Kindred Souls: A Story About Love and Leaving

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Kindred Souls – A Story About Love and Leaving

Well known for her Newberry-winning novel, Sarah, Plain and Tall (HarperCollins, 1985), Western MA author Patricia MacLachlanis gifted at telling stories aimed at the younger set of readers. She can pack so much into a slim book. With lots of white space on each page and bigger type print, this 119-page book is just the right length for new readers to chew on. And told in first person, from a 10-year old child’s point of view, it presents death in just the right perspective for kids. 

Patricia MacLachlan’s new book, Kindred Souls, (HarperCollins) is a story about the love between a boy and his grandfather. 10-year old Jake and 88-year old Billy share a special bond. Jake’s mom calls them “kindred souls.” On their daily walks around the family farm, Billy talks about growing up on the prairie and his beloved sod house, where he was born. Jake cherishes this quiet time together and the predictability of their morning routine.

Then one day something unpredictable happens – a stray dog shows up and adopts Billy as her own. Billy names her Lucy and calls her an “angel dog.” But there’s another surprise for Jake -Billy asks him to rebuild the sod house. Jake is unsure. It’s a big request.

When Billy is hospitalized for bronchitis, Jake realizes the best gift he could give Billy, the gift that would help him get better, is waiting out in the prairie. And with the support of his brother and sister, his mom and dad, they start cutting sod.

Billy recovers enough to come home to his sod house that the family has built together. Jake is proud to show Billy the house, and yet for Jake there is also a pang of sadness. Billy and Lucy leave Jake to go stay in the sod house, and this foreshadowing of their diverging paths, is sharp and true.

Lucy adds a bit of four-legged magic to the story. Her loyalty to Billy, the way she affects everyone she meets, even the other patients in the hospital, is otherworldly. Her presence shows Billy is not alone in his journey. She’s there to accompany him through his last days on earth. And when Billy dies in his sod house, looking out at his favorite view in the world, it is Lucy who comes to let the family know.

The natural rhythms of the farm, and of the prairie – the hummingbirds, the slough that fills with water and ducks, the birthing of a calf – help tie death into the larger picture of life. And under the gifted hand of author Patricia MacLachlan, the subject matter is handled with grace, gentleness, and love. The spare, poignant chapters are simple and elegant. Every word matters, she has weighed each one and deemed it worthy of the story.

Well known for her Newberry-winning novel, Sarah, Plain and Tall (HarperCollins, 1985), Western MA author Patricia MacLachlan is gifted at telling stories aimed at the younger set of readers. She can pack so much into a slim book. With lots of white space on each page and bigger type print, this 119-page book is just the right length for new readers to chew on. And told in first person, from a 10-year old child’s point of view, it presents death in just the right perspective for kids.

Jake builds the sod house because he loves his grandfather, because they are “kindred souls,” because he hopes that his grandfather will stay. But Jake’s gift is more than this, it is also about letting go. What Jake really does is give his grandfather “the place he wanted so he could leave.” And this leaving is as beautiful and natural as the sun setting over the prairie and the geese honking across the sky.

Kindred Souls by Patricia MacLachlan. Published by HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2012. 978-0-06-052297-1


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cheli Mennella

Cheli has been involved with creative arts and education for most of her life, and has taught many subjects from art and books to yoga and zoology. But she has a special fondness for kid’s books, and has worked in the field for more than 20 years. She is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Valley Kids and teaches a course for adults in “Writing for Children.” She writes from Colrain, where she lives with her musician-husband, three children, and shelves full of kid’s books.

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