Matilda the Famous Everything

By Maureen McJury

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    Matilda the Jungle Tracker carefully smeared mud over every inch of her face. Then she clung by her fingertips to the grass at the top of the bank by the creek. Of course, if I were a real jungle tracker, she admitted, there would be a hundred-foot drop here and alligators would be snapping at my heels. But then, she thought, scrabbling up onto the creek bank, in the jungle I would have a vine to swing on.

    Matilda surveyed the area. The boys were just disappearing into the woods, and they hadn’t seen her.

    “I think I’ll be Matilda the Spy,” she muttered, and she flitted from tree to tree, keeping the boys just within sight.

    Suddenly the boys stopped, then turned around and listened. Matilda fell flat on her stomach and peered at them through the tall grass, while they scanned the terrain. A bug crawled over Matilda’s wrist, but she lay perfectly still and thought about something else so that her whereabouts wouldn’t be detected by the boys. When she looked up, the boys had disappeared again.

    Matilda sprang softly to her feet like a panther. Her trained mind was alert and ready, and her reflexes were still sharp from her experiences as Matilda the Intrepid Explorer. As she darted across the clearing, she heard the boys shouting.

    “Aha!” she whispered, shutting her eyes halfway as she did when she was Matilda the Super Sleuth. “They’re heading for the pond.”

    Matilda knew a shortcut. When she had been Matilda the Mapmaker, she had mapped this entire section of country. She easily reached the pond before the boys did, then watched them through the cattails growing there. Just as I thought. They’re building a dam.

    Matilda slipped behind a tree. She quietly aimed her camera at the boys and took a picture. She had bought the camera when she was Matilda the Newspaperwoman on her school newspaper.

    Of course, she thought, if I were a real secret agent, I could blow up the dam. But they may be building it for the government as a special assignment. I’ll have to observe.

    Matilda got down on her stomach again on the steamy jungle floor. Raucous cries of exotic jungle crows echoed in her ears. She narrowed her eyes to tiny slits—the boys were coming.

    The boys sloshed into the water halfway up to their knees and started piling more mud onto the dam. They stuck a piece of cardboard into the mud for reinforcement, then built up both sides of it with more mud.

    Matilda inched up onto her elbows and snapped another photo. Then she wriggled back until she was out of the boys’ sight and hearing. She hacked her way home through the jungle.

    “Matilda!” her mother scolded. “What have you been doing? We’re going out to dinner, and you’re covered with mud. Get washed up now and put on a dress. Hurry up!”

    Matilda didn’t argue because now she was Matilda the Diplomat. Besides, she liked bathing. It reminded her of when she had been Matilda the Long-distance Swimmer. She quickly bathed and put on a dress and combed her hair. Her hair looked quite nice because she had once been Matilda the Famous Hairdresser.

    “That’s better,” her mother said. “You look nice and pretty, like a little lady. Come along now.”

    Outside, the boys were passing by and they snickered at Matilda. She stared at them with her stern Matilda the Judge look. Then Matilda the Civil Engineer smiled at them and said, “You’re building your dam all wrong.”

    They goggled at her unbelievingly.

    “I have a piece of outdoor plywood,” she said, remembering the leftovers from when she was Matilda the Carpenter. “It’s much stronger than cardboard. I’ll give it to you.”

    “But how … ?”

    “Who told you … ?”

    “Uh, thanks for the wood.”

    But Matilda wasn’t listening. Her eyes were inscrutable, and her fingertips were pressed together. She was Matilda the Scientist, thinking about her next invention. It would be a quadruple-stage rocket that could orbit the earth, then reenter and leave the earth’s atmosphere at will at a billion miles an hour.

    Illustrated by Julie F. Young