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The Underneath: 02/20/13

cover art

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt was her debut novel. In print form, it was illustrated by David Small. I happened to listen to the audio but in retrospect, I wish I had read it instead.

The book opens with a very pregnant calico cat being dropped off in a Texas bayou. As she looks for a safe place to bear her kittens, she hears the song of a chained up hound dog, Ranger. They become friends and he provides for a safe place (albeit temporarily) for her and her twin kittens — a boy (Puck) and girl (Sabine).

Ranger's sadness stems from the chain around his neck and a years old wound from the time his owner, Gar Face, shot him. Gar Face who's two main goals in life are drinking and shooting things, is the most dangerous threat awaiting the calico and her kittens. As with so many animal themed Newbery books, an animal dies. It is an unfortunate part of the realism of this book, and might be a difficult story for some children.

Mixed into the story of the kittens and Ranger trying to survive life with Gar Face, is an older tale — a magical one involving shape-shifters who have been part of the Bayou since its earliest days. One of them is Grandmother Moccasin, a creature sleeping in the base of an old tree. She is grieving for loved ones long since lost and she aches for revenge.

The parallel stories are told in a poetic voice. There is repetition to set the mood and tempo of the book. And here, though, is where I had trouble with the audio — the performer chose to read bayou by the regional Texas pronunciation, bai-oh, but the poetry of the book would fit better with the more widely used bai-you. Even though the choice is regionally correct it was jarring.

Three stars

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Comment #1: Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 19:47:50


I've heard of this book, had it on my list for a while. Sounds like it's good, if a little gloomy.

Comment #2: Monday, March 23, 2013 at 22:05:49


I think if I were to re-read the book, I'd opt for a print version. It's illustrated by David Small and I think his artwork would have added something special to the story. For similar themes, without quite the same level of gloom, I highly recommend Keeper by the same author.

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