The underneath by Kathi Appelt
dir. by Adam Shankman
There is nothing lonelier than a cat who has been loved, at least for a while, and then abandoned on the side of the road. A small calico cat. Her family, the one she lived with, has left her in this old and forgotten forest, this forest where the rain is soaking into her soft fur.
–Kathi Appelt - The Underneath - c.2008 - pg. 1
This is the story of an abandoned cat, an old hound dog who becomes her friend and her kittens, and the family they become. But it is also a tale of old Grandmother Moccasin, a shape-chaning lemia, who is trapped in jar and by her own anger and resentment at her betrayal, as she sees it, by those she loved. And through its blending of myth and folklore it is the perfect fit for my Once Upon a Time reading list. It is also a children’s book, so it shouldn’t take you to long to get through. Although that does not mean that this doesn’t have darkness.
The dog’s owner, Gar Face is a nasty bit of a work, a man who would shoot a dog by accident and blame that on the dog and leave him chained up for the rest of his life is not a nice character. And then there is Grandmother Moccasin herself, a creature similar to Keats’ Lamia who was once a human but has now returned to her snake form, only to be abandoned by her sole companion, and she will have her revenge…
This book is written in a lovely style. It is one that would be perfect for reading aloud as it is so musical and lyrical.
Here are snakes. The brilliant green water snakes, the hognose snakes, the corals and rattlers and massasaugas, the coperheads and rat snakes, the kings and garters. Some are shy. Others will chase you. Of this latter, beware the moccasin, skin so black it looks blue, mouth so white it looks like cotton. Other snakes are known to strike in self-defence. But the moccasin, she will latch on and stay there. The moccasin’s jaws are like a trap. She can snap a small branch in two, can slice an unsuspecting lizard in half, can sever a finger from your hand, or take off a toe. Beware the moccasin with her cotton mouth.
The only problem I had with this book were the chapters. Most were two or three pages long. Some were shorter. That quote up above is an entire chapter, and those stop-starts together with the frequent changes of point of view meant the book was a little disjointed. But that is only a minor flaw. For the most part this is a lovely, moving and entertaining story that anyone who loves animal stories will enjoy.