The Underneath

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Overview

An old hound that has been chained up at his hateful owner's run-down shack, and two kittens born underneath the house, endure separation, danger, and many other tribulations in their quest to be reunited and free.
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The Underneath

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Overview

An old hound that has been chained up at his hateful owner's run-down shack, and two kittens born underneath the house, endure separation, danger, and many other tribulations in their quest to be reunited and free.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

On the page, Appelt's first novel, about abused animals and set in a Deep South swamp, reads like it might be spoken with a pronounced twang. Zackman's interpretation, however, is so mellifluous that it sounds like a lullaby. That smooth delivery strikes a discordant note with the material, a story that braids three dark narrative strands: the vodka-swilling Gar Face's battle with the 100-foot-long Alligator King; Gar Face's abused, chained hound dog's ill-fated shepherding of a mother cat and her kittens; and the thousand-year imprisonment of Grandmother Moccasin, a serpent so selfish she resents her daughter falling in love. The even-keel delivery also makes it hard to keep track as the story shifts among the myriad points of view, which include those of the villain, a family of shape-shifters, various animals and sentient trees. Appelt's stylistic choice to use repetition as a construct-"This cat, this feline, this creature he is supposed to hate..."-makes for a monotonous audio experience, and her use of words such as "goldy" (to describe sunshine) makes this disquieting book sound precious. Ages 9-12. Simultaneous release with the S&S/Atheneum hardcover. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Children's Literature
AGERANGE: Ages 8 to 12.

An abandoned calico cat finds unlikely shelter under a porch with Ranger, an old hound. Once the calico gives birth to twin kittens, the foursome bond tightly as a family. However, Ranger's owner, Gar Face, is an abusive alcoholic. Both Ranger and the calico warn kittens Puck and Sabine never to wander from the safety of the place they call "The Underneath." The adults tell the kittens about the dangers of getting caught in front of Gar Face's gun, as the human is a cold-hearted trapper who skins the animals he kills and then trades their pelts for alcohol. One morning, Puck follows his playful young instincts and plays with the sun's rays. This leads to the capture and attempted drowning of both Puck and his mother by Gar Face. The hunter's obsession with capturing the Alligator King, an ancient resident of the bayous near his home eventually places Sabine in danger when the human decides to use the tiny kitten as bait. The Alligator King has a long history, one that is connected to the shape-shifting Grandmother Moccasin, her daughter Night Song, and other lives from a thousand years ago, including the Caddo people, Night Song's husband Hawk Man, and their unnamed daughter. Although this long circular narrative's complex, sometimes-overlapping character histories could prove to be difficult for younger readers and the events are sometimes quite ugly, the prose is breathtakingly beautiful. Many characters make seemingly wrong choices, but all are presented with chances to redeem themselves--and make amends for their past choices to follow paths of hate--by choosing to trust in and/or act through love. Possible themes for discussion include parental abuse,animal abuse, conservation, history, mythology, alternative families, and bullying. Reviewer: Jennifer Wood

Kirkus Reviews
When fate separates them, an old hound dog and two foster kittens survive the dangers of the bayou to find one another. Seeking shelter, a homeless pregnant cat responds to the "bluesy" baying of a hound named Ranger who lives chained under the porch of a shack in the woods of the East Texas bayou. He happily shares the Underneath with the cat and her two kittens, Sabine and Puck. The kittens are safe from Ranger's evil master Gar Face as long as they remain hidden, but Puck ventures out "straight into the terrible hands of Gar Face," who does his best to drown both the curious kitten and his mother. Somehow Puck escapes after promising his dying mother he will find Sabine and free Ranger, but he's on his own in a bayou teeming with mysterious creatures. Aided by Small's lively illustrations, Appelt intricately weaves these animals' ancient stories into Puck's survival saga to produce a magical tale of betrayal, revenge, love and the importance of keeping promises. (Fiction. 8-12)
From the Publisher
"A mysterious and magical story; poetic yet loaded with suspense." -- Louis Sachar, Newbery Medal-winning author of Holes

"The Underneath is as enchanting as a hummingbird, as magical as the clouds." -- Cynthia Kadohata, Newbery Medal-winning author of Kira-Kira

"Rarely do I come across a book that makes me catch my breath, that reminds me why I wanted to be a writer -- to make of life something beautiful, something enduring. The Underneath is a book of ancient themes -- love and loss and betrayal and redemption -- woven together in language both timeless and spellbinding. A classic." -- Alison McGhee, author of the New York Times bestselling Someday

"Kathi Appelt's novel, The Underneath, reads like a ballad sung." -- Ashley Bryan, Hans Christian Anderson Award Nominee and Three-Time Coretta Scott King Award Medalist

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416950592
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
  • Publication date: 1/5/2010
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 171,275
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Lexile: 830L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Kathi Appelt
Debut author and actor Gabra Zackman knows romance. Game On was inspired by the more than 100 romance and women’s fiction titles she has narrated for audio. Zackman divides her time between her native New York City and Denver, Colorado.
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Read an Excerpt


The Underneath


By Kathi Appelt Atheneum
Copyright © 2008
Kathi Appelt
All right reserved.


