Once upon a time there lived a woman who had no children. She dreamed of having a little girl, but time went by, and her dream never came true.
She then went to visit a woman in the village, who gave her a magic grain of barley. She planted it in a flower pot. And the very next day, the grain had turned into a lovely flower, rather like a tulip. The woman softly kissed its half-shut petals. And as though by magic, the flower opened in full blossom. Inside sat a tiny girl, no bigger than a thumb. The woman called her Thumbelina. For a bed she had a walnut shell, violet petals for her mattress and a rose petal blanket. In the daytime, she played in a tulip petal boat, floating on a plate of water. Using two horse hairs as oars, Thumbelina sailed around her little lake, singing and singing in a gentle sweet voice.
Then one night, as she lay fast asleep in her walnut shell, a large frog hopped through a hole in the window pane. As she gazed down at Thumbelina, she said to herself: "How pretty she is! She'd make the perfect bride for my own dear son!"
She picked up Thumbelina, walnut shell and all, and hopped into the garden. Nobody saw her go. Back at the pond, her fat ugly son, who always did as mother told him, was pleased with her choice. But mother frog was afraid that her pretty prisoner might run away. So she carried Thumbelina out to a water lily leaf in the middle of the pond.
"She can never escape us now," said the frog to her son.
"And we have plenty of time to prepare a new home for you and your bride."
Thumbelina was left all alone. She felt so desperate. She knew she would never be able to escape the fate that awaited her with the two horrid fat frogs. All she could do was cry her eyes out. However, one or two minnows who had been enjoying the shade below the water lily leaf, had overheard the two frogs talking, and the little girl's bitter sobs. They decided to do something about it. So they nibbled away at the lily stem till it broke and drifted away in the weak current. A dancing butterfly had an idea: "Throw me the end of your belt! I'll help you to move a little faster!" Thumbelina gratefully did so, and the leaf soon floated away from the frog pond.
But other dangers lay ahead. A large beetle snatched Thumbelina with his strong feet and took her away to his home at the top of a leafy tree.
"Isn't she pretty?" he said to his friends. But they pointed out that she was far too different. So the beetle took her down the tree and set her free.
It was summertime, and Thumbelina wandered all by herself amongst the flowers and through the long grass. She had pollen for her meals and drank the dew. Then the rainy season came, bringing nasty weather. The poor child found it hard to find food and shelter. When winter set in, she suffered from the cold and felt terrible pangs of hunger.
One day, as Thumbelina roamed helplessly over the bare meadows, she met a large spider who promised to help her. He took her to a hollow tree and guarded the door with a stout web. Then he brought her some dried chestnuts and called his friends to come and admire her beauty. But just like the beetles, all the other spiders persuaded Thumbelina's rescuer to let her go.
Crying her heart out, and quite certain that nobody wanted her because she was ugly, Thumbelina left the spider's house.
As she wandered, shivering with the cold, suddenly she came across a solid little cottage, made of twigs and dead leaves. Hopefully, she knocked on the door. It was opened by a field mouse.
"What are you doing outside in this weather?" he asked. "Come in and warm yourself." Comfortable and cozy, the field mouse's home was stocked with food.
For her keep, Thumbelina did the housework and told the mouse stories. One day, the field mouse said a friend was coming to visit them.
"He's a very rich mole, and has a lovely house. He wears a splendid black fur coat, but he's dreadfully shortsighted. He needs company and he'd like to marry you!" Thumbelina did not relish the idea. However, when the mole came, she sang sweetly to him and he fell head over heels in love. The mole invited Thumbelina and the field mouse to visit him, but to their surprise and horror, they came upon a swallow in the tunnel. It looked dead. Mole nudged it with his foot, saying: "That'll teach her! She should have come underground instead of darting about the sky all summer!" Thumbelina was so shocked by such cruel words that later, she crept back unseen to the tunnel.
And every day, the little girl went to nurse the swallow and tenderly give it food.
In the meantime, the swallow told Thumbelina its tale. Jagged by a thorn, it had been unable to follow its companions to a warmer climate.
"It's kind of you to nurse me," it told Thumbelina. But, in spring, the swallow flew away, after offering to take the little girl with it. All summer, Thumbelina did her best to avoid marrying the mole. The little girl thought fearfully of how she'd have to live underground forever. On the eve of her wedding, she asked to spend a day in the open air. As she gently fingered a flower, she heard a familiar song: "Winter's on its way and I'll be off to warmer lands. Come with me!" Thumbelina quickly clung to her swallow friend, and the bird soared into the sky. They flew over plains and hills till they reached a country of flowers. The swallow gently laid Thumbelina in a blossom.
There she met a tiny, white-winged fairy: the King of the Flower Fairies.
Instantly, he asked her to marry him. Thumbelina eagerly said "yes", and sprouting tiny white wings, she became the Flower Queen!