Tom, a poor orphan, is employed by the villainous chimney-sweep, Grimes, to climb up inside flues to clear away the soot. While engaged in this dreadful task, he loses his way and emerges in the bedroom of Ellie, the young daughter of the house who mistakes him for a thief. He runs away, and, hot and bothered, he slips into a cooling stream, falls asleep, and becomes a Water Baby. In his new life, he meets all sorts of aquatic creatures, including an engaging old lobster, other water babies, and at last reaches St Branden's Isle where he encounters the fierce Mrs Bedonebyeasyoudid and the motherly Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby. After a long and arduous quest to the Other-end-of-Nowhere young Tom achieves his heart's desire.
‘In fact, the fairies had turned him into a water-baby. A water-baby? You never heard of a water-baby. Perhaps not. That is the very reason why this story was written.’ Poor Tom is an orphan, employed by the underhand Grimes as a chimney sweep. While cleaning a chimney one day, Tom becomes lost and appears in Ellie’s bedroom. She mistakes him for a thief and he flees in fright, down to the edge of a stream where he falls asleep. In his dreamlike world, he becomes a water baby, swimming with the other water babies and discovering an aquatic playground full of strange and wonderful characters.