What-the-Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy

What-the-Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy

3.5 126
by Gregory Maguire
     
 

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"Gregory Maguire does for the dark and stormy night what he did for witches in Wicked." — The New York Times Book Review

A terrible storm is raging, and Dinah is huddled by candlelight with her brother, sister, and cousin Gage, who is telling a very unusual tale. It’s thestory of What-the-Dickens, a newly hatched orphan creature who

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Overview

"Gregory Maguire does for the dark and stormy night what he did for witches in Wicked." — The New York Times Book Review

A terrible storm is raging, and Dinah is huddled by candlelight with her brother, sister, and cousin Gage, who is telling a very unusual tale. It’s thestory of What-the-Dickens, a newly hatched orphan creature who finds he has an attraction to teeth, a crush on a cat named McCavity, and a penchant for getting into trouble. One day he happens upon a feisty girl skibberee working as an Agent of Change — trading coins for teeth — and learns of a dutiful tribe of tooth fairies to which he hopes to belong. As his tale unfolds, however, both What-the-Dickens and Dinah come to see that the world is both richer and far less sure than they ever imagined.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
~TWILIGHT~

BY EVENING, WHEN THE WINDS ROSE yet again, the power began to stutter at half-strength, and the sirens to fail. From those streetlights whose bulbs hadn’t been stoned, a tea-colored dusk settled in uncertain tides. It fell on the dirty militias of pack dogs, all bullying and foaming against one another, and on the palm fronds twitching in the storm gutter, and on the abandoned cars, and everything — everything — was flattened, equalized in the gloom of half-light. Like the subjects in a browning photograph in some antique photo album, only these times weren’t antique. They were now.

The air seemed both oily and dry. If you rubbed your fingers together, a miser imagining a coin, your fingers stuck slightly.

A fug of smoke lay on the slopes above the deserted freeway. It might have reminded neighbors of campfire hours, but there were few neighbors around to notice. Most of them had gotten out while they still could.

Dinah could feel that everything was different, without knowing how or why. She wasn’t old enough to add up this column of facts:
- power cuts
- the smell of wet earth: mudslide surgically opening the hills
- winds like Joshua’s army battering the walls of Jericho
- massed clouds with poisonous yellow edges
- the evacuation of the downslope neighbors, and the silence and come up with a grown-up summary, like one or more of the following:
- the collapse of local government and services
- the collapse of public confidence, too
- state of emergency
- end of the world
- business as usual, just a variety of usual not usually seen.
After all, Dinah was only ten.

Ten, and in some ways, a youngish ten, because her family lived remotely.

For one thing, they kept themselves apart — literally. The Ormsbys sequestered themselves in a scrappy bungalow perched at the uphill end of the canyon, where the unpaved county road petered out into ridge rubble and scrub pine.

The Ormsbys weren’t rural castaways nor survivalists — nothing like that. They were trying the experiment of living by gospel standards, and they hoped to be surer of their faith tomorrow than they’d been yesterday.

A decent task and, around here, a lonely one. The Ormsby family made its home a citadel against the alluring nearby world of the Internet, the malls, the cable networks, and other such temptations.

The Ormsby parents called these attractions slick. They sighed and worried: dangerous. They feared cunning snares and delusions. Dinah Ormsby wished she could study such matters close-up and decide for herself.

Dinah and her big brother, Zeke, were homeschooled. This, they were frequently reminded, kept them safe, made them strong, and preserved their goodness. Since most of the time they felt safe, strong, and good, they assumed the strategy was working.

But all kids possess a nervy ability to dismay their parents, and the kids of the Ormsby family were no exception. Dinah saw life as a series of miracles with a fervor that even her devout parents considered unseemly.

"No, Santa Claus has no website staffed by underground Nordic trolls. No, there is no flight school for the training of apprentice reindeer. No to Santa Claus, period," her mother always said. "Dinah, honey, don’t let your imagination run away with you." Exasperatedly: "Govern yourself!"

"Think things through," said her dad, ever the peacemaker. "Big heart, big faith: great. But make sure you have a big mind, too. Use the brain God gave you."