ISBN: 9781416950585

1

THERE IS NOTHING lonelier than a cat who has been loved, at least for a while, and then abandoned on the side of the road. A small calico cat. Her family, the one she lived with, has left her in this old and forgotten forest, this forest where the rain is soaking into her soft fur.

How long has she been walking? Hours? Days? She wasn't even sure how she got here, so far from the town where she grew up. Something about a car, something about a long drive. And now here she is. Here in this old forest where the rain slipped between the branches and settled into her fur. The pine needles were soft beneath her feet; she heard the water splash onto the puddles all around, noticed the evening roll in, the sky grow darker.

She walked and walked, farther and farther from the red dirt road. She should have been afraid. She should have been concerned about the lightning, slicing the drops of rain in two and electrifying the air. She should have been worried in the falling dark. But mostly she was lonely.

She walked some more on the soft pine needles until at last she found an old nest, maybe a squirrel's, maybe a skunk's, maybe a porcupine's; it's hard to tell when a nest has gone unused for a long time, and this one surely had. She was grateful to find it, an old nest, empty, a little dry, not very, but somewhat out of the rain, away from the slashes of lightning, here at the base of a gnarled tupelo tree, somewhere inthe heart of the piney woods. Here, she curled up in a tight ball and waited, purred to her unborn babies. And the trees, the tall and kindly trees, watched over her while she slept, slept the whole night through.Copyright © 2008 by Kathi Appelt

2

AHH,THE TREES. On the other side of the forest, there is an old loblolly pine. Once, it was the tallest tree in the forest, a hundred feet up it reached, right up to the clouds, right beneath the stars. Such a tree. Now broken in half, it stands beside the creek called the Little Sorrowful.

Trees are the keepers of stories. If you could understand the languages of oak and elm and tallow, they might tell you about another storm, an earlier one, twenty-five years ago to be exact, a storm that barreled across the sky, filling up the streams and bayous, how it dipped and charged, rushed through the boughs. Its black clouds were enormous, thick and heavy with the water it had scooped up from the Gulf of Mexico due south of here, swirling its way north, where it sucked up more moisture from the Sabine River to the east, the river that divides Texas and Louisiana.

This tree, a thousand years old, huge and wide, straight and true,would say how it lifted its branches and welcomed the heavy rain, how it shivered as the cool water ran down its trunk and washed the dust from its long needles. How it sighed in that coolness.

But then, in that dwindling of rain, that calming of wind, that solid darkness, a rogue bolt of lightning zipped from the clouds and struck. Bark flew in splinters, the trunk sizzled from the top of the crown to the deepest roots; the bolt pierced the very center of the tree.

A tree as old as this has a large and sturdy heart, but it is no match for a billion volts of electricity.The giant tree trembled for a full minute, a shower of sparks and wood fell to the wet forest floor. Then it stood completely still. A smaller tree might have jumped, might have spun and spun and spun until it crashed onto the earth. Not this pine, this loblolly pine, rooted so deep into the clay beside the creek; it simply stood beneath the blue-black sky while steam boiled from the gash sixty feet up, an open wound.This pine did not fall to the earth or slide into the creek. Not then.

And not now. It still stands. Most of its branches have cracked and fallen.The upper stories have long ago tumbled to the forest floor. Some of them have slipped into the creek and drifted downstream, down to the silver Sabine, down to the Gulf of Mexico. Down.

But the trunk remains, tall and hollow, straight and true. Right here on the Little Sorrowful, just a mile or so from a calico cat, curled inside her dry nest, while the rain falls all around.Copyright © 2008 by Kathi Appelt

3

MEANWHILE, DEEP BENEATH the hard red dirt, held tightly in the grip of the old tree's roots, something has come loose. A large jar buried centuries ago. A jar made from the same clay that lines the bed of the creek, a vessel with clean lines and a smooth surface, whose decoration was etched by an artist of merit. A jar meant for storing berries and crawdads and clean water, not for being buried like this far beneath the ground, held tight in the web of the tree's tangled roots. This jar. With its contents: A creature even older than the forest itself, older than the creek, the last of her kind. This beautiful jar, shaken loose in the random strike of lightning that pierced the tree's heart and seared downward into the tangled roots. Ever since, they have been loosening their grip.

Trapped, the creature has waited. For a thousand years she has slipped in and out of her deep, deep sleep, stirred in her pitch-black prison beneath the dying pine. Sssssooooonnnn, she whispered into the deep and solemn dark, my time will come. Then she closed her eyes and returned to sleep.Copyright © 2008 by Kathi Appelt

4

IT WASN'T THE chirring of the mourning doves that woke the calico cat, or the uncertain sun peeking through the clouds, or even the rustling of a nearby squirrel. No, it was the baying of a nearby hound. She had never heard a song like it, all blue in its shape, blue and tender, slipping through the branches, gliding on the morning air. She felt the ache of it. Here was a song that sounded exactly the way she felt.

Oh, I woke up on this bayou,
Got a chain around my heart.
Yes, I'm sitting on this bayou,
Got a chain tied 'round my heart.
Can't you see I'm dyin'?
Can't you see I'm cryin'?
Can't you throw an old dog a bone?
Oh, I woke up, it was rainin',
But it was tears came fallin' down.
Yes, I woke up, it was rainin',
But it was tears came fallin' down.
Can't you see I'm tryin'?
Can't you hear my cryin'?
Can't you see I'm all alone?
Can't you throw this old dog a bone?

