Thursday, September 9, 2010

Book talk: The Underneath by Kathi Appelt (Newbery Honor, 2009)

Our theme so far has been ‘hang in there.’ As you know, it’s another way of saying ‘survive’ or ‘endure.’ This novel, The Underneath, shows us the embodiment of survival and endurance. When you look at the cover of The Underneath [display cover], you see three animals cowering, probably in fear: Ranger, a hound dog chained to the house, and two cats. An unlikely trio. They’re living beneath a beat-up shack in the middle of an obscure forest in far east Texas, with bayous, creeks, wilderness, snakes, turtles, frogs, and alligators. The owner of the shack is a terribly cruel man who lives alone, and his only name is Gar-Face. Gar-Face hates other people and animals, too. He’s abused Ranger, who lives alone under the house in fear and hunger and solitude. But Ranger’s life starts to show a little hope and love when a pregnant cat shows up. She’s literally been thrown away by her owners. When she gives birth to two kittens, she and her kittens live with Ranger in the underneath and love him completely. They’re their own little family, as odd as it may seem. The cat and her kittens make Ranger’s life worth living. Yet there is such danger in the forest. There is a snake who is over 1,000 years old, plotting revenge. There’s an enormous alligator whom Gar-Face wants to catch and kill. And there’s a mysterious, beautiful hummingbird whose appearance to a creature or person announces that person’s impending death. Who will die? Who will survive? The Underneath by Kathi Appelt is a truly amazing novel, beautifully written and brilliantly imagined.

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt. 313 p. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2008. Booktalk to advanced intermediate readers, middle school, high school, adult. Newbery Honor, 2009.

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