From the beginning Sammy's first day with his Ohio grandfather is experienced not as a more or less skillfully constructed fiction but as a vibrant reality that happens as we read. The eighth and last child of tired parents, the ten-year-old is left abruptly in the wild-looking old man's run-down house full of uncaged birds (an owl, a parrot, several geese) while his parents go on to find a job and get settled in Detroit. Though the boy's first outraged reaction is to run away, his grandfather immediately involves him in capturing and then caring for a hurt crane they encounter in a clearing. The old man bluntly accepts the boy from the start and as bluntly demands his help in projects Sammy would otherwise not dare to attempt -- all the while following his own train of thought, ignoring Sammy's self-conscious conversation, and hearing only those questions he wishes to answer. Though he "can't even get some of my own children straight in my mind," he tells Sammy that "every one of them birds that stayed with me is more real to me than the people I've known." After the two have shared a can of cold spaghetti for supper, the dismaying discovery that the crane is blind, and joyful relief when the bird eats and revives, Sammy has decided that he wants his grand-father to know him the way he knows his birds. By the end we too have come to know the touchingly but unsentimentally rendered Sammy and the marvelous old man.