Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt

"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."

The summary is hidden to prevent possible spoilers. If you'd like to read this brief summary, just highlight it using your cursor and it will magically appear in the following lines.
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.

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers; 311 pages


Mary said...

This title was suggested by a colleague who wrote: "I read an intriguing review of The Underneath, by Kathi Appelt. I haven't read the book yet, but the review sure sounds appealing! It incorporates magical realism into an animal story, set in the bayous of eastern Texas. Here's a link to the review: http://www.booklistonline.com/default.aspx?page=show_product&pid=2528142
I think it would be great for our discussion.
" I agree! Thanks for suggesting it!

Mary said...

Here's a comment I received via email from Carolyn:

The Underneath by Appelt, is sure to be in the running.

Beautifully written, tugs at the heart strings, nature is a character, tale as old as time.

Anonymous said...

"The Underneath" is amazing. It weaves several story threads together, moving back and forth in time, exploring themes of hope, love, friendship, and revenge in ways that young readers will really get. It's very suspenseful, with a giant alligator, a brave kitten, and some true loss. And poetically written in a style that draws you right in without overwhelming. My top pick so far! -se

Jen said...

While it is always important not to judge a book by its cover, it is imperative to do so for this book. The cover says, "warm, fuzzy animal story" but the reality is very dissimilar. Such an unexpected, lyrical story with tension and suspense to spare!

I really enjoyed it-- if 'enjoyed' is a word I can use in this capacity. Maybe it's more precise to say I really got into the story. Now I'm trying to figure out which kids I know who are old enough to handle some of the imagery of the book but wouldn't feel babyish about some of the illustrations.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Jen--I sent an email to a teacher recommending this book to her class as a read-aloud. I told her not to be misled by the cover art, which might lead one to think that the story is a cute animal tale. It is a very dark, serious tale that I would hesitate to recommend to children younger than about fifth grade. It is a superb read, though! So much to think about and talk about. It will be great for classroom discussions. It is the best book I have read so far this year.

Kris said...

This is my top pick so far! It's language begs to read aloud; the themes of family and loss and different responses to loss are so beautifully portrayed; the characters are strong; it demonstrates a strong connection between the past and the present...I could go on and on!

Nancy said...

One of the best things about this book is how the author was able to write in the rhythm of the bayou. You heard it page one and it continued throughout the entire book.

As with the other comments don't let the cover fool you. This is for an older reader, one who would "get" the Yearling.

Kim said...

This book grabs you at the first sentence. You will want to finish the book in one sitting. This is my runaway favorite of the year!

Anonymous said...

I loved how everything in the book seemed to connect. It was a beautiful book.... I don't know how else to explain it so.... you'll just need to read it yourself!

Anonymous said...

Although I do have a big stack left on my "to read" list, at this point, I'd rate "The Underneath" as the one to beat. Such a unique style...so beautiful. A new classic, for sure. The quote from Louis Sachar on the cover captures the essence much better than I could express it, so I'll defer to him: "A mysterious and magical story; poetic yet loaded with suspense." Exactly. A must read.

Teresa said...

I love poetic writing and mythical settings, but I had to drag myself through this book. I would have found the ending a little more believable if Grandmother would have had at least some remorse throughout those 1000 years in the jar. And, unlike Ranger, I was very happy that Alligator King ended up with such a tasty meal.

Anonymous said...

I loved this book. I agree that the cover art does not do anything to reinforce the tone of the story. I really enjoyed the poetic language and the feeling that I was sitting by a campfire listening to a seasoned storyteller. Kids will be moved by this one!

Unknown said...

This book is beautifully written - almost poetic in places. HOWEVER, I would not read this book aloud, nor would I recommend it to sensitive kids. (This book would break my 14-year-old's heart regardless of the outcome.)

From the beginning of the book I had a sense of dread as to what Gar Face was going to do to the animals.

I really believe the cruelty aspect of this book limits its appeal no matter how beautifully crafted.

Just my 2 cents.

Anonymous said...

I kind of liked this book, but to me it is no Charlotte's Web, Cricket in Times Square, Where the Red Fern Grows, or Babe, The Gallant Pig. I cared for the dog and the cats, but was mostly bored by the story of the ancient shape shifters. Those other children's classics have better focus IMHO.


I think there was just too much going on with domestic animals, wild animals, and mythical animals/shape shifters in one story. The sense of place does hold the narrative together, though, so I can't say it's a flaw. I just didn't like the mixture. And, the only fully human character is evil. And of course, he is ugly and deformed. Am I the only person who is bothered by the equation of physical unattractiveness with evil in children's books?

I was glad the lamia snake didn't remain evil and covetous throughout because that would have been one stereotype too many.

And I found the ending slightly unbelievable. The chance that the poor dog is going to be able to recover from his facial injuries without dying from infection is pretty small. And, are we supposed to believe that they all live feral, without people? Dogs and cats are supposed to live with people who care for them. So, while it's great that they cared for each other, in reality, they wouldn't stand much of a chance for survival in the bayou on their own. Which I found depressing. I was hoping that they'd find a real home.

Teresa said...

I agree completely with Mari. Well said!

Please excuse me while I ramble a bit.

I cannot get past the evilness of Gar. Maybe I could if it was clear that Gar was also an eternal creature like the Snake Woman. But he seems clearly to be evil only, in human form. As a child, I heard of two boys telling about how they killed several kittens in their barn. I was appalled. And, while I still shudder to think of it, I don't have the same emotion associated with killing of what I consider a nuisance animal like a rat or mouse. In a story with a rat or mouse, I am Gar. The description of Gar throughout The Underneath is so repulsive and cruel that could anyone, least of all a child, make that comparison of the evil within themselves? An omniscient narrator stating there is no good in that character, well, that goes against every grain of my being. I think the majority readers under the age of 14 see evil and good, fairly clearly. Maybe I need more gray matter for distinction.

Is that fair? I'm starting to question myself. In fairy tales we have archetypal evil characters. It's a classic story structure. Maybe my problem is that I'm taking the story in a real-world sense, instead of the fairy tale, other worldly experience in which it is meant.

Kayakgirl said...

I thought this book was ok, but honestly don't think it is for elementary aged kids.
I found it slow. I would like the Newbery committee to actually pick a book this year that kids will read.
I am tired of all of the PC books that have been chosen in recent years.

Mary said...

Received via email from Martha S.:

The Underneath has an unusual style that is compelling at first, but gets tiring about halfway along. It's a good story but takes too long to get to the punch.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't even finish this book because I had to push myself to actually read it.