She cocked her ears to see which direction it came from. Then she stood up and followed its bluesy notes, deeper and deeper into the piney woods. Away from the road, from the old, abandoned nest, away from the people who had left her here with her belly full of kittens. She followed that song.Copyright © 2008 by Kathi Appelt

5

FOR CATS, A hound is a natural enemy. This is the order of things. Yet how could the calico cat be afraid of a hound who sang, whose notes filled the air with so much longing? But when she got to the place where the hound sang, she knew that something was wrong.

She stopped.

In front of her sat a shabby frame house with peeling paint, a house that slumped on one side as if it were sinking into the red dirt. The windows were cracked and grimy. There was a rusted pickup truck parked next to it, a dark puddle of thick oil pooled beneath its undercarriage. She sniffed the air. It was wrong, this place. The air was heavy with the scent of old bones, of fish and dried skins, skins that hung from the porch like a ragged curtain.

Wrong was everywhere.

She should turn around, she should go away, she should not look back. She swallowed. Perhaps she had taken the wrong path? What path should she take? All the paths were the same. She felt her kittens stir. It surely wouldn't be safe to stay here in this shabby place.

She was about to turn around, when there it was again -- the song, those silver notes, the ones that settled just beneath her skin. Her kittens stirred again, as if they, too, could hear the beckoning song. She stepped closer to the unkempt house, stepped into the overgrown yard. She cocked her ears and let the notes lead her, pull her around the corner. There they were, those bluesy notes.

Oh, I woke up, it was rainin',
But it was tears came fallin' down.
Yes, I woke up, it was rainin',
But it was tears came fallin' down.
Can't you see I'm tryin'?
Can't you hear my cryin'?
Can't you see I'm all alone?
Can't you throw this old dog a bone?

Then she realized, this song wasn't calling for a bone, it was calling for something else, someone else. Another step, another corner. And there he was, chained to the corner of the back porch. His eyes were closed, his head held back, baying.

She should be afraid, she should turn around and run, she should climb the nearest tree. She did not. Instead, she simply walked right up to this baying hound and rubbed against his front legs. She knew the answer to his song, for if she could bay, her song would be the same.

Here.

Right here.

Ranger.Copyright © 2008 by Kathi Appelt

Continues...



Excerpted from The Underneath by Kathi Appelt Copyright © 2008 by Kathi Appelt. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Introduction

PRE-READING ACTIVITY

1. The action in the book takes place in the marshy swampland and deep forests of Texas's bayou region. Research bayous and their ecosystems and prepare a report. In what parts of the world do bayous exist? What kinds of plants and animals live in bayous? How are bayous similar to and different from other ecological environments — for example, what do bayous have in common with the Florida Everglades, and how do the two areas differ?

2. Long before the Europeans settled along the Gulf Coast, a varied group of Native Americans live in the piney woods of East Texas and Louisiana. They were collectively known as the Caddo. It was from the Caddo language that the name for the state of Texas came about. The name meant "friend." In fact, the Caddo were known as a friendly people. Even though Hawk Man and his family weren't Caddo themselves, they might have been welcome in a Caddo village, just as the later Europeans were welcomed. Research the Caddo. There are hardly any left in their original homeland, and they have mostly settled in Oklahoma and Mexico. Why did they leave? What were some of the things that they were famous for? How did they learn to survive in the marshy swamps of their native territory?

DISCUSSION TOPICS

1. Grandmother Moccasin and her daughter Night Song are lamia, half-serpent and half-human. Hawk Man is also an "animal of enchantment" [page 61], having been a bird before turning into a man. If you could be a shape-shifter, which animal would you choose to become? What do you think of the shape-shifter rule: "Once a creature of enchantment returns to its animal form, it cannot go back" [page 47]? If you wereHawk Man or his daughter, would you have become an animal again, even if it meant you could never return to your human form?

2. Until he meets Mama the calico cat, Ranger the bloodhound doesn't realize how lonely he is; Ranger muses that when Mama found him, he "didn't know that he needed to not be so solitary until at last he wasn't," [page 30]. What are the differences between being alone, and being lonely? Is it possible to be lonely even when you're surrounded by people?

3. Abused as a child and later abandoned by his father, Gar Face the trapper lives in a world of anger, and his drinking only deepens his hatred. Does anything make Gar Face happy? If so, what is it? Even though he does evil things throughout the book, do you think he deserved to die in the jaws of the Alligator King?

4. When an author assigns human characteristics to non-human beings, this is called anthropomorphism. What are some examples of anthropomorphism in the book? In real life, do you think plants or animals have feelings like human beings do?

5. Sabine the kitten is named for the Sabine River that feeds the Bayou Tartine. Her brother's name is the same as the playful character in Shakespeare's play, A Midsummer Night's Dream — Puck is a mischievous spirit who often gets into trouble. What do the names of some the characters in The Underneath — like those of the kittens, Gar Face, Ranger, Night Song — reveal about their personalities? Does your name have a special origin, or are you named for a family member? How does your name reflect who you are?

