Sarah, Plain and Tall

Author: Patricia MacLachlan

Age Range: 8-10

Interest Range: 8-10

Genre: Historical Fiction

Plot: Anna and Caleb’s mother passed away years ago, shortly after Caleb was born. Their house is no longer full of singing, and their father is tired of raising a family on his own. One day he announces that he as been writing to a woman from Maine who is going to come and visit them. She may even stay and be their new mother. Sarah introduces herself to the children through letters, and describes herself as plain and tall. When she shows up, the children are excited at the prospect of such a kind and interesting lady becoming a part of their family. But as much as Sarah enjoys the children and her new life in the frontier, she also misses home: her brother, her aunts, and most of all the ocean. Will Sarah decide to stay in the prairie? Or will she miss the sea so much that she must return home again?

Review: Such a sweet book to touch on the ideas of a deceased mother and what used to happen in families in the time of the American Frontier. Mail-order brides are certainly not something that we think of often today, but at that point in history it was not uncommon for people to place advertisements for wives to join existing families out west. Told from the point of view of the children, this story is sweet and you cannot help but wish for Sarah to decide to stay with them. A great book to show how stepmothers can easily become a loving part of a family that needs to fill a void- not to replace the mother completely, but to help usher in a new time for everyone involved. Also a great story for those who are interested in the American West during the time of expansion.

Themes: Changes at Home, Building New Relationships, Death, Loss, Loneliness

Additional Info:

Awards: Newbery Medal Winner in 1986, Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction 1986, Golden Kite Award 1986 (for excellence in children’s literature)

Main Characters:

Anna: The oldest of two children who have recently lost their mother. She is intelligent, and sometimes cross with her younger brother who she sometimes blames for her mother’s early death (which happened post-childbirth). Anna desperately wants Sarah to decide to stay with them and be their new mother, but remains distant and worried that she will miss her home too much and leave them.

Caleb: The younger of the family’s children, who is now a few years old (maybe 5 or 6?) and loves to hear the story of his birth and stories about their mother. He is inquisitive and sometimes rude and difficult. He also very much wants Sarah to decide to stay- so much that he cries when she leaves for town for the day because he is convinced that he as been bad and she will buy a ticket to go back to Maine.

Jacob Witting: After years of raising two children on his own, Jacob is tired and wants to pursue having another wife. He decides to place an advertisement, describing the family and their situation, and eventually hears from Sarah. The two of them seem to get along very well and are kind to each other.

Sarah: A woman from Maine, who never married. Her brother had recently married and the family house was now being run by his new wife. Sarah desired a change and that is why she answered Jacob’s advertisement. Although she misses the sea most of all, she adjusts to life on the prairie relatively easily.

Bibliographic Info:

MacLachlan. P. (1985). Sarah, Plain and Tall. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc.


Mother has been gone for years and Papa is tired of raising two children on his own. Will Sarah be everything the family is hoping for?


Bridge to Terabithia


Author: Katherine Paterson

Age Range: 9-12

Interest Range: 9-12

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Plot: Jess wants nothing more than to be the fastest boy in the 5th grade. He’s even been practicing running all summer long. But when the school year begins, there’s a new girl in school who changes everything. Leslie insists on running with the boys on the first day of school, and easily beats them all. Worst of all, Leslie is Jess’s new neighbor. He’s the only person in school that she knows, and she persistently follows him and talks to him until he realizes that they really are friends. Jess and Leslie understand each other better than any of the other kids in school, and they even create their own magical world: Terabithia. In this land, Jess and Leslie are King and Queen, and no one can touch them. This book is about the story of their friendship, and what can happen when someone comes into your life who understands you to the fullest.

Review: I never read this story as a child, and I managed to stay away from the movie too since I knew that one day I would want to sit down and take it all in. The story is sad, but not as deeply so as I feared it would be (EVERY person who saw me reading this book immediately responded with “Oh! I loved that book. [pause] It’s SO sad.”). The way that Jess is eventually able to come to grips with Leslie’s passing is inspiring and definitely admirable. People much older than him have a much harder time dealing with death, and I see his realization that he will never forget his friend is moving in an uplifting way. This book is appropriate for any child in this age group, and works as a solid way to introduce the idea of losing someone at close range, someone other than a family member like a possibly distant grandparent or great-aunt.

Themes: Coming of age, Making new friends, Overcoming fears

Additional Info:

Awards: Newbery  winner, 1978

Main Character:

Jesse: A 10-year-old boy from a struggling family who struggles with finding his identity in a school and family full of people that he cannot relate to. Jess is a talented artist, with no one to encourage him other than his music teacher (who only visits the school one day a week, and who Jess only sees for 30 minutes in class). His creativity is encouraged further by becoming friends with Leslie, who also pushes him to face his fears and anxieties.

Leslie: The new neighbor, Leslie’s parents have come to the country because they felt it would be good for them all to simplify their lives. They have no financial problems, but have chosen not to own a TV (a source of embarrassment for Leslie at school when her classmates find out). Leslie acts as if she has no fears, is incredibly smart, and lacks any friends in this new town other than Jess.

Bibliographic Info:

Paterson, K. (1977). Bridge to Terabithia. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.


Jess wants to be the fastest boy in the fifth grade, for his father to notice him, and to be able to draw in peace. But then he meets Leslie, and everything changes.

Discussion: Classic Literature

For our discussion on Classics, I read A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeline L’Engle. There are certainly aspects of this book that appeal to older readers: the mix of religion and science, the larger question of what a society is willing to sacrifice to obtain perfection or happiness. But it is also written on a level that is accessible to people in the ‘tween age group. I think this is most directly achieved through her development of the main characters.

The main characters are around ages 13 (Meg), 14 (Calvin), and 5 (Charles Wallace). Calvin is in the 11th grade when our story takes place, and he is by far the most mature character of our traveling trio. Who better to appreciate the thoughts and feelings of this group of characters than ‘tweens? The individuals in this age range are looking forward to being in Meg or Calvin’s shoes in the near future, but can probably also remember what it was like to be close to Charles Wallace’s age. In addition, all three characters are outsiders at heart, even if they aren’t perceived as such by each other. They find common ground with each other and band together to achieve their goal. This is exactly what children are trying to do with their peers at this point in their lives. Things are constantly changing (physically, emotionally, etc.), they have very real fears of not fitting in at school or being “outsiders”, and they are forming (and forgetting) friendships almost daily, all of which was discussed both in our text and in this week’s lecture.

One of the great things about this novel is that it appeals to ‘tween readers with its main characters, but then also introduces these readers to ideas about society that are really quite advanced. It was probably able to do so so easily because there was no “Middle Grade” boundary for L’Engle to feel hindered by when it was written. Those topics are what really expands the interest range of this novel beyond the ‘tween age group. Even adults can find something in this book to really make them think.