At the very beginning of the book, Miss Tick is hanging out with some kind of bizarre device and talking about ripples in the walls of the worlds. Very mysterious.
In the meantime, a nine-year-old girl named Tiffany Aching is hanging out by the river while she's supposed to be watching her sticky baby brother Wentworth.
Tiffany's decided that she wants to be a witch. She's a rather clever girl in general, and she's read the dictionary all the way through to boot.
While she's sitting by the river she literally sees a little basket of tiny blue men floating by. That's right—a tiny boat of tiny blue men.
The tiny blue men holler amongst themselves, but when Tiffany asks them if they're fairies, they just float on away.
Suddenly there is—for lack of a better word—a stirring (though Tiffany, with her fancy dictionary reading, calls it a susurrus). The river water grows darker and "much deeper" and begins to bubble, and just as Tiffany steps back, a terrible creature briefly emerges before disappearing back into the water.
Needless to say, Tiffany grabs Wentworth and hurries home. And yet as she does, she marvels at the lack of fear she feels—instead she is angry at the creature for being so "ridiculous."
Tiffany has lots of older sisters, which means she dresses in hand-me-down clothes and boots; there is, we are told, "nothing special" about her face. She lives in the Chalk, which is a hilly and green place.
Miss Tick has been looking in on Tiffany this whole time and thinks that Tiffany must be the witch from the Chalk. The tiny blue men are actually the most feared of all the fairies and properly referred to as the Nac Mac Feegle, or Wee Free Men—which means it's a pretty big deal that they warned Tiffany the horrible creature was coming.
When Tiffany gets to the farm, everyone pretty much ignores her as she works in the dairy making cheese.
There are only five books in the Aching household, but some of them belonged to Tiffany's beloved Grandma Aching.
One of them is definitely a book of fairy tales, and Tiffany pulls it down to consult it about the big creature she just saw in the river. She also grabs a frying pan.
Then she charges out to the river with Wentworth in tow, ready to use him as bait to catch the creature; when it pops out of the water, she hits it with a clang. The little men in the boat talk quietly amongst themselves about what they've just seen, but one thing is for certain: they are impressed. They also think Tiffany is "the hag" (their words, not ours) it seems they've been looking for.
In the meantime, Miss Tick is hurrying along while a mysterious voice tells her about what Tiffany did.
Miss Tick is apparently a witch who travels with some traveling schoolteachers, and she's there to teach Tiffany.
Tiffany's mother tells her that the teachers happen to be in town, and says that she can have a half dozen carrots and an egg to go get some lessons; Tiffany agrees that there are a few more things she'd like to learn yet.
The teachers apparently go from village to village teaching lessons, surviving on the food they're offered in exchange for lessons.
When Tiffany arrives at the teachers' tents, she inquires about a teacher who can teach her about the Jenny Green-Teeth (the mysterious creature she just hit in the face), and is directed toward a tent.