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Notable Children's Books of 1995 (ALA)
Author Biography: Gregory Maguire's debut novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West—the story of a little green girl who grows up to become the Wicked Witch of the West—earned the author rave reviews and a dedicated literary following. Maguire received his doctorate at Tufts University and has served as artist-in-residence at the Blue Mountain Center, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and the Hambidge Center. He lives in Concord, Massachusetts.
Seven prehistoric spiders that had been trapped in ice for thousands of years bring excitement to rural Vermont and briefly unite two rival clubs at a local elementary school.
"The meeting of the Tattletales will come to order!"
Seven girls sat up straight on their sleeping bags. Six of them looked still and anxious. The Vermont woods bristled at the far edge of the backyard. Hamlet was a small town, and the woods came close. The seventh girl, the one speaking, glanced around in the firelight.
"My name is Thekla Mustard," the speaker began.
"We know who you are, we've all been in school together since kindergarten," pointed out Lois.
"I'm running this meeting," said Thekla Mustard. "Permission to interrupt and complain and carp and be annoying is not awarded, Lois. Fermez la bouche." This meant Shut up, but politely, in French. Lois clamped her mouth shut.
"As you all know, I have been elected Empress of our club for another season. At this our first meeting of the school year, I want to outline the goals and objectives of our club once again. Objections?"
No one spoke. Lois had wanted to be Empress this year, and she popped her gum defiantly, but Thekla chose to pretend it was simply a log snapping in the campfire. The light was golden, the shadows behind them purple and gloomy. As Thekla stood to address the Tattletales, she admitted she cut a magnificent figure in her safari togs complete with pith helmet swathed in muslin. She swayed around the fire to produce a more impressive effect. The tails of her muslin netting trailed poetically behind her.
"School begins next Tuesday," said Thekla Mustard. "The seven of us will find ourselves once again next to our archenemies, our rivals, thebane of our existence: the Copycats."
Thekla fiddled with her veils while the Tattletales spit and fumed and cried, "Boo! Yuck! Scuzz-bombs! Boys stink!"
"Some," said Thekla, "will ask: Why do Copycats exist?"
There was a pause. No one was sure of the rhetorical pattern. "Well, ask," Thekla urged, in a whisper.
"Why do the Copycats exist?" cried Fawn.
"And well you might ask," said Thekla. "You might as well ask why do spiders exist, and rats, and pond scum, and chicken pox — "
"Why do spiders exist, and rats, and — " cried Fawn.
"It's a question of the Natural Order," Thekla explained. "In order to be superior, you have to have lower life forms to be superior to. A cat is superior to a mouse. A dog is superior to a cat. A girl is superior to a boy. "
The girls nodded in righteous agreement and pride, and huddled closer.
"Now, one may wonder what is the goal and objective of our — "
"What is the goal and objective of our club anyway?" shrieked Fawn, getting carried away. Thekla delivered a withering frown with her usual effectiveness. Fawn began to bite her fingernails.
Thekla recounted the history of the Copycats and the Tattletales. How the rivalclubs were founded several years back. How the name of the Tattletales, applied originally by the boys as an insult, had been taken up by the girls. "Defuse the powers Of opposition!" cried Thekla. "We own the language, and we transform it! Does the word tattletales suggest a clot of simpering namby-pambies, idiotic goody-goody two-shoes, authority-bound mushbrains? "
"Does the word tattletales —" began Fawn, but she was drowned out by the other girls shouting, "No!"
"Not anymore," Thekla concluded. "The tales we Tattletales tell are the new legends of dominance and power! The tattling we do is to ourselves! Only by self-criticism will we arise to take our rightful place in the corridors of power!
By this she meant the corridors of the Josiah Fawcett Elementary School.
"Specifically," continued Thekla, "our goal for the next month is to compete against the Copycats in the annual Josiah Fawcett Elementary School Halloween Pageant of Horrors. And we're going to win."
She reviewed how the Tattletales had won first prize for horror the year before. The six girls sat agog in pleasurable glory: Lois, Fawn, Carly, Nina, Sharday, and Anna Maria.
What the girls didn't know was that the seven baby Siberian snow spiders, attracted by the warmth of the campfire, had scrabbled through the underbrush of the forest toward them.
Like all babies, the spiders were impressionable. They wanted warmth and affection. Each one of the seven spiders, crouching in the weeds, warmed by the heat of the campfire, opened its eyes at last. Each one cast its eyes on the seven girls. Each spider picked out a girl to be its mother. This is called imprinting. Baby ducklings can think a farm dog is their mother. Sheepdogs can form filial bonds with shepherds. Each of these tarantulas, left over from the Ice Age, fell in love with its own Tattletale.