Tom Kitten lives in a rat infested house with his mother, Tabitha Twitchit, and his sisters, Moppet and Mittens. He decides to go into hiding when his mother does the baking, instead of being shut up in a cupboard with his sisters to keep them from getting lost and in mischief! He pauses at the fireplace and decides to leap up into the chimney. He finds a crack in the wall big enough to squeeze through and finds himself in the attic. There he falls into a hole populated by the main title character, Mr. Samuel Whiskers, and his wife, Anna-Maria, who immediately sets upon him and ties him up. The two rats then consult with one another what to do with the kitten, and decide to make a pudding out of him. They both disappear to retrieve the items and ingredients they need, including butter, dough, and the rolling-pin. When they return, they smear Tom with butter and roll him in the dough, creating what is arguably the world's first purrito.
Meanwhile Tabitha Twitchit realizes Tom is missing and is searching for him. Her daughters get out of the cupboard, then go play with the dough for a bit, are startled by a knock at the door, and then are frightened by the rats. The person at the door is Mrs. Ribby, Tabitha's friend, to whom Tabitha bemoans what unruly children she has and how the rats in the house are too much for her. Eventually Moppet and Mittens are retrieved from a flour-barrel in the pantry and an empty jar in the dairy, and both report observing a rat stealing dough, and another rat stealing the butter and the rolling pin. Tabitha's friend Ribby helps search for Tom, and they call for the carpenter, John Joiner, after they hear a roly-poly noise under the floor of the attic. Tom is retrieved and the pudding is pulled off him, which is made into a bag pudding (the currants being expressly to hide the 'smuts'). Then he's given a hot bath.
Meanwhile, Samuel Whiskers and Anna-Maria evacuate the house, fleeing with the author's wheelbarrow and taking up residence at Farmer Potatoes' barn. Here they have many children and wreak havoc.
In postscript, Mittens and Moppet become excellent paid rat-catchers, but poor traumatized Tom is scared of anything larger than a mouse.
It can be read here.
This book contains the following tropes:
- Adult Fear: Your child falls into the hands of people who want to do them serious harm.
- Abusive Parents: Tabitha Twitchit locks her kittens up in a cupboard instead of disciplining them.
- However this could be attributed to Values Dissonance. Tabitha and Ribby have their minds set on beating Tom before they realize he's in danger, and they seemingly decide to not punish him after his ordeal.
- Aerith and Bob: Moppet, Mittens, and Tom Kitten.
- Carnivore Confusion: The animals are all sentient. Not to mention, it's the rats that want to eat the cat.
- Cute Kitten: The kittens.
- Cats Are Mean: Inverted. It's the rats that are mean, in this case.
- Although the three kittens are unruly, which probably qualifies.
- Civilized Animal: Tabitha Twitchit not only wears clothes (the female kittens Moppet and Mittens apparently do not, while Tom does), she bakes bread.
- Cute Kitten: All the kittens
- Even the Rats Won't Touch It: The pudding that Samuel Whiskers and Anna-Maria try to make out of Tom. Samuel constantly worries about the string being indigestible and the smell of soot on it. The cats make the dough into a pudding and eat it, though (after they take it off Tom).
- Fat Slob: Samuel Whiskers, an obese and lazy rat who orders Anna-Maria around and merely sits back while taking snuff.
- Fully Dressed Cartoon Animal: Samuel and Anna-Maria, unlike the other animal characters in any of Beatrix Potter's stories.
- Know When to Fold 'Em: When the rats see the saw cutting into their lair, they only take their most valuable items and leave Tom behind to be rescued.
- Mouse World: The passages in the old house make for an excellent rodent superhighway.
- No Sympathy: The first thing that Ribby says, after seeing Tabitha is distraught because Tom is missing, is what a bad kitten he is!
- You Dirty Rat!