Dinah took no offense, and she did try to think things through. From the Ormsby’s bunker, high above the threat of contamination by modern life, she could still love the world. In a hundred ways, a new way every day. Even a crisis could prove thrilling as it unfolded:
- Where, for instance, had her secret downslope friends gone? Just imagining their adventures on the road — with their normal, middle-class families — made Dinah happy. Or curious, anyway.
- For another instance: Just now, around the corner of the house, here comes the newcomer, Gage. A distant cousin of Dinah’s mom. A few days ago he had arrived on the bus for a rare visit and, presto. When the problems began to multiply and the result was a disaster, Gage had been right there, ready to help out as an emergency babysitter. Talk about timely — it was downright providential. How could you deny it?

Therefore, Dinah concluded,
- A storm is as good a setting for a miracle as any.

Of course, it would have been a little more miraculous if Gage had proven to be handy in a disaster, but Dinah wasn’t inclined to second-guess the hand of God. She would take any blessing that came along. Even if decent cousin Gage was a bit — she tried to face it, to use her good mind with honesty — ineffectual.

Hopeless at fixing anything. Clumsy with a screwdriver. Skittish with a used diaper. ("As a weather forecaster," Zeke mumbled to Dinah, "Gage is all wet: where is the clear sky, the sunlight he’s been promising?")

Yes, Gage Tavenner was a tangle of recklessly minor talents. Who needed a mandolin player when the electric power wouldn’t come on anymore?

But he was all they had, now. An adequate miracle so far.

"Zeke," Gage called, "get down from that shed roof ! Are you insane? We want another medical crisis?"

"I was trying to see where the power line was down. . . ."

"And fry yourself in the process? Power is out all over the county. Up there, if the winds get much stronger, you’ll be flown to your next destination without the benefit of an airplane. Down. Now. . . . "

***************
WHAT-THE-DICKENS by Gregory Maguire. Copyright (c) 2007 by Gregory Maguire. Published by Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA.

"A storm is as good a setting for a miracle as any." by the end of this tale about the Ormsbys and their cousin Gage, readers will be convinced that thunder is an omen and stories are kindling that enflames our imagination. Wicked author Gregory Maguire casts a magic candlelight spell about teeth, skittling creatures, and the need to believe.
Elizabeth Ward
If not technically a Halloween tale, this romp from the author of Wicked has all the right props and cues…Then there's the pleasure of Maguire's dancing, silken prose.
—The Washington Post
VOYA - Mary Arnold
Set within a post-Katrina-like frame story, Maguire's layered tale illustrates how art and imagination help shape perceptions of reality. Ten-year-old Dinah and her family live purposely isolated from the allures of the twenty-first century, hoping to fortify their faith through a simple life. But when a terrible storm cuts them off from parents and rescue, Dinah and her siblings must rely on cousin Gage, who has proved himself only an "adequate miracle," to survive. Gage decides that a story will pass the time and ease fears. He introduces an orphan newborn, What-the-Dickens, trying to name the scary world he finds as he searches for a place to belong. Will it be with Mcavity the cat, old Granny Menace, or the skibbereens, a colony of tooth fairies? They do not want him either, but he hangs on through the adventure of helping Pepper "earn her wings" by trading coins for teeth. Dinah, Zeke, and baby Rebecca Ruth are not certain whether Gage's story will be enough of a distraction to relieve the fears and tensions around an uncertain future. It is just an act of imagination to stave off the dark-or is it? Not Maguire's first foray into fiction for a younger audience, this book grew from a short story, Gangster Teeth (Boston Globe, 2003). Readers also wonder what has stranded this family, and they empathize as the family members try to deal with the uncertainty and failure of trusted safety nets. The trauma and suffering of youngsters separated from safety, who find comfort and security through the power of story-the world of imagination feeling more real when unbearable reality makes one yearn to believe-gives shape to what might have been a light tale of a familiar conceit.
Children's Literature - Michele DeCamp
Gregory Maguire may have started out as a children's writer but he has made most of his living rethinking fairy tales for adult readers. He has tackled Oz, Cinderella and Snow White, and now he has stepped over into the Children's Section again with this fanciful take about who the real tooth fairy (or fairies as the book suggests) is. This novel is narrated by a young English teacher named Gage who is in charge of his cousins during a storm that has cut off their contact with the outside world. With starvation and despair drawing near, Gage tells a story about an orphan skibberee, a small fairy-like creature, named What-the-Dickens. As What-the-Dickens comes to terms with his species' calling as tooth fairies and candle growers, Gage and his cousins come to terms with what their own futures might hold if the children's parents do not survive the storm. While the descriptions of both the storm raging outside and What-the-Dicken's growing awareness of the world around him will draw readers in, Maguire tries to tackle too much in this story. Astute readers will not be sure what to make of his allusions to the children's overly religious parents, the apparent destruction of much of the United States resulting in a natural disaster of epic proportions, or the skibbereen's ant-like society where only important skibbereen are allowed to have names. Perhaps Maguire is channeling himself through Gage when the latter tells his young cousin Dinah, "I've been thinking of telling a story like that sometime, but I never had the chance to put it together before." Maguire may have wanted to break back into children's writing with this novel, but the tone and seriousness of someof the plot points show that he still works best for adults. Reviewer: Michele DeCamp
School Library Journal