6. Ranger, Mama, Sabine, and Puck refer to themselves as a family. What makes a family? Does a family only consist of parents, children, and relatives? Describe your own family — does it include people who aren't related to you?

7. When Puck gets lost in the forest after his mother drowns, he has to learn to hunt in order to eat. Sabine realizes she needs to go out from "the underneath" so she can find food for herself and Ranger, a job that Mama performed. These are just two ways that the kittens have to grow up — what are other examples?

8. Hawk Man, having turned back into a bird in order to find his daughter, spies Puck lost and hungry in the woods, and drops a mouse from the sky for Puck to eat. Name some other acts of kindness from the story.

9. As Gar Face captures Sabine in the yard, Ranger goes wild with fury and lunges at Gar Face, knocks him down, and bites him on the leg — allowing Sabine to escape. Were you surprised at Ranger's reaction? Why didn't Gar Face expect that Ranger might behave this way?

10. "You have to go back for your sister. If something happens to me, promise you'll find her," [page 77]. Did you think that Puck would be able to keep this promise to his mother? Talk about some other promises made by characters in the novel; were they kept? How, and at what cost?

11. Music plays a big role in the book, from the blues songs that Ranger bays into the moonlight to the enchanting lullabies of Night Song. Discuss music and what it means in the story. How does music help some of the characters?

12. Talk about Grandmother Moccasin. Do you think she was selfish for not telling Night Song about the rule that shape-shifters can't go back to their human form once they become an animal? Did she deserve to be imprisoned in the jar for so long? What is the lesson she learns after she's finally freed?

13. One of the novel's main themes is loss. Which of the characters have lost something, and what did they lose? Do the characters who suffer loss eventually find something new to take the place of what is gone?

14. When children don't obey to their parents in The Underneath, bad things happen. Who were the characters who didn't listen to their parents? What were the consequences of their disobedience? Did these characters learn from their mistakes?

15. Dogs and cats are supposed to hate each other, yet Ranger and Mama become close friends. Discuss their unlikely friendship — what were some of the things they have in common? What are other unusual friendships portrayed in the book? Do you have a friend who, on the surface, seems like someone you wouldn't ordinarily like? Why do you get along with this person?

ACTIVITIES & PROJECTS

1. The voices of birds, animals, and reptiles tell most of the story in The Underneath. Write your own story from a creature's point of view, whether it's a household pet, or animal in the wild, or bird, reptile, fish, or some other living thing.

2. How does the narrative structure of The Underneath — where several characters take turns telling the story — resemble that of a television show? Research how to write a television screenplay. Choose one scene from the book and write a screenplay based on it, and include the characters' dialogue, the stage direction, and descriptions of the scenery.

3. Ranger the bloodhound bays mournfully about loneliness; drawn to his songs, Mama the calico cat sets out to find who sings them. Pick an emotion — loneliness, anger, fear, love — and write song lyrics, or a poem, about feelings you have.

4. The book's last chapter contains a passage about the trees of the bayou, how they could tell us what happened to Ranger, Sabine, and Puck after the story ends. Write a new last chapter for The Underneath, detailing what the three animals have done since they were reunited.

5. In the book, the hummingbird is described as an "intermediary" and "messenger," a being that is able to travel between life and death because it can fly so quickly. Research the mythology of some of the wild creatures in The Underneath — such as snakes, alligators, or hawks — and create a report about one. Illustrate your report with pictures or illustrations.

ABOUT THE BOOK

An abandoned calico cat, about to have kittens, hears the lonely howl of a chained-up hound dog deep in the backwaters of the bayou, and sets out to find him. When they finally meet, Mama the calico cat and Ranger the bloodhound form a fast and unlikely bond, forged in loneliness and fueled by fierce love. They become a family after the kittens are born, and Ranger urges Mama to remain under the porch and raise Sabine and Puck, because Gar Face — the evil man living inside the house — will surely use her or her kittens as alligator bait should he find them. They'll be safe in the Underneath...as long as they stay there.

But in a moment of curiosity, one of the kittens sets off an astonishing chain of events that reverberates through the bayou, and brings the past together with the present in remarkable ways. Following the tradition of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Flannery O'Connor, and Carson McCullers, in The Underneath Kathi Appelt spins a harrowing yet keenly sweet tale filled with many absorbing themes, such as the power of love (and of hate), the fragility of happiness, and the importance of making good on your promises. This guide is designed to assist your classroom's discussion of this poignant novel.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR AND ILLUSTRATOR

Kathi Appelt has written a number of successful picture books. This is her debut novel. She lives in Texas. David Small was awarded a Caldecott Medal for So You Want to Be President? He has illustrated many other books for children, including Once upon a Banana and When Dinosaurs Came with Everything. He lives in Mendon, Michigan.

Kathi Appelt, at the age of seven, stumbled and fell into an alligator pit in San Antonio, Texas, a place where there should be no alligators or alligator pits. Fortunately she was a lot bigger than the alligator, who was more scared of her than she was of it!

She is a member of the faculty at Vermont College's Master of Fine Arts program and occasionally teaches creative writing at Texas A&M University. She has two grown children, and lives in Texas with her husband and four cats. Her debut novel, The Underneath, was a National Book Award finalist and a Newbery Honor book.  

