Monday, July 14, 2008

A Sense of Place

The Underneath

by Kathi Appelt

with drawings by David Small

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2008

At a recent SCBWI-MI conference, Patricia Gauch asked us if the settings we’d chosen were essential to our stories. I suggest The Underneath as a wonderful example of an essential setting.

The Underneath could only take place in the piney woods of east Texas. The characters are products of their environment, and the plot is inexorably linked to the bayou. The rhythm of the words and the pacing of the novel reflect the fluvial* ecosystem. The language is rich with local expressions. Here’s a quote from page 118. (Choosing just one passage was difficult.)

"Night after night, he pushed his old pirogue up and down the Bayou Tartine, his kerosene lantern threw a circle of yellow light atop the muddy water. It was impossible to see more than a foot below the surface of the whisky-colored drink; the murkiness made a silty curtain that hid the inhabitants below."

I recommend The Underneath as a beautifully written, engaging book. It also has much to teach.

*I’ve been aching to use that word.

1 comment:

Lori Van Hoesen said...

Yeah, this is actually my new favorite book. I think it's going to win the big medal this year. I know a book is good when I put it down and think that was a story I always knew, somebody just had to write it down.