The Underneath


The Underneath , Kathi Appelt; Atheneum Books, 2008.

Grade Level: 6-8

ISBN 13 HB 9781416950585

ISBN 10 HB 1416950583

ISBN 13 PB 9781416950592

ISBN 10 1416950591

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt; illustrated by David Small, published

By Atheneum, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing.


An old hound, and a cat and two kittens who live underneath a run-down shack survive separation, danger and tribulations.


General Review: 

An abandoned pregnant cat forms a bond with an abused bloodhound. As long as they stay underneath the house, they are safe. When the kittens are born, one out of curiosity leaves the underneath and sets off a chain of events. Entwined in the text is the story of an ancient shape-shifting water snake and the story of the abusive owner of the bloodhound. Illustrations add mood to the text. While the journey the three stories take is somewhat discouraging, the reader will find an appropriate ending. Readers will be drawn by the vulnerable pets' survival adventure.


Themes: Betrayal, Hope, Love, Survival, Dogs, Cats, Bayous


Author Information:


Discussion Questions (Standard 3; Benchmark 3)

  • Until Ranger the bloodhound meets Mama the calico cat, he doesn't realize how lonely he is. What are the differences between being alone and being lonely? Can you be lonely even when you are around people?
  • Gar Face the trapper lives in a world of anger and hatred. He does evil things, but did he deserve to die in the jaws of the Alligator King?
  • Anthropomorphism is assigning human characteristics to non-human beings. Give examples of this from the book. Do you think plants or animals have feelings?
  • Ranger, Mama, Sabine and Puck refer to themselves as a family. What is a family? Describe your own family – does it include people not related to you?
  • After Mama drowns, what are some of the ways the kittens had to grow up? Give examples.



  • Write song lyrics or a poem that shows an emotion – loneliness, anger, fear, love. (Standard 3; Benchmark 4) 
  • Write a story from a creature's point of view. (Standard 3; Benchmark 4) 
  • The book Incredible Journey was made into a movie. Take the main characters from Underneath and cast famous actors and actresses in their roles. Remember to think of voices when casting the parts of the non-human characters. (Standard 3; Benchmark 4) 

Similar Books for Further Reading: 


  • Incredible Journey by Sheila Every Burnford 
  • Shiloh Series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor