In 1907, Beatrx Potter, author of Peter Rabbit, introduced the world to Tom Kitten in the children’s book The Tale of Tom Kitten.  This naughty little kitten has stolen the hearts of thousands of children. The first print was 20,000 copies! Since then it has been translated into about 30 languages (including braille).

The Tale of Tom Kitten

Tom Kitten Playing in the Dust

Tom Kitten and his sisters playing in the dirt.

The story begins with Tom Kitten and his two sisters, Mittens and Moppet, playing outside the home in the English countryside in the dust. Their mother, Mrs. Tabitha Twitchit, is a very proper Victorian Era womancat who is expecting friends over for tea. Herein lies the problem this story must solve: How does one keep 3 unruly young kittens clean and proper for when the respected guests arrive?

Mrs. Tabitha Twitchit does her best to wash, groom, and clothe her kittens. Mittens and Moppet are fitted with clean pinafores (an apron like garment that has no back). Tom Kitten is dressed in “uncomfortable” clothes that don’t properly fit him because he has gained a lot of weight. It takes Mrs. Twitchit a few attempts at sewing the buttons onto Tom Kitten’s clothing before it finally stays.

The next step of Mrs. Twitchit’s preparation is to make toast to go with her tea. She sends Tom Kitten, Moppet, and Mittens outside to play – with lots of “stay clean and proper” sorts of instructions. The instructions are almost immediately discarded by the kittens. In the course of running to sit on the garden wall, all three kittens soil their clothes and drop them over the other side of the wall. Tom Kitten pops all of his buttons!

Along comes a group of Puddle Ducks near the wall. The ducks see the kittens’ clothing and try it on for themselves. Tom Kitten, Mittens, and Moppet find the ducks amusing and continue playing in the garden. Later the Puddle Ducks will loose the clothing as well.

When their mother comes out and finds them, she is furious with the kittens and quickly sends them to their room before the guests arrive. Trying to avoid embarrassment, Mrs. Twitchit tells her guests that the kittens cannot come out to greet them because they have the measles. Of course, the kittens begin playing in their room and make noises that the guests clearly hear.

A Bit of Background

Tom Kitten Tight Clothes

Tom Kitten having the buttons sewn onto his clothes.

Beatrix Potter was a multifaceted artist and scientist. She took much of her inspiration for her children’s book from the animals she studied at her country side home. The idea for Tom Kitten came as she studied a kitten for the illustrations for an earlier children’s book, The Story of Ms. Moppit. She enjoyed studying the kitten, but noticed how cats have a mind of their own. He was a bit mischievous or as Potter liked to say “a most fearful pickle.”The name Tom was likely used because several novels of the era had used the name Tom for rebellious male characters.

Potter’s book were considered post-Victorian. Like the Victorian era books, she featured anthropomorphic animals. However, her characters took on more traits of the actual animal than did Victorian Era books. They were not necessarily prim and proper, nor were they models of perfection. The books took a look at realistic everyday problems and didn’t end them with a firm moral. Like Tom Kitten, her children’s books were often open ended.

A Few Favorite Quotes

Tom Kitten Dressed Up in Garden

Tom Kitten and his sisters being sent to play in the garden.

Below are a few of my favorite quotes from the book. Want to read it yourself? The Tale of Tom Kitten has been passed into public domain. You can read the entire children’s book for free with illustrations right here. It is also a free download through Google Play Books and Amazon.

  • “Dedicated to all PICKLES, – especially to those that get upon my garden wall.”
  • “Now keep your frocks clean, children! You must walk on your hind legs.”
  • “Presently they trod upon their pinafores and fell on their noses.”
  • “My friends will arrive in a minute and you are not fit to be seen; I am affronted.”
  • “QUITE the contrary; they were not in bed; not in the least.”

Who is your favorite cat from literature?

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