|Image from DeniseFleming.com|
Underground, beneath the trees and the grass many animals are born, live, eat, and sleep. Moles dig and squirrels store food for the winter. Box turtles bury their eggs and worms make squirmy tunnels through the dirt. Although it may seem tranquil from above ground, the world beneath our feet is teaming with life!
In very sparse rhyming text, just a handful of words per page, Fleming highlights the many parts of the underground ecosystem. The two page spreads, beautifully illustrated using pulp painting with pastel pencil and copy transfer accents, show the interconnectivity of the underground world. The proximity of the animals and plants is emphasized and Fleming includes every day occurrences of the natural world, from robins eating worms to ants tending for their eggs and larvae. The illustrations are cross-sections showing a few inches of above ground at the top of the page, which provides context. There is a slight visual plot of a young boy in an orange shirt planting a bing cherry tree, however the subterranean world is the star of the story. The book finishes with two pages of creature identification which includes a sentence or two about the creatures activities underground, as well as thumbnail size close ups of each creature taken from illustrations in the book.
The extremely brief text of this book makes it a great read aloud for toddlers and babies. You can take your time reading the story by pointing out the creatures and plants in the illustrations or you can speed up your reading for restless listeners by just reading the text.
Older children will enjoy the nature and science aspects of this book. Challenge them to look at the illustrations to find all the creatures listed on the identification pages. Have each child pick a creature to research. Ask them to bring in two or three fun facts about that animal, such as what they eat, if they live underground all year long, etc.
Fleming’s paper pulp illustrations are unique. Get a sneak peek of the illustrations from this book trailer. You can also learn more about Fleming’s process in this 40 minute video (disclaimer: in a perfect world, I would have time to watch this entire video, but unfortunately I was only able to watch the first few minutes and skim the rest).
Follow up by making paper pulp crafts. If you have paper making screens (you can also make your own out of window screens, screening sandwiched between embroidery hoops or old picture frames) have kids help you make paper pulp in the blender and press it onto the screens as shown on the Happy LittleMesses blog. This is a messy craft, best done outside on a summer day. For a less messy, more controlled craft, try this tissue paper technique from Marcia Beckett’s Art is Basic blog. Whichever process you use, make sure you allow time for the pulp to dry.