David Small is the Caldecott Award-winning illustrator of So You Want to Be President? by Judith St. George. He received a Caldecott Honor medal for The Gardener by Sarah Stewart. He has also illustrated many other beloved picture books, which include The Library and The Journey, both by Sarah Stewart, and Imogene's Antlers, which he also wrote. He lives in Michigan with his wife, Sarah Stewart.

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Interviews & Essays

Behind the Book

A Caddo jar? A Calico cat? An encounter with a water moccasin? What in the world do these three things have to do with one another, and how did they find themselves together in a single story?

Let me tell you about crows. One day I was sitting at my desk when my little cat, Jazzmyn, sitting idly by the window, started twitching her tail. I got up to see what it was that had caught her attention. There, just a few feet away, was a crow, resting on a branch in the large post oak just outside my studio window. While Jazz and I stood there, the crow flitted back and forth from the ground to her nest. Of course, I thought, she's building a nest. The oak is home to lots of birds. It's a huge tree, sturdy and serene.

Because crows are notorious for finding shiny objects, I picked up a pair of binoculars to see if could find the nest, and further, to see what she had put there. Sure enough, there was string, gum wrappers, and best of all, a bottle cap. I could understand the string and the paper, but what about the bottle cap? Did she want it only to decorate her nest? Hard to tell.

I believe that writers are like crows. We find shiny objects and take them back to our desks and weave them into a story. The crow builds a nest, the writer builds a story. Some things are necessary: the elements that hold the story together, like the string and the paper might hold the nest together. Some things are there for reasons of beauty: a bottle cap for instance.

Whenever I sit down to write, I try to bring as many shiny objects to the page as I can and then try to figure out how I can weave these together in a way that makes sense. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't.

What makes an element work in a story is whether or not it taps into these emotions: love and fear. I call these the great twins of motivation. Love and Fear. Opposites. Required. You can't really have one without the other.

When I was a girl, around ten years old, a calico cat wandered into our garage in the middle of Houston. She walked right up to our big hound, Sam, and invited herself to share his food. My sisters and I couldn't believe that Sam allowed this. He had never before liked cats. But here she was, small, petite, and not at all afraid of Sam. She lived in our garage for a couple of weeks, and then gave birth to four kittens. We named them after the seasons -- Summer, Spring, Autumn, and Winter. Then, when the babies were just a few weeks old, the calico cat was hit by a car and killed. Sam took over as resident parent. Here was a story of love.

Years later, when my own son, Jacob, was just a baby, I went to visit my father, who lived along the Apalachicola River in Florida, a dense, swampy area not so different from the region in East Texas where The Underneath takes place. We went out one day in his small fishing boat. I sat in the back of the boat, Jacob in my arms. Dad was pulling the boat along with a pair of long oars. There was no motor that I recall. For some reason I looked over my shoulder, and only ten feet behind us was a huge water moccasin, the largest I'd ever seen, swimming just behind us. Her cottonmouth was wide open as if she were charging us, coming right toward us. I thought she might jump into the boat, but at the last minute, she ducked beneath the water and I never saw her again. It was a terrifying moment for me, my baby in my arms, the enormous snake just feet away. Here was fear, bright and hard. Then, years ago, I saw a photo of a beautiful jar, made by a Caddo artist, Jerilyn Redcorn. The jar had the etching of a snake on it. It was both beautiful and powerful all at once. It seemed to tell a story all its own. A useful jar, yes, but a jar for simply admiring, too. All three -- the cat, the snake, the jar -- made an impression upon me. Love and Fear. They were there, present in each.

The Underneath, then, began with a question: How can I bring these three things together to make a single story? As I wrote, I learned things about cats and snakes and the Caddo. While the crow built her nest, I built my story. And all the while, the oak beside my window stood there for both of us, holding on to the nest, offering up a story. --Kathi Appelt
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Reading Group Guide

Pre-Reading Activity
1. The action in the book takes place in the marshy swampland and deep forests of Texas's bayou region. Research bayous and their ecosystems and prepare a report. In what parts of the world do bayous exist? What kinds of plants and animals live in bayous? How are bayous similar to and different from other ecological environments -- for example, what do bayous have in common with the Florida Everglades, and how do the two areas differ?

2. Long before the Europeans settled along the Gulf Coast, a varied group of Native Americans lived in the piney woods of East Texas and Louisiana. They were collectively known as the Caddo. It was from the Caddo language that the name for the state of Texas came about. The name meant "friend." In fact, the Caddo were known as a friendly people. Even though Hawk Man and his family weren't Caddo themselves, they might have been welcome in a Caddo village, just as the later Europeans were welcomed. Research the Caddo. There are hardly any left in their original homeland, and they have mostly settled in Oklahoma and Mexico. Why did they leave? What were some of the things that they were famous for? How did they learn to survive in the marshy swamps of their native territory?

Discussion Topics
1. Grandmother Moccasin and her daughter Night Song are lamia, half-serpent and half-human. Hawk Man is also an "animal of enchantment" [page 61], having been a bird before turning into a man. If you could be a shape-shifter, which animal would you choose to become? What do you think of the shape-shifter rule: "Once a creature of enchantment returns to its animal form, it cannot go back" [page 47]? If you were Hawk Man or his daughter, would you have become an animal again, even if it meant you could never return to your human form?

