Sarah, Plain and Tall
by Patricia McLachlan
Caleb and Anna have been living without a mother for a long time. In fact, Caleb doesn't even remember Mama, who died a day after he was born. Anna tells him that Papa and Mama sang every day, and now Papa doesn't sing at all. To remedy this situation, their father places an advertisement in a newspaper for a mail-order bride to come live with them in their prairie home.
All the way from Maine, a woman named Sarah answers the ad. Caleb wants to know if Sarah snores. Anna wants most of all to know if Sarah sings. Sarah makes plans to arrive, and writes, "I will come by train. I will wear a yellow bonnet. I am plain and tall." So the family waits. In the spring, she comes with her cat named Seal, gray like the seals that swim near her seaside home...and a sea stone, which she eventually gives to Anna. Jacob, the father, teaches Sarah some skills for the farm, like driving a tractor.
Everyone hopes she will stay, most of all Caleb and Anna, but Sarah misses the sea, her brother and her three old aunts. One day Sarah takes the wagon alone to town, and Caleb and Anna worry that she won’t come back. What happens tells much about happiness and hope, and what it is that makes a family.
A Note from the First Lady
Dear Read20 Book Club families,
Sarah, Plain and Tall is a wonderful story of loss and love, of loneliness and belonging. Told through the eyes (and heart!) of a young girl named Anna, this account of life on the prairie just makes you want to dance through an open field or cuddle up by a cabin fire, yearning for simpler times!
When Sarah comes to town, Anna, Caleb and their father are filled with a mix of emotions – excitement, uncertainty, longing, curiosity, and hope…but by the end of the month she promised them, they relish in Sarah and what she means for their family; they can only hope she feels the same about them. Patricia MacLachlan’s touching masterpiece helps us to understand that although sometimes bad or scary things happen, great things can come from them and bring abundant new joy to our lives.
Keep up the great reading!
First Lady of Tennessee
Fun Family Activities
1. Point of View: This story is told from the point of view of Anna, the young daughter of Jacob and sister of Caleb. When a story is written from one person’s perspective, we call it a first-person narrative. Notice how the story includes first-person pronouns like I, me, my, mine, etc. This allows us to gain insight to what that character is thinking and feeling throughout the story, and helps us to take in the story from their particular lens. Flip through the book and find three different sentences from the book where Anna particularly uses her own perspective to let you know how she is feeling or thinking about something that is happening. Then, try writing your own page from the first-person narrative point of view about something that happened to you this week. Make sure to include first-person pronouns to write (not just about what you did) but about how you thought, felt and experienced a particular situation.
2. Setting: We know that the setting of a story is when and where the tale takes place in space and time. We know that Sarah, Plain and Tall takes place on a prairie, most likely somewhere in the mid-western United States, but what time or era do you think the book is set in? What clues does the author give you to help you get an idea of the time that the story takes place? Name five things that you have or use that Anna, Caleb, Sarah and Jacob did not have in the story. How do you think the story would have changed if Sarah and Jacob were able to email or drive cars? Would you like living in the time or place that they lived in?
3. Concepts: What does the word home mean to you? Sarah bravely packs up some of her favorite belongings and leaves her own home by the sea to go far away to stay with Jacob, Anna and Caleb. Why do you think she brought items like seashells and her cat with her to the prairie? When she draws pictures of the sea and hangs them in the house, what does that mean to her? How do special items and memories help us to cope or feel better when we are missing someone or something? If you were going to a far-away place, what would you bring from your home to help you remember it? How would these items be a symbol of the place you love? How do other people help us to feel a sense of belonging in a new place? Is home something that is permanent? How do you think Sarah feels about her new home at the end of the book? How do you know?
4. Further Reading: Sarah, Plain and Tall is a Newbery Award-winning miniature novel, partly inspired by different aspects of author Patricia MacLachlan’s life. It is the first in a series of books about this family and their life on the prairie (Skylark and Caleb’s Story are the others in the series). Other Patricia MacLachlan favorites include: Arthur, For the Very First Time, The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt, The Truth of Me and More Perfect Than the Moon. Your local library can be a great place to find more books by MacLachlan, or those about prairie life including Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series.