Batty is very conscious of her place as the oldest of the younger set and now that she's in fifth grade, she understands and internalizes the worries of the adults. Money is as tight as ever and rather than add to that concern, when Batty, who is quite musical and has developed a very pretty voice, wants voice lessons she decides to find a job to pay for them herself, creating Penderwick Willing to Work. But the work that comes her way is work she does not want; it's dog walking. When the novel opens, Hound has been gone for six months and Batty is certain that it is her fault he died. So dog walking makes her nervous for her charges' welfare and makes her desperately miss the wonderful Hound. This would be enough for any sensitive child but added to that is the fact that Jeffrey, the friend the girls made in the first book and Batty's dear friend in particular and musical mentor, is not coming around much because of complications in his Penderwick relationship. Then Batty overhears a terrible secret not meant for her ears that utterly devastates her and this once happy go lucky little girl is not so happy go lucky anymore.
The Penderwick family is as delightful as ever. The problems that beset them are universal and yet grounded firmly in the here and now. The entire feel of the book is charming and Birdsall manages to capture the innocence and worries of childhood without minimizing them at all. The book is brimming with emotion and reading about Hound's death and how Batty handles it will make even the hardest hearted reader sob. Each of the characters, even those who are only one the page for a brief time, are well drawn and complete characters. As always, I wanted to just crawl into the pages and live with the Penderwicks myself.