Friday, October 31, 2008
The Underneath by Kathi Appelt
This is my choice for the Newbery Medal this year. Some may wonder about audience and child-appeal but the writing is so well-crafted and beautiful that I was riveted from the first page and found the story lingering long after I closed the book. The unfortunate cover (unfortunate because it makes the book look like a 2nd-3rd grade read) is one of the very few negatives for me in this title. For older, sophisticated readers, this is a fable of sorts that weaves three stories together: That of an abused child who grows to be an evil man named Gar Face; a dog named Ranger and the Calico cat with her kittens that join him in the "Underneath" to become his family; and a 1,000-year old creature of mystery. Ranger is Gar Face's dog and is treated harshly. Chained to the porch for many years, he is lonely and heart broken until the cats fill his life with something new - love. This is a complex tail with multiple thought-provoking levels. For me, the ultimate message of the fable is this: Whatever else you do, choose love. An absolutely masterful work for mature readers.