Boots & His Brothers  ~ English Stories for Kids

ONCE UPON A TIME there was a poor father who lived with his three sons.  Their names were Peter, Paul, and Boots. He was so poor, he did not have two pennies to rub together. 

One day, the father knew what he must do.  He called his sons over to him. 

"There is not much food left in the house," he said.  "And soon there will be none left at all."  He told them it was not good for them to stay home any more.  "There is only one thing to do," said he.  "My sons, it is time for you to go out into the world."  

Now the land where they lived was ruled by a King. The King lived in a palace on top of a very big hill. He liked to look out and see down upon the land.  But a great oak tree grew up very fast, and covered his bedroom window.  This tree was so wide that it stopped all sunlight from coming inside.  And you can be sure the King was not happy about that!

The King said he would give a fortune to anyone who could chop down the oak tree.  But no one could do it.  For as soon as one chip of the tree trunk flew off, two more grew back.

There is more to tell you.  The hill under the King's palace was made up of solid rock.  No well water could rise up through that solid rock.  And so the King did not have fresh well water to drink.  He could not understand why everyone else in the kingdom had clean, fresh well water to drink, but not him, the King of the land!

And so he made an announcement far and wide.  Whoever could chop down the oak tree and dig a well for fresh water at the palace, would win half the kingdom.

You can imagine there were many who came to try their luck!  But for all the chopping and hacking, and for all the digging, it was no use. The oak tree only got more wide and more tall at every chop.  And the rock under the palace did not even chip.

When Peter, Paul and Boots heard the King's announcement, they jumped for joy.  They would try, too! The father was glad - even if his sons did not win half the kingdom, they might meet someone on the way who could give them a job.  And with a good master, at least they would eat well. So the father said good-bye to his sons and wished them well.  And the three brothers set off.

Peter, Paul and Boots jumped for joy.

The brothers had not gone far before they came to a forest of fir trees. Along one side of the forest rose a steep hill. As they walked, they heard something chopping and hacking away on the other side of the hill.

“I wonder what it is that is chopping on the hill?” said Boots.

“Since when is it so odd for a woodcutter to chop on a hill?” said Peter and Paul.

“This one sounds different,” said Boots. “I would like to find out what it is.”

His brothers said, “You think you’re so smart!” And they laughed. 

“Just the same," said Boots, "I would like to find out.”

Boots climbed the steep hill to see where the noise came from.  When he reached the place, what do you think he saw? Why, an axe that stood there hacking and chopping, all by itself, at the trunk of a fir tree.

“Good day!” said Boots. “So you stand here all alone and chop, do you?”

“Yes.  Here I have stood and chopped and hacked a long, long time, waiting for you,” said the Axe.

“Well, here I am at last,” said Boots. He took the Axe and tucked it under his belt. Then he hurried on to catch up with his brothers.

They all walked on a bit more.  Soon the brothers were walking under a steep rocky overhang.  Above the rocks, they heard a noise that sounded like digging.

“I wonder,” said Boots, “what would be digging and shoveling up on top of the rock.”

“There you go again, with your foolish wondering!” laughed Peter and Paul again. “Did you never hear a woodpecker?”

“This one sounds different,” said Boots. “I think I will go see what it is for myself.”

And so off he set to climb the rock.  His brothers laughed and made fun of him, but he did not let that get to him.

Up Boots climbed.  When he got near the top, what do you think he saw? Why, a shovel that stood there digging all by itself.

“Good day!” said Boots. “So you stand here all alone, and dig and shovel!”

“Yes, that is what I do,” said the Shovel, “and that is what I have done this many a long day, waiting for you.”

“Well, here I am,” said Boots. He took the Shovel.  Slinging it over his shoulder, he hurried to catch up with his brothers.

They all went on again a good bit, till they came to a brook. They were all thirsty, the three of them, after their long walk.  And they lay down at the brook to have a drink.

"Well, here I am," said Boots.

“I wonder where all this water comes from,” said Boots.

“You say you wonder where the water comes from?” said Peter and Paul.  “We wonder what's wrong with you!  Who cares where water comes from?”

“Just the same, I would like to find out,” said Boots. So away he went.

As he walked on and on, the brook got smaller and smaller. At last, what do you think he saw? Why, a great walnut!  And out of that, a big flow of water ran out.

“Good-day!” said Boots again. “So you lie here, and let the water run out in a big flow all alone?”

"Yes, I do," said the Walnut, "and I have let the water run out in a big flow this many a long day, waiting for you."

"Here I am,” said Boots. He plugged the hole with moss, so the water would not run anymore. Then he stuffed the Walnut into his pocket and ran to catch up to his brothers.

But his brothers had already gone ahead to the city. Everyone in the kingdom knew how they might win half the kingdom if they could only chop down the big oak and dig the king’s well.  So many of them had already come to try their luck.  But now the oak was twice as wide, and twice as tall as it had been before!  And there was not one dent in the rock.

The King was mad.  "WHY do they waste my time?" Anyone who tried and could not chop down the oak would be put on a ship and sent to a far away island, in disgrace.

By the time Boots had reached the city, his two brothers had already tried and failed.  They were already on that ship, headed to the far away island.

Now Boots went up to the King, and asked to take his turn.

“What makes you think you will do better than your brothers?” snapped the King.  “You may as well save us the trouble.  Just walk on over to that ship now!”

“Well, I would just like to try first,” said Boots, “if I may.” 

So the King said to go ahead, since it would not take long anyway.  Then Boots took the Axe out from under his belt.

“Chop away!” he said to the Axe.  And away it chopped, making the chips fly. It was not long before the oak tree was chopped down!

When that was done, Boots reached for the Shovel over his shoulder.

“Dig away!” said he to the Shovel. The Shovel began to dig and dig till the dirt and rock flew out. Soon a hole was dug right next to the palace.

Boots took out the Walnut and set it down in the well. He pulled out the plug of moss.

“Let the water flow,” said Boots. So the Walnut let the water out in a big flow.  In a short time, fresh cool water bubbled as high as a fountain.  The king had all the water he could ever want!

Boots was the one who had chopped down the oak tree that shaded the king’s palace.  And Boots was the one who had dug a well in the palace yard.  And so Boots was the one who won half the kingdom, as the King had promised.

The King smiled.  Boots said to him, “You know, everyone who came before was trying to help.  How about if you let them come back home from the island?” 

The King was so happy with all the new sun in his windows, and all the fresh water he could want, that he said yes.  And so Peter and Paul came back.

But as time went on, sometimes Peter and Paul wondered if they were not better off back on the island.  For there, they did not have to listen all day long to everyone saying, "That Boots sure was clever to wonder about things and go in search of the answers."


Discussion Questions:

Question 1: Why did Boots choose to go off on his own, despite what his brothers thought?

Question 2: Tell about a time when there was something you wanted to do that your friends thought was strange or different. What did you do?

Question 3: What moral or lesson is this story trying to teach you? Discuss with your parents or teachers.

What do you think this story is trying to show you? See what other kids say after the Comment Box:

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"Boots and His Brothers" is based on a story of the same name from A Collection of Popular Tales from the Norse and North German by George Webbe Dasent (London, 1907), pp. 259-265.
Adapted by Elaine Lindy ©1999. All rights reserved.