I finished reading Kathi Appelt’s The Underneath a couple months ago, yet I still think about the novel regularly. I think about the story – a big, beautiful braid of equally moving, exciting strands – but I also think about the writing. There are so many virtuosic passages. Page after page after page of them. Below is one that I’ve found myself turning to repeatedly, one in which Appelt captures the friskiness and pure joy of a pair of brother-and-sister kittens. Keep an eye out for the subtle ways in which Appelt also manages to impart distinct personalities to her feline characters. It is simply masterful, and only one of countless passages that rewards close, careful reading.
Enjoy, and read more about The Underneath here.
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From “The Underneath,” by Kathi Appelt (pp. 56-57)
But before Puck and Sabine could be clever and brave, they had to be . . . kittens! Here was Sabine, hiding behind the old wooden fishing traps, the same gray color as her coat.
Then . . .
Quiet. Oh so quiet.
Sabine made herself small. Oh so small. As small as a mouse. As small as a cricket. As small as a flea.
She crouched down low. Oh so low.
Her paws tingled. Her ears twitched. Her tail switched.
Patient. Oh so patient . . . until . . . Puck . . .
Unaware. Oh so unaware.
And . . .
Here was Sabine the mountain lion! Sabine the snow leopard. Sabine the Siberian tiger. Up on her back legs! Front paws raised!
No matter how many times she did it, she always caught her brother by surprise. Puck’s fur stood on end. Then Puck stood on end. The chase was on!
Now here was Puck. . . .
Inside the heavy leather boot, which was deep and very dark, the darkest spot in all of the Underneath.
The smelliest spot in the Underneath.
Sabine will not go in there. Too smelly.
Puck waits. Smells Sabine.
She knows Puck is there.
Shhh . . . don’t tell Puck.
It was Puck the pouncer! It was Sabine the pretender!
Dashes. Tumbles. Electric fur. Hisses and spits.
For kittens, life in the Underneath was completely perfect.