Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt

I absolutely loved this book by Poet, Author, Teacher, Kathi Appelt. Kathi is the author of over thirty books for children and young adults. She has taught creative writing to both children and adults and currently serves on the faculty at Vermont College of Fine Arts in their MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program. She also teaches an occasional course in creative writing at her alma mater, Texas A&M University. Her books have won numerous national and state awards.

One reviewer calls it Watership Down meets The Incredible Journey meets Holes meets The Mouse and his Child. In other words, this book is probably going to be an instant classic. Kathi Appelt's writing style is beautiful and quite lyrical, and it just begs to be read aloud. The story is dark and haunting and heartrending and infused with a deep and abiding knowledge and respect for the natural world. Because of the cruelty experienced by several of the main animal characters, this book would probably not be suitable for the younger child, but older kids and young adults will find much to admire in this magical story.

The story involves a cruel man, Gar-Face, who lives inside a dilapidated shack in the backwaters of the bayou, a lonely chained hound dog, Ranger, who the man starves and beats and keeps on the end of a chain, and a calico cat about to have kittens who will surely be used as alligator bait should Gar-Face find them. But they are all safe as long as they stay in the Underneath. There is also a subplot to the story involving Grandmother Moccasin, a shape shifting water snake, who has been buried in a jar in the roots of a loblolly pine for a thousand years, the Caddo people (an ancient tribe) and its members Hawk Man and Night Song that Kathi manages to weave into the story as she builds it to a suspenseful climax. David Small's drawings really compliment and don't distract from the story, and each section of the story is told briefly, in just a few pages. An unforgetable and exceptional tale.

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