though he be no bigger

than his father’s thumb

until the world

does ending come

there will be stories

of Tom Thumb”.

After three months a little baby was born. Indeed, he was full grown at birth and was no bigger than a thumb. To celebrate him, the little people came out of their Fairyland to bring gifts, and their queen named him Tom Thumb.

In the meantime, Gembo, a giant, started terrorizing the people of the kingdom, and no matter what King Arthur and his knights were doing, they couldn’t stop him. But Kate and Tall Tim didn’t even take notice, being busy with their little boy.

Tom Thumb was very eager to show his parents that he can do things as good as everybody else, if not better, despite his stature. Thus, he was allowed to help with choruses and he made himself very useful. His parents were pleased and proud. But that’s exactly what got him into trouble and started his adventures.

One day while he was helping his mother, he was swallowed by the cow which was munching on stack of hay close to where Tom was sitting. Terrified but thinking fast, Tom tickled the cow’s throat till she coughed him out into a mud puddle. Unfortunately, he was picked up by a raven and carried away. Angry, Tom, who was given the gift to speak in the tongue of all the animals, demanded to be let go. The startled raven dropped him from the sky straight into a chimney’s heart.

And that was the worst place to be, for Tom Thumb found himself in the giant’s castle. Gembo, who was having dinner, immediately started chasing him. But Tom hid in a mousehole and sat there for a long time. Realizing that as soon as he’d leave the place he’d be seized by the giant, Tom decided to come out and offer his services to Gembo. Puzzled, Gembo accepted on the accounts that it may be useful. And so it was, Tom managing to do choruses that required a little person, like sweeping cobwebs, reaching small places and opening locks without a key. But still the giant wanted to grind Tom’s bones. One night, when the boy was cooking dinner for the master, Gembo decided to eat Tom, maybe as an appetizer. He grabbed Tom Thumb and threw him in his mouth. But, as he was preparing to chew him, Tom slid down the giant’s throat and into his stomach where he wrenched such a havoc that Gembo had no choice then to cough him up in the lake below the castle’s fortifications.

The giant felt that he had been humiliated by a little boy and knew that the story would spread through all the kingdom. Not wanting to suffer the consequences, he packed his belongings and left, never to be seen again.

Meanwhile, in the lake below, Tom was swallowed by a fish who was caught by a fisherman and sold to the king’s chef. When the fish was cut open in the kitchen, they found Tome still alive. He told his story before king Arthur, who, for his bravery, knight him Sir Tom Thumb.

For a while, Tom lived among knights and serve the king, but soon he started missing his parents. One day, he asked permission to go visit them. For the trip, the king gave him seven white mice to draw his coach and a bag of gold.

His parents were very happy to see him. They organized a big party were all the little people came out of their Fairyland to see him and to party. And as the story goes, “if they haven’t grown tired of all their merry-making, it goes on still.”

This book was inspired by many legends and folk stories about a character named Tom-Thumb. According to the author, Marianna Mayer, these stories come from England and are as old as late medieval times. Also, she says, little people are known in other’s nations folklore, from Europe to Japan.


Tom Thumb, a boy no bigger than his father’s thumb; Tall Tim, the boy’s father; Kate, the boy’s mother; Merlin, king Arthur’s wizard; King Arthur.


Kinuko Y. Craft is the illustrator of this book, and many others for which she had won more the one hundred graphic awards.  The art of this book depicts landscapes, costumes and common habits based “loosely” on the twelve century England. The artist draws her inspiration for the borders of the pictures from the manuscripts of the same era. Reading the text and looking at the pictures you will be transported in a past time on a land of fairies, kings and knights. Besides its literary role, the illustration can educate little readers about medieval times.

Recommended Age

5 to 8

Reading Time

15 minutes

Things to Learn

Myth and mythology – a myth is an old story, usually from a past time, that is false or has not been yet proved to be true. Mythology is a collection of such myths from a specific culture or geographical area.

Folklore – a collection of mostly unwritten stories, customs, and believes specific to a culture or a geographical area that have been pass on from generation to generation.


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