The Underneath

The Underneath

Illustrated by: David Small
For Ages: 10 - 14
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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.
Book Details:
  • Atheneum Books for Young Readers | 
  • 320 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781416950585 | 
  • May 2008 | 
  • Grades 5 - 9 | 
  • Lexile 830L
List Price $22.99

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Reading Group 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 see more

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Author Revealed

Q. how did you come to write The Underneath?

A. Over the three years that it took to write this book, I dove into my past, including the animals and pets that I had known, people who had come and gone, and a mysterious place--East Texas--where I had lived as a young woman. The novel began as a short story set on a fictional creek, The Little Sorrowful, and grew from there. I think about the process as similar to making taffy. I had to keep pulling and twisting to bring it all to the page. And as I pulled, the story began to take shape until it became what it is today.

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