The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin

Illustration for Beatrix Potter Squirrel Nutkin bedtime story for children
Naughty Squirrel Nutkin teases an owl... until something happens to make him stop!
The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin

Original Beatrix Potter illustration of squirrel in tree, for Squirrel Nutkin bedtime story

This is a Tale about a tail—a tail that belonged to a little red squirrel, and his name was Nutkin.

He had a brother called Twinkleberry, and a great many cousins: they lived in a wood at the edge of a lake.

Original Beatrix Potter illustration of owl flying in forest, for Squirrel Nutkin bedtime story

In the middle of the lake there is an island covered with trees and nut bushes; and amongst those trees stands a hollow oak-tree, which is the house of an owl who is called Old Brown.

Original Beatrix Potter illustration of squirrels playing in forest, for Squirrel Nutkin bedtime story

One autumn when the nuts were ripe, and the leaves on the hazel bushes were golden and green—Nutkin and Twinkleberry and all the other little squirrels came out of the wood, and down to the edge of the lake.

Original Beatrix Potter illustration of squirrels crossing river on rafts, for Squirrel Nutkin bedtime story

They made little rafts out of twigs, and they paddled away over the water to Owl Island to gather nuts.

Each squirrel had a little sack and a large oar, and spread out his tail for a sail.

Original Beatrix Potter illustration of owl telling a story, for Squirrel Nutkin bedtime story

They also took with them an offering of three fat mice as a present for Old Brown, and put them down upon his door-step.

Then Twinkleberry and the other little squirrels each made a low bow, and said politely—

“Old Mr. Brown, will you favour us with permission to gather nuts upon your island?”

Original Beatrix Potter illustration of owl and squirrels in forest, for Squirrel Nutkin bedtime story

But Nutkin was excessively impertinent in his manners. He bobbed up and down like a little red cherry, singing—

“Riddle me, riddle me, rot-tot-tote!
A little wee man, in a red red coat!
A staff in his hand, and a stone in his throat;
If you’ll tell me this riddle, I’ll give you a groat.”

Now this riddle is as old as the hills; Mr. Brown paid no attention whatever to Nutkin.

He shut his eyes obstinately and went to sleep.

Original Beatrix Potter illustration of squirrels filling bags with nuts, for Squirrel Nutkin bedtime story

The squirrels filled their little sacks with nuts, and sailed away home in the evening.

Original Beatrix Potter illustration of squirrels nut gathering, for Squirrel Nutkin bedtime story

But next morning they all came back again to Owl Island; and Twinkleberry and the others brought a fine fat mole, and laid it on the stone in front of Old Brown’s doorway, and said—

“Mr. Brown, will you favour us with your gracious permission to gather some more nuts?”

Original Beatrix Potter illustration of owl and squirrel talking, for Squirrel Nutkin bedtime story

But Nutkin, who had no respect, began to dance up and down, tickling old Mr. Brown with a nettle and singing—

“Old Mr. B! Riddle-me-ree!
Hitty Pitty within the wall,
Hitty Pitty without the wall;
If you touch Hitty Pitty,
Hitty Pitty will bite you!”

Mr. Brown woke up suddenly and carried the mole into his house.

Original Beatrix Potter illustration of squirrel at front door of tree, for Squirrel Nutkin bedtime story

He shut the door in Nutkin’s face. Presently a little thread of blue smoke from a wood fire came up from the top of the tree, and Nutkin peeped through the key-hole and sang—

“A house full, a hole full!
And you cannot gather a bowl-full!”

Original Beatrix Potter illustration of squirrel foraging nuts, for Squirrel Nutkin bedtime story

The squirrels searched for nuts all over the island and filled their little sacks.

But Nutkin gathered oak-apples—yellow and scarlet—and sat upon a beech-stump playing marbles, and watching the door of old Mr. Brown.

Original Beatrix Potter illustration of squirrels wading in water with nuts for Squirrel Nutkin bedtime story

On the third day the squirrels got up very early and went fishing; they caught seven fat minnows as a present for Old Brown.

They paddled over the lake and landed under a crooked chestnut tree on Owl Island.

Original Beatrix Potter illustration of squirrels running through forest in a group, for Squirrel Nutkin bedtime story

Twinkleberry and six other little squirrels each carried a fat minnow; but Nutkin, who had no nice manners, brought no present at all. He ran in front, singing—

“The man in the wilderness said to me,
‘How many strawberries grow in the sea?’
I answered him as I thought good—
‘As many red herrings as grow in the wood.'”

But old Mr. Brown took no interest in riddles—not even when the answer was provided for him.

Original Beatrix Potter illustration of squirrels gathered around nuts, for Squirrel Nutkin bedtime story

On the fourth day the squirrels brought a present of six fat beetles, which were as good as plums in plum-pudding for Old Brown. Each beetle was wrapped up carefully in a dock-leaf, fastened with a pine-needle pin.

But Nutkin sang as rudely as ever—

“Old Mr. B! riddle-me-ree
Flour of England, fruit of Spain,
Met together in a shower of rain;
Put in a bag tied round with a string,
If you’ll tell me this riddle, I’ll give you a ring!”

