An abandoned, and pregnant, calico cat and a ragtag hound dog in Texas bayou country might seem an unlikely duo--but this pairing kicks off a journey that is alternately worrisome and adventure-filled, mystical and redemptive. First-time novelist Kathi Appelt takes readers to the edge of their seats and emotions as she spins the story of lovable hound dog Ranger and kittens Sabine and Puck and their perilous endeavors. Safe as long as they remain in "the Underneath"--their ratty home under the porch--the cat, her kittens and Ranger soon find life worse than they could have imagined.

When Gar-Face, the disheveled, drunk and bitter man who lives inside the house, discovers the cats, it sets off a chain of events that leaves the kittens orphaned and separated--and leads to Puck's big adventure. While Puck's harrowing struggle to find his way back to the Underneath is one main thread in the book, a second, more mythical, storyline runs concurrently about Grandmother Mocassin--who lived in the region 1,000 years ago in the land of the native Caddo. The loblolly pine and other trees along Little Sorrowful Creek remember her story. And, ultimately, Grandmother's unwavering tale of vengeance intersects with Puck's story in a most surprising--yet satisfying--way. The powerful storyline is driven by the emotions of love and hate and, ultimately, their consequences, as well as the importance of keeping promises.

The Underneath is not only a delightful and suspenseful animal tale, it is a classic story destined to be read for years and savored for its charming characters and underlying message. Librarians and teachers take note--this may be an early contender for the Newbery Award.

Sharon Verbeten, a former children's librarian and current freelance writer, lives a pet-free life in De Pere, Wisconsin.

 

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