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.

Tagline:

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?

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