Gr 4-6 -In Gregory Maguirea€™s fantasy (Candlewick, 2007), siblings Zeke, Dinah, and Rebecca Ruth are stranded in their home during a cataclysmic storm along with their cousin/babysitter Gage. To pass time and distract the children, Gage tells them a story of What-the-Dickens, a tooth fairy, and his search for identity and belonging. Although hatched alone in an old tuna can, What-the-Dickens discovers that he is one of the skibbereen who normally live in large groups. He meets Pepper, a probationary a€œagent of change,a€ who introduces him to her colony of skibbereen. He learns about their history, hierarchy, and function but ultimately decides not to join them, so he and Pepper set out on their own. As the story and night progress, the familya€™s dynamics play out as the children scrounge food, plan to celebrate Rebecca Rutha€™s second birthday, and elude the attempt of the emergency services to evacuate them to a shelter. Listeners are left with no more certainty about their future than that of What-the-Dickens and Pepper, although there is the sense that both the fairy and human characters will be fine. The author encourages listeners to explore the interplay between story and reality as well as the causative power of stories. Jason Culpa€™s understated narration gives subtle and appropriate voices to the characters. In the review copy, there was an editing glitch on disc 4 in which text was repeated. A good choice for young fantasy lovers.-Louise L. Sherman, formerly Anna C. Scott School, Leonia, NJ

Kirkus Reviews
When a terrible storm (think Katrina) strands an inept young man with his highly sheltered cousins, he turns to storytelling to hold their fears at bay. What-the-Dickens is the protagonist of his story within the story; he is an orphaned skibberee (tooth fairy), and his search to belong is both poignant and humorous. From the start, What-the-Dickens attempts to find connections in a frightening world, and he repeatedly fails-such as his initial connection to a cat that would rather eat him-but he doesn't stop. When he does find other skibberee, his independent thinking nearly brings down the entire skibberee hierarchy, and he must flee with his one ally. The quirky humor is threaded with darker themes of loneliness and loss. While more mature than Maguire's Hamlet Chronicles, this bears the same hallmarks, including skillful use of language-precise, delightful turns of phrase and a conversational tone that perfectly enhances the subtext on the importance of storytelling. The endings for both the frame story and What-the-Dickens are happy, but not unalloyed. Overall, a winner for Maguire's fans of all ages. (Fantasy. 8-12)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780763643072
Publisher:
Candlewick Press
Publication date:
03/24/2009
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
175,228
Product dimensions:
4.20(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.00(d)
Lexile:
710L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 13 Years

Read an Excerpt

BY EVENING, WHEN THE WINDS ROSE yet again, the power began to stutter at half-strength, and the sirens to fail. From those streetlights whose bulbs hadn't been stoned, a tea-colored dusk settled in uncertain tides. It fell on the dirty militias of pack dogs, all bullying and foaming against one another, and on the palm fronds twitching in the storm gutter, and on the abandoned cars, and everything - everything - was flattened, equalized in the gloom of half-light. Like the subjects in a browning photograph in some antique photo album, only these times weren't antique. They were now.

The air seemed both oily and dry. If you rubbed your fingers together, a miser imagining a coin, your fingers stuck slightly.

A fug of smoke lay on the slopes above the deserted freeway. It might have reminded neighbors of campfire hours, but there were few neighbors around to notice. Most of them had gotten out while they still could.