2. Until he meets Mama the calico cat, Ranger the bloodhound doesn't realize how lonely he is; Ranger muses that when Mama found him, he "didn't know that he needed to not be so solitary until at last he wasn't," [page 30]. What are the differences between being alone, and being lonely? Is it possible to be lonely even when you're surrounded by people?

3. Abused as a child and later abandoned by his father, Gar Face the trapper lives in a world of anger, and his drinking only deepens his hatred. Does anything make Gar Face happy? If so, what is it? Even though he does evil things throughout the book, do you think he deserved to die in the jaws of the Alligator King?

4. When an author assigns human characteristics to non-human beings, this is called anthropomorphism. What are some examples of anthropomorphism in the book? In real life, do you think plants or animals have feelings like human beings do?

5. Sabine the kitten is named for the Sabine River that feeds the Bayou Tartine. Her brother's name is the same as the playful character in Shakespeare's play, A Midsummer Night's Dream -- Puck is a mischievous spirit who often gets into trouble. What do the names of some the characters in The Underneath -- like those of the kittens, Gar Face, Ranger, Night Song -- reveal about their personalities? Does your name have a special origin, or are you named for a family member? How does your name reflect who you are?

6. Ranger, Mama, Sabine, and Puck refer to themselves as a family. What makes a family? Does a family only consist of parents, children, and relatives? Describe your own family -- does it include people who aren't related to you?

7. When Puck gets lost in the forest after his mother drowns, he has to learn to hunt in order to eat. Sabine realizes she needs to go out from "the underneath" so she can find food for herself and Ranger, a job that Mama performed. These are just two ways that the kittens have to grow up -- what are other examples?

8. Hawk Man, having turned back into a bird in order to find his daughter, spies Puck lost and hungry in the woods, and drops a mouse from the sky for Puck to eat. Name some other acts of kindness from the story.

9. As Gar Face captures Sabine in the yard, Ranger goes wild with fury and lunges at Gar Face, knocks him down, and bites him on the leg -- allowing Sabine to escape. Were you surprised at Ranger's reaction? Why didn't Gar Face expect that Ranger might behave this way?

10. "You have to go back for your sister. If something happens to me, promise you'll find her," [page 77]. Did you think that Puck would be able to keep this promise to his mother? Talk about some other promises made by characters in the novel; were they kept? How, and at what cost?

11. Music plays a big role in the book, from the blues songs that Ranger bays into the moonlight to the enchanting lullabies of Night Song. Discuss music and what it means in the story. How does music help some of the characters?

12. Talk about Grandmother Moccasin. Do you think she was selfish for not telling Night Song about the rule that shape-shifters can't go back to their human form once they become an animal? Did she deserve to be imprisoned in the jar for so long? What is the lesson she learns after she's finally freed?

13. One of the novel's main themes is loss. Which of the characters have lost something, and what did they lose? Do the characters who suffer loss eventually find something new to take the place of what is gone?

14. When children don't obey to their parents in The Underneath, bad things happen. Who were the characters who didn't listen to their parents? What were the consequences of their disobedience? Did these characters learn from their mistakes?

15. Dogs and cats are supposed to hate each other, yet Ranger and Mama become close friends. Discuss their unlikely friendship -- what were some of the things they have in common? What are other unusual friendships portrayed in the book? Do you have a friend who, on the surface, seems like someone you wouldn't ordinarily like? Why do you get along with this person?

Activities & Projects
1. The voices of birds, animals, and reptiles tell most of the story in The Underneath. Write your own story from a creature's point of view, whether it's a household pet, or animal in the wild, or bird, reptile, fish, or some other living thing.

2. How does the narrative structure of The Underneath -- where several characters take turns telling the story -- resemble that of a television show? Research how to write a television screenplay. Choose one scene from the book and write a screenplay based on it, and include the characters' dialogue, the stage direction, and descriptions of the scenery.

3. Ranger the bloodhound bays mournfully about loneliness; drawn to his songs, Mama the calico cat sets out to find who sings them. Pick an emotion -- loneliness, anger, fear, love -- and write song lyrics, or a poem, about feelings you have.

4. The book's last chapter contains a passage about the trees of the bayou, how they could tell us what happened to Ranger, Sabine, and Puck after the story ends. Write a new last chapter for The Underneath, detailing what the three animals have done since they were reunited.

5. In the book, the hummingbird is described as an "intermediary" and "messenger," a being that is able to travel between life and death because it can fly so quickly. Research the mythology of some of the wild creatures in The Underneath -- such as snakes, alligators, or hawks -- and create a report about one. Illustrate your report with pictures or illustrations.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 73 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(51)

4 Star

(7)

3 Star

(8)

2 Star

(3)

1 Star

(4)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 73 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 3, 2011

    PARENTS BEWARE!

