________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 6. . . .October 10, 2014


Underworld: Exploring the Secret World Beneath Your Feet.

Jane Price. Illustrated by James Gulliver Hancock.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2014.
96 pp., hardcover, $19.95.
ISBN 978-1-894786-89-8.

Subject Headings:
Underground construction-Juvenile literature.
Underground areas-Juvenile literature.
Underground ecology-Juvenile literature.
Earth (Planet)-Internal structure-Juvenile literature.

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.

Review by Barbara McMillan.

**** /4



At the very center of the planet is the inner core. Scientists believe this is a solid ball of iron and nickel about 2500 km (1500 mi.) in diameter – like an enormous metal bowling ball that’s as hot as the sun. (p. 8)

On April 2000, two Mexican silver-miners were working 3000 m (1000 ft.) underground, digging a new tunnel. They noticed a hole in the limestone and, being curious, squeezed through. It was like climbing into a giant’s jewelry box: a huge, steamy cavern full of crystals the size of tree trunks. These enormous slabs of sparkling selenite are the largest crystals ever found. (p. 20)

What did ancient civilizations make of volcanic eruptions, clouds of burning ash or dark tunnels leading into the ground? Many of them believed that caves, volcano craters and other holes led straight down to hell. (p. 26)

Out of every ten caves on Earth, nine are left unexplored because they don’t have an entrance we can see from the surface. (p. 30)

In the 19th century, people were so scared of being buried alive that they paid for special coffins. Some had waving flags or tiny bell towers above ground, with ropes inside for the “dead body” to raise the alarm if it woke up. (p. 49)

In the whole of human history, we’ve dug more than 170,000 tonnes (187,000 tons) of gold out of planet Earth. If it were squashed together, all this gold would make a nugget about the size of a large house … which really doesn’t sound like that much gold, does it? (p. 64)


Faith McNulty’s How to Dig a Hole to the Other Side of the World and Peter Kent’s Hidden Under the Ground: The World Beneath Your Feet are two books for children that I have recommended to future teachers who will be teaching about the interior of Earth. Now there is a third: Jane Price’s Underworld: Exploring the Secret World Beneath Your Feet. As the above excepts from the book suggest, Price writes about “Earth’s crust and below.” Several of the pages of the book look at Earth’s structure and geological events, but the majority of the 96 pages draw attention to how animals and humans have used and continue to use the top 3.9 km of the crust and the gems and treasures found when digging holes, exploring caves, or mining.

     Underworld is composed of nine chapters with titles ranging from “Dead and buried: Into the ground you go” to “Hide and seek: Dig deep and keep quiet.” Price begins the book with information on the internal layers of Earth, volcanoes, and fossils. She then helps readers to understand how caves are formed, where Earth’s oldest, longest, and deepest caves are located, and how crystals form. In her description of caves, she also uses two pages to describe the Paleolithic paintings discovered in the Lascaux Cave in France and two pages to present the 200 underground cities in Cappadocia, Turkey, that were carved out of rock by early Christians hiding from the Roman army. Chapter 3 is focused on animals, including beetles, snakes, and Prairie Dogs that live part of their lives underground in burrows or dens, and animals, called trogloxenes, troglophiles and troglobites, that love the dark that caves provide. Most interesting of these are the troglobites that are so adapted to living in the absence of light that they often have no eyes or pigment. From underground habitats, Price moves on to human burials with a focus on the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs, the 7000+ life-size terra-cotta soldiers buried in 210 BCE with the First Qin emperor and unifier of China, and the barrow burial of a warrior, possibly the High King of England, in a longboat at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk. She also sets aside two pages to tell readers about the Mexican Day of the Dead, group burial mounds vs. coffins, gravestones and markers, vampires, and body snatchers. Chapter 5 is about the buried treasure of pirates, castle dungeons, the trenches of World War I, and underground bunkers, while Chapter 6 focuses on mining and the excavation of coal and precious minerals and gems. Price also includes an informative description of the 2010 rescue of the 33 Chilean coal miners who were trapped 700 m below ground for 69 days. She describes the hidden world under Paris in Chapter 7 and Tokyo’s underground in Chapter 8. Readers will be surprised to learn of the Parisian catacombs and Paris’ 2000 km of sewers as well as the Star Wars like sci-fi city and 1000 m2 subterranean farm with rice paddies under the streets of Japan’s largest city. The book’s final chapter is about human use of the underworld in the future. In the eight pages of this chapter, Price explains the research scientists are carrying out underground and why they require absolute silence and isolation for this work. She also looks at mega-bunkers and underground cities built as war shelters for leaders of nations to protect these government officials and their families from nuclear missiles. Oddly, the chapter ends with a description of the seed vault in arctic Norway that could be used to begin again if we destroy our own planet and manage to make it to Mars with nuclear-powered tunneling machines that enable us to live underground away from the lethal Martian atmosphere.

      Although Price may be more interested in helping children to think about interplanetary holiday adventures, parents and teachers who read Underworld with children will need to discuss this further. So far, a small group of men have successfully made it to the moon. This is a distance of 384, 400 km. Travel to Mars covers a distance that varies depending on the locations of Earth and Mars in their orbits, but the minimum distance is about 54.6 million kilometers, and the maximum distance is about 401 million kilometers. It would seem to make more sense to change the way we live on Earth so that it continues to flourish and support all forms of life than to hypothesize about finding another home on another planet in the Solar System.

      James Gulliver Hancock is the illustrator of Underworld, and Emila Toia is the designer. Hancock’s colourful, schematic, cartoon-like drawings are a perfect complement to the text and are interspersed with stock photographs and additional illustrations from Weldon Owen Publishing. The layout and design of the pages in the book will attract readers and hold their interest, given Hancock’s imaginative underground scenes as well as the use of colour, a variety of fonts, and text boxes that take on an assortment of shapes.

Highly Recommended.

Barbara McMillan is a teacher educator and a professor of science education in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.

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

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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