Billy is an 88-year-old grandfather who lives with his family on the farm where he grew up. He and his 10-year-old grandson, Jake, have a special bond so Billy calls them "kindred souls." Every day, Billy and Jake take a walk around the farm, and Billy teaches Jake about nature as he explains when the hummingbirds will leave and why a cow often gives birth during a rainstorm. There remains a bit of structure of the original sod house where Billy grew up. The old man and the young boy pass by it every day. For some reason, Billy is very determined for Jake to build him a small sod house, but Jake isn't interested at all. Still, Billy says that, in time, Jake will build the house for him because they are "kindred souls." Billy has strong opinions and can sometimes be stubborn, in a quiet way.
One day, a small black-and-white female dog appears at the farm. She doesn't seem to be lost and doesn't act like a stray. Why she came is a mystery. She is well behaved and takes an immediate liking to Billy, who claims her as his own and names her Lucy. Right away, Lucy and Billy are inseparable. When Billy becomes ill with bronchitis and has to be admitted to the hospital, it affects the entire family. The doctor finally gives permission for Lucy to visit him at the hospital, and Billy calls her his Angel Dog.
Jake and his older brother, Jesse, begin researching sod houses and talking about them --- and before long, a big decision is made. A little sod house will be built as a surprise for Billy. By the time that project is finally completed, everyone in the family has helped. Lida, Jake's older sister, cut the sod bricks, Jesse and Jake laid the bricks, Papa built the roof supports, and Mama whitewashed the inside of the sod house and furnished it with a bed and Billy's favorite rocking chair that his mother had brought from Europe many years ago.
When Billy is discharged from the hospital, he is delighted to be back home and is pleasantly surprised that Jake took his wish to heart and then made it a reality. Billy and Lucy spend time together in the little sod house. No doubt Lucy naps on the bed and Billy rocks in his favorite chair, remembering happy times growing up in the old sod house. Billy wanted the sod house for a reason that is understood at the end of the story.
Newbery Medal-winning author Patricia MacLachlan has once again written a fine book about the importance of family. She shows how shared tasks and ordinary conversations create and strengthen bonds between people of differing generations. The story’s farm setting is an appropriate way to gently introduce the topics of life and death to a young reader.
Reviewed by Carole Turner on February 7, 2012