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Little Bo-Peep

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"Little Bo-Peep" is a short story by L. Frank Baum. It is one of the tales in his 1897 collection Mother Goose in Prose. In his story, Baum expands upon one of the most famous of nursery rhymes — though he follows the fable through its subsequent verses, less well-known than the first.


Bo-Peep is the only child of a poor shepherdess. While still a little girl, Bo-Peep learned to care for the family flock herself. She often did her mending as she accompanied the sheep to the fields above the family cottage.

One day, the girl was occupied in this way when she met an old woman, who fell to questioning her about her flock. The girl confidently asserts that her sheep know her, and she knows each of them by name; indeed, she knows "all about" them. The old woman demurs at this; "No one knows all about anything, my dear." The old woman asserts that the sheep wag their tails, and Bo-Peep admits that she never noticed this.

Bo-Peep realizes that her flock has strayed, but the old woman insists that she with fetch them for the child. Bo-Peep falls asleep; when she wakes, the sheep are still absent. The little shepherdess finds them on a nearby hill — but she notices that all of their tails are missing. Shocked at this development, Bo-Peep spends many subsequent days searching the countryside for the missing tails. At one point she thinks she has found them hanging from a tree. She tries to sew the tails back onto the sheep, but the animals resist this treatment.

The old woman re-appears, and tells the girl that these are cats' tails that she has collected and hung on a tree to dry; for sheep in fact do not have long tails, but only tiny stumps, like rabbits and bears and some other creatures. The old woman tells the girl to "run away home, and try to be more thoughtful in the future."

(The matter of the old woman harvesting the tails of "white pussy-cats" is left unresolved.)


"Little Bo-Peep" is one of the dozen tales in the collection with a Maxfield Parrish illustration.

In his Introduction in Mother Goose in Prose, Baum notes the tradition that the original rhyme was composed by Jonathan Swift, without attempting to affirm or deny the report.

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