Which was ridiculous of Nutkin, because he had not got any ring to give to Old Brown.

Original Beatrix Potter illustration of squirrels with nut bush, for Squirrel Nutkin bedtime story

The other squirrels hunted up and down the nut bushes; but Nutkin gathered robin’s pincushions off a briar bush, and stuck them full of pine-needle pins.

Original Beatrix Potter illustration of squirrels counting gathered nuts, for Squirrel Nutkin bedtime story

On the fifth day the squirrels brought a present of wild honey; it was so sweet and sticky that they licked their fingers as they put it down upon the stone. They had stolen it out of a bumble bees’ nest on the tippitty top of the hill.

But Nutkin skipped up and down, singing—

“Hum-a-bum! buzz! buzz! Hum-a-bum buzz!
As I went over Tipple-tine
I met a flock of bonny swine;
Some yellow-nacked, some yellow backed!
They were the very bonniest swine
That e’er went over Tipple-tine.”

Original Beatrix Potter illustration of owl at dinner table in tree, for Squirrel Nutkin bedtime story

Old Mr. Brown turned up his eyes in disgust at the impertinence of Nutkin.

But he ate up the honey!

Original Beatrix Potter illustration of squirrel carrying nut in forest, for Squirrel Nutkin bedtime story

The squirrels filled their little sacks with nuts.

But Nutkin sat upon a big flat rock, and played ninepins with a crab apple and green fir-cones.

Original Beatrix Potter illustration of squirrels running, for Squirrel Nutkin bedtime story

On the sixth day, which was Saturday, the squirrels came again for the last time; they brought a new-laid egg in a little rush basket as a last parting present for Old Brown.

But Nutkin ran in front laughing, and shouting—

“Humpty Dumpty lies in the beck,
With a white counterpane round his neck,
Forty doctors and forty wrights,
Cannot put Humpty Dumpty to rights!”

Original Beatrix Potter illustration of owl and squirrels cuddling, for Squirrel Nutkin bedtime story

Now old Mr. Brown took an interest in eggs; he opened one eye and shut it again. But still he did not speak.

Original Beatrix Potter illustration of owl and squirrels talking together, for Squirrel Nutkin bedtime story

Nutkin became more and more impertinent—

“Old Mr. B! Old Mr. B!
Hickamore, Hackamore, on the King’s kitchen door;
All the King’s horses, and all the King’s men,
Couldn’t drive Hickamore, Hackamore,
Off the King’s kitchen door.”

Nutkin danced up and down like a sunbeam; but still Old Brown said nothing at all.

Original Beatrix Potter illustration of owl and squirrels leaping in forest, for Squirrel Nutkin bedtime story

Nutkin began again—

“Arthur O’Bower has broken his band,
He comes roaring up the land!
The King of Scots with all his power,
Cannot turn Arthur of the Bower!”

Nutkin made a whirring noise to sound like the wind, and he took a running jump right onto the head of Old Brown!…

Then all at once there was a flutterment and a scufflement and a loud “Squeak!”

The other squirrels scuttered away into the bushes.

Original Beatrix Potter illustration of squirrels gathered at base of tree, for Squirrel Nutkin bedtime story

When they came back very cautiously, peeping round the tree—there was Old Brown sitting on his door-step, quite still, with his eyes closed, as if nothing had happened.

But Nutkin was in his waistcoat pocket! 

Original Beatrix Potter illustration of owl with trapped squirrel in claws, for Squirrel Nutkin bedtime story

This looks like the end of the story; but it isn’t.

Original Beatrix Potter illustration of owl hiding in tree hole, for Squirrel Nutkin bedtime story

Old Brown carried Nutkin into his house, and held him up by the tail, intending to skin him; but Nutkin pulled so very hard that his tail broke in two, and he dashed up the staircase and escaped out of the attic window.

Original Beatrix Potter illustration of squirrels running up tree, for Squirrel Nutkin bedtime story

And to this day, if you meet Nutkin up a tree and ask him a riddle, he will throw sticks at you, and stamp his feet and scold, and shout—

“Cuck-cuck-cuck-cur-r-r-cuck-k-k!”

 

Are you seeking more books like this? Read our review of the Ten Best Children’s Books About Feelings and Emotions

Short story and original illustrations by Beatrix Potter

Header illustration adapted from original illustration by Beatrix Potter 

Let’s Chat About The Stories ~ Ideas for Talking With Kids

Independent Thinking

1. Why was Squirrel Nutkin captured by Old Brown, while his brothers and sisters got away?

Feelings

2. Do you think that Old Brown liked the songs that Squirrel Nutkin was singing?

3. Have you ever been teased by someone else? How did it make you feel?

New Story Updates!

Signup today and receive Storyberries' fresh new stories to your inbox.

Thank you for subscribing.

Something went wrong.

Written By
More from Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Ginger and Pickles

Ginger and Pickles have a shop, but are forced to close when...
Read More