The Underneath

Paperback | January 5, 2010

byKathi AppeltIllustratorDavid Small

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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 calico cat, about to have kittens, hears the lonely howl of a chained-up hound deep in the backwaters of the bayou. She dares to find him in the forest, and the hound dares to befriend this cat, this feline, this creature he is supposed to hate. They are an unlikely pair, about to become an unlikely family. Ranger urges the cat to hide underneath the porch, to raise her kittens there because Gar-Face, the man living inside the house, will surely use them as alligator bait should he find them. But they are safe in the Underneath...as long as they stay in the Underneath.

Kittens, however, are notoriously curious creatures. And one kitten's one moment of curiosity sets off a chain of events that is astonishing, remarkable, and enormous in its meaning. For everyone who loves Sounder, Shiloh, and The Yearling, for everyone who loves the haunting beauty of writers such as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Flannery O'Connor, and Carson McCullers, Kathi Appelt spins a harrowing yet keenly sweet tale about the power of love -- and its opposite, hate -- the fragility of happiness and the importance of making good on your promises.

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From the Publisher

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 calico cat, about to have kittens, hears the lonely howl of a chained-up hound deep in the backwaters of the bayou. She dares to find him in the forest, and the hound dares to befriend this cat, this feline, ...

David Small was born February 12, 1945, in Detroit, Michigan. He studied art and English at Wayne State University, and went on to complete graduate studies in art at Yale. After receiving his MFA degree, he taught at the State University of New York, Fredonia College, Kalamazoo College, and the University of Michigan. After graduating...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:336 pages, 8 × 6.12 × 0.9 inPublished:January 5, 2010Publisher:Atheneum Books For Young ReadersLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1416950591

ISBN - 13:9781416950592

Appropriate for ages: 10

Reviews

Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Underneath This book is really good. It was very well written. I would recommend it for ages 9 and older because there are some scary parts that little children might not like. It is really good though.
Date published: 2014-12-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Underneath My 10 year old Grandaughter loved this book so much she pretty well finished it on the long trek home from Ottawa to the shores of Lake Huron drive over March break. A seven hour road trip, kept her captivated.
Date published: 2014-03-25

Extra Content

Read from the Book

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 a nd 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 in the 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

Bookclub 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 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 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. 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.

Editorial Reviews

"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