    I guess I will have to go back to prereading books for my children in grades 3-6, even if the book has a Newberry Honor book award, after reading this not-for-the-young book. In the first 13 pages of The Underneath: a heartless family abandons a pregnant cat in the forest, a boy poisons his mother's birdfeeder and you get to hear about the dead birds and her sorrow (while the boy's delight in their suffering is explained as images of blood drip from her hands), a father is a drunkard with the alcohol named, a boy is abused with facial wounds so bad he is permanently disfigured, drunk father passes out, mother abandons family, boy runs away from home . . . does this really sound like a book you want to expose to your young children? It gets worse: revenge leading to suicide, deep anguish at the loss of a loved one, animal torture (dog shot on purpose and not cared for, dog malnourished, dog permanently left on small chain outdoors for years on end as chain becomes embedded in neck, dog kicked in sides, dog hit purposefully in the face with a board (you get to read in detail about the blood in the dogs nose and how it chokes and spits blood and its eyes are swollen shut), cats used as live bait for alligators, cats swung around by the neck, mother cat and kitten are thrown into a bag and then tossed alive into a swamp to drown (you get to read about how the human delights in the suffering of these innocents), and more. I am angry that I was duped by the review and the back cover. My daughter was rightfully upset reading this. I read it after her and was kicking myself that I didn't preread it. Thanks anyway, Newberry Awards, I will use my parental judgement on when to bring up "teachable moments" on alcohol and alcoholism, child abuse, animal abuse, suicide, murder, and runaways. This book might be for teens, but it is certainly NOT for elementary school children.

    10 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 26, 2011

    Not what I thought it was...

    My mom talked me into buying this book, I was haveing a depresing day so she took me and my sister to the bookstore.
    I wasn't really planning on getting it, but mom liked the whole animal theme, so I got it.

    She started reading it to us, and it was good at first, just what mom had expected, but then it got to Gar-face and stuff and we stoped reading it.

    But I loved it, and kept reading it, and let me tell you, you have to remember every aspect of this book to get it. All of the storys kind-of weave together to make one thrilling marvelous story.

    This book is about an abandoned calico cat, who finds a lonely hound dog who is owned by Gar-Face, an evil abused man. The cat is expecting kittens, and when the two bay cats are born they are told to never leave the underneath (under the porch), or Gar-Face would use them as croc bait. But when Puck, the boy kitten, gets a little curious, an adventure takes place, with betrayed snakes, large crocodiles, and shap-shifting birds. With surprises around every corner, this book is sure to keep your intrest.

    Warning: this book may be scary for younger children, so probably not a good read-out-loud choice.

    8 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 18, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Julie M. Prince for TeensReadToo.com

    I've stated before that if a book can make me laugh hysterically or cry hysterically, it's guaranteed a good review because it means the author has gone above and beyond. That is the case with THE UNDERNEATH. Except, a good review isn't enough for this book. It is not. I only hope that my review can begin to do justice to this amazing work. <BR/><BR/>THE UNDERNEATH is lyrical, strong, and extremely well-written. It is thought provoking and "can't put it down" fantastic. Kathy Appelt does not lower the bar in the slightest from page one until the book is done. Not one bit. <BR/><BR/>Appelt weaves a brilliant tale about an old, beaten-down hound dog and the felines he loves. She also weaves an almost entirely separate folktale of a miserable, bitter, shape-shifting snake. How do these two stories fit into the same book? Ask Kathi Appelt, because I'm still trying to figure out how she beautifully intertwined them. But she did. She did. <BR/><BR/>In the acknowledgements, Appelt mentions advice from M.T. Anderson (THE ASTONISHING LIFE OF OCTAVIAN NOTHING) that she took to heart: "Write what you think you can't." Obviously, this author put her heart and her soul into the writing of a beautiful book, and it has paid off with a tale that will last for generations. <BR/><BR/>You know that gut feeling you get when you read a book like CHARLOTTE'S WEB or THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE? That Lasting feeling? Lasting wraps itself around you and urges you to read this book carefully because you'll want it in good condition on your shelf for a long time to come. That is this book. This perfect and Lasting book.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2012

    !

    Great book. The book was a bundle of ropes, in the end the whole book tied together in an unforgettable way.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2011

    FANTASTIC Book!!!

    I absolutely love, love, LOVE this book! I began building my home library for my young (5 and 8-year-old) children. I always read the books first to make sure there are no sensitive topics that I would rather avoid at their young age. Although alcoholism is mentioned, it is related to the very mean and abusive character 'Gar Face", which led to a great discussion on avoiding alcohol. I thoroughly enjoyed the story myself! Now my 8-year-old is reading it. He is really enjoying the book also. It's great for building his vocabulary and understanding mataphor. There is wonderful moral to the story, but I'll let you find it out for yourself! Such a wonderful book, destined to be a favorite of yours too!

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 30, 2011

    A Great Book

    This book was great and very interesting but the thing I did not like was how short the chapters were. Once you started a chapter it was over. I liked the kittens and the change in Grandmother Moccasin's heart at the end. I also like the poetic language and the way the book flows. I would recommend this book for a child or young adult.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 6, 2010

    Fantastic tale

    I have read this book twice to my sons. Once at age 7 and 9; recently at ages 9 and 11. The Underneath created a lot of dialog about so many subjects. The characters were fascinating. How Grandmother Moccasin evolved, how Puck matured, and how Gar Face became what he was were deep discussions for my sons. They also enjoyed figuring out the mysteries of the book. There are many mysteries to solve and the author does a great job explaining most of them in the end. It did make a great read aloud; it kept my son's interested and complaining when we had to put the story on hold to go to bed.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 8, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    exquisite writing, enthralling storyline

    On its surface, this is the story of the family that is formed out of the friendship between an abused hound and an abandoned cat. But its multi-layered subtexts explore loss, pain, and the possibility for redemption. One of its messages might be that "hurt people hurt people"-and that ultimately, the only way to end this cycle is to let go of your right to hate by choosing to love.

