Children's Review: Thunder Underground

Anyone who has ever marveled at the intricate tunnels of an ant farm or dreamed of archeological adventure will revel in this wondrous, thunderous picture book of 21 poems by Jane Yolen (Owl Moon; the How Do Dinosaurs series; Birds of a Feather; Bug Off! Creepy, Crawly Poems). Thunder Underground mines the Earth for its riches, from tree roots to rabbit warrens, subways to lost cities.

There's a whole world underneath our feet, and in the wonder of that discovery lies the magma-hot core of this fine collection of illustrated poems. Here, a curious young black girl with a treasure map and her shovel-toting friend, a white boy, put their ears to the ground, rummage in the basement, examine mole holes, dig for pirate gold and crawl through caves--all in happy pursuit of what is "under." (The first poem, "Under," examines the root word in "underground" and "understand.") In the illustration accompanying the rhythmic and beautiful "Seeds," the girl touches a plant that readers see from the side, complete with the underground view of its original root-branching seed: "This dot,/ this spot,/ this period at the end/ of winter's sentence/ writes its way up/ through the dull slate of soil/ into the paragraph of spring." Yolen's words flow like an underground river and beg to be read aloud.

"Scientific and personal" notes in the back give context to selected poems and contain gems: corn roots emit sounds that can be recorded, moles keep larders of earthworms for snacking purposes and "spelunking" is "potholing" in Great Britain. Josée Masse (the Montreal illustrator of Marilyn Singer's Mirror Mirror and Echo Echo) artfully reflects the grand scope of Earth from the inside out, while zeroing in on kid-friendly details. Her clean, colorful mixed-media compositions--most including the two intrepid explorers and a tag-along rabbit--abound with fun discoveries: baby foxes in an underground den, fossilized animal skeletons, magma pools, a pirate ship, stalactites. The title poem "Thunder Underground" is specifically about "the sound/ beetles make/ when/ walking/ 'round" but in a larger sense it echoes the power of the rumbling, ever-changing Earth beneath ground level, so wonderfully captured in this eye-opening, ear-opening picture book. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Shelf Talker: Jane Yolen and Josée Masse delve beneath the surface of the Earth in this delightful picture book of 21 poems examining ants, moles, subways, forgotten cities, magma and more.

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