Sarah, Plain and Tall

Book: MacLachlan, Patricia, Sarah, Plain and Tall. New York: Harper & Row Publisher. 1985

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Ages: 3rd-6th grade

Summary: Anna and Caleb lost their mother the day after Caleb was born and have lived with their widowed father since.  When their father announces to them one day that he has put out an advertisement for a new wife and received a response from a woman that lives in Maine they are overjoyed.  Sarah is plain and tall, very independent, and does not have the qualities of a typical wife from this time period yet once the spring comes she makes the long journey from Maine to the country to visit the family and see if they’re father is fit for marriage.  She fits in very well and Anna and Caleb get attached to her very quickly, hoping she will stay and become the newest member to their small family.  Sarah learns the ways of life in the country, though she misses the ocean very much and her life in Maine she decides to stay with the family and marry their father.

Read Aloud: : )

Themes:
Family:
 The children’s mother passed away when Caleb was first born so they have without a mother for many years.  Their family is very close and they spend a lot of time together on their family farm in the country where their is no one else for miles.  Though they are very happy in their life style their father seems to have a need for a wife and a mother for his children.  You can see that Sarah is very close with her older brother and it is hard for her to move away from him yet she realizes she needs a family of her own and needs to make sacrifices, such as her love for the sea, to make this type of transition into family life.  The children speak of the songs that their mother use to sing and the stew that she used to make and when Sarah is able to fill this void in their lives as well as their father’s life they are much more content and are truly happy to add a new addition to their small family.
Roles of a Female: Sarah states at the beginning of her letter that she does make stew and sing but she would prefer to paint or build shelves; these activities are not typical of a women during this time period.  Throughout the young adult novel Sarah continues to engage in activities, such as shingling a house, and wearing outfits, overalls, that are not always seen as acceptable.  Though a reader can clearly see that the children are often confused by choices Sarah makes, as well as their father, they accept her for who she is and realize by the end of the novel that she is who she is and that cannot be changed.  Even though she does not always engage in acceptable activities of a women during this time she does understand that certain things are important to the family and she must undertake certain roles, such as cooking, that a mother figure would do.

Connections: The connection that I make to this book is Little house on the prairie mainly because of the time period and setting.  Both of these novels are set in a prairie like area far out in the country with only their families to rely on.  The family aspect is also a commonality I saw between these books because they both have a very strong sense of love and closeness in their family unit.

Reaction: I did enjoy this book even though is was written for much younger readers then myself.  I feel it is a good novel to help children understand life during the 1800’s.  I enjoyed how the family was portrayed and the love that was experienced between each member of the family.  I also feel this would be a good novel to help children who may be experiencing the presence of a new member in their own household to have an open mind and realize change is acceptable and can work out for the better.

Reception:
A reader on Amazon. com enjoyed Sarah, Plain and tall very much.  She believes that the simple language used was the best choice and added a poetic quality to the story.  She also enjoyed how the language depicted the setting and landscapes very well.
“Patricia MacLachlan uses very simple language, which only highlights her poet’s gift of saying volumes and painting landscapes with a few well-chosen words. The images in the novel are as potent as images in poetry, even though everything is in prose. Every last word is meaningful.  I need only think of “Sarah, Plain and Tall” to remember that sometimes the simplest children’s stories are the best.”

Another reader had watched the movies as well as read the books.  She experienced the same type of reaction to the language and story line that the other reader had.  The reader feels that the simple language is acceptable because the story is told fully even though the language is kept simple and easy to understand.  They liked that their was no variation from the books to the movies.
“I watched the Hallmark movies adapted from these stories long before I read the books they were inspired from. In fact, it was not until a few years ago I read this series. As an adult, I can tell you how wonderfully moving these stories are and how incredible, and rare, an author Patricia MacLachlan is. Her words are almost magical, and yet, she tells a full, deep story with simple phrases, short sentences, and common words. She paints beautiful pictures and uses prose in a way I have never seen before, nor since.
Her words are like music.
The story premise is attractive in itself. The characters make the story, though. The movies are also wonderful and family friendly. The books almost act as a script in themselves for the movies as much of the dialogue and scenes are taken directly from Patricia MacLachlan’s words in the stories. Thankfully, she wrote the scripts for the movies and was able to capture the magic in her books on screen.
Wonderful stories that are not only enjoyable for children, but for adults, too.”

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2 Responses to Sarah, Plain and Tall

  1. Amanda, Where’s the read aloud? Do you think you would ever teach a book similar to this in the classroom? What would the unit be? Have you read any “Little House on the Prairie” books? Do you think stories like these appeal to students or are they too “old fashioned”?

  2. videos uploaded. I would definitely teach this book in my classroom because i feel it can be enjoyed by both genders and is interesting for many ages. I would use this book to introduce the 19th century and also highlight women’s and men’s roles during this time period and how both of these character’s do not fit into the stereotypical mold. I have read little house on the prairie but i was much younger, i did watch the television show and although it is set in the past i feel it is still something students can find interest in, such like they find interest in the old west or life during WWI.

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