________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 21 . . . . June 23, 2006


The Undergardeners. (Orca Young Readers).

Desmond Anthony Ellis.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2006.
120 pp., pbk., $7.95.
ISBN 1-55143-410-5.

Grades 1-3 / Ages 7-10.

Review by Tanya Boudreau.

*** /4


There it was again! He jackknifed upright. A voice! That's what had woken him- a voice. And it was coming from the garden.

“All clear. They've gone to six.” The voice was crisp with authority and carried clearly on the still night air. Mouse reached the open window in two bounds- and gasped in surprise at what he saw. Tiny lights were gathered around the last hole he and his father had tried to dig. Maybe it was a trick of the moonlight, but the rock they hadn't been able to move now looked as though it was standing on its end. There was a faint glow from the hole below.


Above ground, he is called Mouse; but one night, below ground, he's given the name Mouse Mountain. Mouse is pretty good-natured about his nickname. Everyone calls him Mouse because he's small in size. He doesn't want anyone to think he's weak though! After a hard day helping his dad put up a fence around the garden, he's awakened by voices outside his window. He hears “Hun. Hoo. Hee. Hoar. Hive. Hix”, and he see the lights moving about on their own. As Mouse looks closer, he sees the lights are small lanterns and the voices are coming from small creatures.

     After saving the small creature named Qwolsh, who was above ground on work detail with the others, Mouse is invited underground- even though he is an Uptopper. And, as an Uptopper, he vows to the small creatures to keep what he sees and experiences a secret. Mouse calls the small creatures Undergardeners. Undergardeners are small too, and they think shaking hands is silly. Instead, they teach him what sole-ing is. Mouse finds their ways confusing at times. “Heartside” must be explained to him. He learns never to hum underground and to be careful where he steps. Digger, Chuck, Alkus, Glump, Snick and Snock or some of the other Undergardeners could be underfoot.

     Mouse learns size is all relevant. What is big to the Undergardeners seems small to Mouse. Mouse thinks he's drinking out of a small cup, but actually it's the Undergardener's bucket. With the Undergardeners, he's the biggest in the group. And it feels great.

     Mouse does accidentally cause some havoc underground. He's the reason a momentary wind storm stirs up and the reason all of the ovens underground shutdown. However, Mouse does save the Ancient Rhymer and his tortoise from a fire, and he saves Digger from the Creepscreech's Lair. The Undergardeners come to see Mouse as a hero. And he feels proud.

     There are a few black and white illustrations throughout the book, and each chapter is headed by two mice; Snick and Snock. Children will be happy to see what the main characters look like and especially what Mouse is seeing underground. The illustrations are made of simple lines, yet the characters are very expressive.

     The Undergardeners, the author's first book, is a little mystery and a little humor. Children will be surprised what Creepscreech Liar really is and the myth surrounding it. They'll wonder what makes the lanterns talk, what is inside that ball of runaway wool, and what words will come out of the Rhymer's mouth. On the lighter side of things, the lightning bugs are jokesters, as are most of the animals in the book- especially Digger the mole. Digger owns different glasses for working, reading, writing and even relaxing!

     This is a story that can and will be enjoyed by many children.


Tanya Boudreau is a Youth Services Librarian and Resource Librarian at the Cold Lake Public Library in Cold Lake, AB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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