Dinah could feel that everything was different, without knowing how or why. She wasn't old enough to add up this column of facts:

- power cuts
- the smell of wet earth: mudslide surgically opening the hills
- winds like Joshua's army battering the walls of Jericho
- massed clouds with poisonous yellow edges
- the evacuation of the downslope neighbors, and the silence

and come up with a grown-up summary, like one or more of the following:

- the collapse of local government and services
- the collapse of public confidence, too
- state of emergency
- end of the world
- business as usual, just a variety of usual not usually seen.

After all, Dinah was only ten. Ten, and in some ways, a youngish ten, because her family lived remotely. For one thing, they kept themselves apart - literally. The Ormsbys sequestered themselves in a scrappy bungalow perched at the uphill end of the canyon, where the unpaved county road petered out into ridge rubble and scrub pine.

The Ormsbys weren't rural castaways nor survivalists - nothing like that. They were trying the experiment of living by gospel standards, and they hoped to be surer of their faith tomorrow than they'd been yesterday.

A decent task and, around here, a lonely one. The Ormsby family made its home a citadel against the alluring nearby world of the Internet, the malls, the cable networks, and other such temptations.

The Ormsby parents called these attractions slick. They sighed and worried: dangerous. They feared cunning snares and delusions. Dinah Ormsby wished she could study such matters close-up and decide for herself.

Dinah and her big brother, Zeke, were homeschooled. This, they were frequently reminded, kept them safe, made them strong, and preserved their goodness. Since most of the time they felt safe, strong, and good, they assumed the strategy was working.

But all kids possess a nervy ability to dismay their parents, and the kids of the Ormsby family were no exception. Dinah saw life as a series of miracles with a fervor that even her devout parents considered unseemly.
"No, Santa Claus has no website staffed by underground Nordic trolls. No, there is no flight school for the training of apprentice reindeer. No to Santa Claus, period," her mother always said. "Dinah, honey, don't let your imagination run away with you." Exasperatedly: "Govern yourself!"

"Think things through," said her dad, ever the peacemaker. "Big heart, big faith: great. But make sure you have a big mind, too. Use the brain God gave you."

Dinah took no offense, and she did try to think things through. From the Ormsby's bunker, high above the threat of contamination by modern life, she could still love the world. In a hundred ways, a new way every day. Even a crisis could prove thrilling as it unfolded:

- Where, for instance, had her secret downslope friends gone? Just imagining their adventures on the road - with their normal, middle-class families - made Dinah happy. Or curious, anyway.

- For another instance: Just now, around the corner of the house, here comes the newcomer, Gage. A distant cousin of Dinah's mom. A few days ago he had arrived on the bus for a rare visit and, presto. When the problems began to multiply and the result was a disaster, Gage had been right there, ready to help out as an emergency babysitter. Talk about timely - it was downright providential. How could you deny it?

Therefore, Dinah concluded,
- A storm is as good a setting for a miracle as any.

Of course, it would have been a little more miraculous if Gage had proven to be handy in a disaster, but Dinah wasn't inclined to second-guess the hand of God. She would take any blessing that came along. Even if decent cousin Gage was a bit - she tried to face it, to use her good mind with honesty - ineffectual.

Hopeless at fixing anything. Clumsy with a screwdriver. Skittish with a used diaper. ("As a weather forecaster," Zeke mumbled to Dinah, "Gage is all wet: where is the clear sky, the sunlight he's been promising?")

Yes, Gage Tavenner was a tangle of recklessly minor talents. Who needed a mandolin player when the electric power wouldn't come on anymore?

But he was all they had, now. An adequate miracle so far.

"Zeke," Gage called, "get down from that shed roof! Are you insane? We want another medical crisis?"

"I was trying to see where the power line was down. . . ."

"And fry yourself in the process? Power is out all over the county. Up there, if the winds get much stronger, you'll be flown to your next destination without the benefit of an airplane. Down. Now. And Dinah, get Rebecca Ruth off that picnic table before it blows over. I'm going to make another go at jump-starting the generator."

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Meet the Author

Gregory Maguire is the author of more than a dozen novels for children as well as four adult novels, including WICKED: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE WICKED WITCH OF THE WEST, which was made into a hit Broadway musical. He lives outside Boston, Massachusetts.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Boston, Massachusetts
Date of Birth:
June 9, 1954
Place of Birth:
Albany, New York
Education:
B.A., SUNY at Albany, 1976; M.A., Simmons College, 1978; Ph.D., Tufts University, 1990
Website:
http://www.gregorymaguire.com

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