    I can't praise this book highly enough. The story is poignantly beautiful, but its language is pure music. Appelt's writing style seems closer to poetry than prose, with lines like these: "Whenever there is a breeze in the old forest, you might, for a moment, realize that the trees are singing. There, on the wind, are the voices of sugarberry and juniper and maple, all telling you about this hound, this true-blue hound, tied to a post. They have been watching him all these years, listening to his song, and if he know what the trees were singing, it might be about how he found a friend" (25).

    Its themes are deep enough that its intended audience is ageless. My highest recommendation might be in that I've already bought it for a fourth grader, a children's lit professor, a high schooler, and my cousin in college. =)

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 23, 2009

    A gripping book for any animal lover

    The author has woven a compelling story with her poetic use of words. It was beautiful to read but heart-wrenching at times. The evil was hard to stomach and I shed tears for the animal characters but the climax and resolution was satisfying. It absorbed me as I turned pages to discover the ending and then I didn't want it to end. This story haunts me still. It is a book to treasure but don't leave it on a shelf afterwards. Pass it on to a friend who loves animals, the natural world--someone who can endure the agony of good vs. evil.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2008

    A reviewer

    Did not take a liking to it at all! The only parts that I really did like was the parts about the cat and the kittens. she could've left out all that nature bleh that didn't make sense. Two thumbs down! Sorry, Ms. Author of this book, but truly a very big disappointment. :(

    2 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2013

    I wish that everyonein the world would read this book. Beautiful.

    Please read this book. It is just about the best book ever. It is so moving, and truly beautiful how everything comes together in the end. It's written in a kind of poetic way, and I love it. I wish that everyone in the world could read this book. I absolutely recommend it and rate it an 11 or more out of 10. Amazing. Truly Amazing.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 1, 2010

    The Underneath by Kathi Appelt

    The author draws you in....tells you what you need to know...explains the enchantment of the surroundings with great understanding and knowledge...gently explains how the 'man' (Gar Face) - becomes evil, or would that be, uncaring? She tells the story of how the two almost mythical/mystical beings came to be...and then sits you right up front, unfolding the story of a hound, a mother cat, and her twin kittens.
    Charming, suspenseful, worrisom, fascinating...a book that I would read aloud to jr. hi students...The author has more than voice; she has song; she has soul.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 30, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Strong characters and mythically written

    I felt such a range of emotions while reading this incredible story. The way Appelt conveys wretched loneliness and the desperate hunger for companionship is haunting yet identifiable.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 20, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    THIS BOOK IS AWESOME

    THIS BOOK IS AWESOME. YOU MUST READ IT.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2008

    A reviewer

    This was simply a wonderful and unique book to read. There were so many interesting characters. The book was written in such a way that I couldn't put it down until I found out what happened to each character in the end. I can't wait for others to read it and love it as much as I did!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2015

    Awesome book!

    Awesome book!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2014

    Amazing!!!

    This book is amazing. I have read it twice. Each time it gets better. So iI shall say read this at any age. I have even read it to mylonger

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2014

    Joan

    This is one of the most beautifully written books that l've read in like....forever.

    Thank you!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 24, 2014

    ¿There is nothing lonelier than a cat who has been loved, at lea

    “There is nothing lonelier than a cat who has been loved, at least for a while, and then abandoned on the side of the road.” Just by the first sentence it captured my attention. Reading this book made me feel and realize many things. The novel made me feel sorry for this poor cat, and always made me feel that I had to keep reading the book. Also, it made me realize that unlike this cat who is lonely you should be grateful with the things you have.
    There is nothing lonelier then a calico cat having babies in her stomach, but being abandoned on the road. While walking she hears a song. A dog was singing the song. She knows that cats and dogs aren’t supposed to like each other, but the cat can really relate to the song. The dog’s name is Ranger. Ranger is a chained dog. Ranger helps the cat raise her kittens under a porch where they can be safe. Later on in the story a man that lives nearby is not afraid to kill any animals in his way. The man is named Gar Face. Gar Face tries to kill an Alligator King. The ending will leave you hanging and surprised.
    The novel always kept me wondering. I never wanted to put it down. In my opinion the book was phenomenal and one of my most favorite books I’ve read. It made me feel sorry for the cat, but the dog changed that feeling because he always supported her. The book had surprising events which made it the best parts.
    I definitely recommend this book. I recommend it to anyone who likes surprises, animals, and just if you are seeking for a book to read. The descriptive language was deep to really connect with you. It is not a series, but is still worth the time to read. It’s more like a realistic novel because some parts could happen in life. That’s what the novel The Underneath is all about.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2014

    Is

    It good

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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