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The Underneath

Kathi Appelt

Drawings by David Small


Ages 10 and up

Simon and Schuster, 2008, 1-4169-5058-3

  The calico cat has been cast off by her human family and now she is walking through a forest, all alone and lonely. While she is resting at the base of a tupelo tree the cat hears the song of a hound dog, a bluesy song that she is drawn to. She finds the dog - a large old and ill-used bloodhound called Ranger – lying in front of a ramshackle farm house. Even though the farmhouse and its vicinity feels “wrong” to her, she goes to the dog, rubs up against him and makes him feel wanted. The sound of her purring and the feel of her touch makes Ranger realize how lonely he has been.

  Not long after, the calico cat has kittens. Ranger helps to name the twins Sabine and Puck and he helps to raise them with love, song, and care. He treasures his little family and warns the cats over and over that they must not venture out into the open where his master might see them. His master, Gar Face, is an evil man who would love to use the cats as alligator bait.

  For a while all is well. The cat and her kittens are safe under the house. There in the Underneath no harm can come to them. But, as we all know, kittens are curious creatures and one day Puck ventures out, ignoring the warning words of his mother and Ranger. Gar Face catches Puck and his mother and casts them into the creek. And so begins an adventure that challenges them all.

  This often haunting, lyrical tale is not only beautifully written but it explores the basic emotions that creatures of all kinds feel: love, fear, anger, hate, jealousy, and forgiveness. Without a doubt Gar Face is an evil man, a man who does not value life and who loves to inflict pain. His cruelty can be quite shocking at times and readers who love animals may find his behavior upsetting. But, the horror of Gar Face is perfectly balanced with the love that Ranger and the cats share.

  With great skill the author shifts between Ranger’s story and the story of a trio of magical shape shifters who lived, loved, and died in the forest long ago. Carefully the two stories edge towards each other until they come together in the startling and powerful finale.


The Underneath


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