1. Bibliography: Appelt, Kathi. The Underneath. New York: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, 2008.
2. Genre: Fantasy/ Young Adult Fiction
a. National Book Award Finalist
b. ALA Newbery Medal
c. ALA Newbery Honor Book
d. ALA Notable Children's Books
e. CCBC Choices (Cooperative Children's Book Council)
f. NYPL 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing
In this beautifully written book, a story is interwoven between a cat, a hound dog, a horrible man, and mythical creatures. A pregnant calico cat is abandoned at the opening of the novel, and desperately searching for a place to have her family. She finds that place in the “Underneath” which she shares with a caring, yet unlikely friend, hound dog that sings the blues. Unfortunately, kittens cannot be content to live their lives in the underneath, and venture out, which may prove to be the most dangerous, yet inevitable, decision of their lives. Interwoven in this story is a tale of a mythical and eternal struggle between love and hatred, posited in the brilliant ancient tale of the lamia.
5. Needs of adolescents:
Appelt never gives in to the notion that to write a fantastic young adult novel a write must ascribe to certain formulaic, predictable scenarios. This book will allow young people to enjoy a tale told in the safety of a fantasy world that will allow them to search their ideas about love, loss and commitment without directly equating them to the situations they face. It also engages in gorgeous language and vocabulary that will showcase the sheer beauty of language.
6. Possible Classroom Uses:
I think this book would work well as a read aloud, a class novel or for a small group. I think it would open the doors nicely into a study of Watership Down, or other complex fantasy stories.
7. Appropriate Age Range
The Underneath can be read on many different levels. I think that the language and themes may be lost on younger readers, but it would still be an engaging read for children as young as 6th grade (although they will struggle to comprehend some of the language and certainly miss the magnificent literary allusions). I will have this book on my shelf as a high school English teacher.
8. Personal Reactions
I was unsure how I would react to this book at first. Before I began my quest to read the best YA Lit, I didn’t consider myself a fantasy book lover. However, this book is a book I will read over and over again. With such a poignant story, and brilliant literary allusions, I could not put it down. Needless to say, I loved it. Without the harsh language and eminent death many YA books rely on to move their readership, The Underneath tells a remarkably soft yet gritty story through the safety of brave kittens and a loyal hound dog. I am waiting to give to my daughter until she is older, but I am really looking forward to discussing and sharing this book with her!