The Underneath

Written by: Kathi Appelt

Illustrated by: David Small

For parents of independent readers, we provide a set of questions that should give you insight into what your child is reading and help you engage him/her in meaningful conversations about literature. We recommend using the questions provided here as a springboard for deeper conversation about The Underneath and what your child takes away from the book. Enjoy!


Ranger spends all of his time in the Underneath. It's a place where he can be safe from his mean owner, Gar Face and he can't really go anyplace else seeing as he is chained. He soon meets a cat and her kittens, which he names "Sabine" and "Puck". He warns them about the dangers that lie beyond the Underneath, but one day, Puck gets a little too curious and ventures out on his own. This leads to a series of events that change the course of all of their lives. Set in a bayou near the Texas-Louisiana border, The Underneath tells the story of an unlikely family that demonstrate the power of love. 

Pre-Reading Activity

KWL Chart

Create a K-W-L Chart and have your child fill in the first two columns with information that s/he knows and wants to find out about the story. S/he can fill in the last column, "What I Learned", once s/he has finished the story.

What I Know

After reading the summary of the story, let your child think about what s/he already knows about the story. Who are the main characters? What is the story going to be about? What genre is this story? What other stories fall into this category that s/he has already read? What are some common characteristics of stories in this genre?

What I Want to Know

Include questions that your child might have about the plot, characters and setting.

Discussion Questions

  1. What was the calico cat's situation in the beginning of the story? How does she find Ranger?
  2. Describe the Underneath. Why does Ranger stay there? What lies outside of that safe place?
  3. Which characters have experienced loss in their lives? What were their losses? Have you lost someone or something in your life? If so, what was it? How did you feel?
  4. Ranger, Mama and her kittens are an unconventional family. What are the things that make a family? Is it just being related by blood? Why/why not? Who do you consider to be your family?
  5. Describe Grandmother Moccasin's character. How do you meet her in the story? Why is her character so significant?
  6. What is the shape-shifter rule? If you could shift into any shape, what would it be? Why would you choose that?
  7. Discuss the idea of anthropomorphism (when a non-human form is given human characteristics). What are some examples of anthropomorphism in this story? 
  8. Who set Ranger free? Why was he set free?

Extending the Story 

Encourage your child to write a song or poem that shows an emotion that s/he is currently feeling or has felt in the past. This may be loneliness, anger, fear, etc. Ranger experiences loneliness as he spends most of his time alone in the Underneath, and the cat and kittens have been abandoned and are left to fend for themselves. Let your child think about a time in his/her life when s/he has felt a strong emotion.

Also, take some time to learn about the region that this story is set in, and research bayous and their cultural significance.