Sarah, Plain And Tall – Patricia MacLachlan
Set in the late nineteenth century and told from young Anna's point-of-view, Sarah, Plain and Tall tells the story of how Sarah Elisabeth Wheaton comes from Maine to the prairie to answer Papa's advertisement for a wife and mother. Before Sarah arrives, Anna and her younger brother Caleb wait and wonder. Will Sarah be nice? Will she sing? Will she stay?
Review: If you’ve ever taken a children’s literature class, chances are you’ve seen this book. If you’ve taken a lot of children literature classes, you’ve probably seen this book more than once. It’s a beloved classic. I’ve heard so much about it that I decided it was time for me to read it.
My reaction upon finishing it: “Um . . . okay?”
Sarah, Plain and Tall is a short chapter book that is set in the 1800s and narrated by a child named Anna. Anna’s mother died giving birth to Anna’s brother, Caleb. One day, their father places an ad in a national newspaper in the hopes of finding a new wife and mother for his children. After exchanging a few letters with the family, Sarah comes from Maine to live with them. Anna and Caleb love her instantly, but they worry that she’ll leave them like their birth mother did.
“I will come by train. I will wear a yellow bonnet. I am plain and tall.” – Sarah, Plain and Tall
For me, this book was a case of expectations being much different from reality. I’ve been hearing so much about this story for so many years that I had high expectations. The writing is great, but I thought there would be more to the plot.
This is one of those books where you’re waiting and waiting for something to happen, but “something” never shows up. Sarah and Papa basically meet through the 1800s version of online dating. They put ads in papers, write a few letters to each other, then she moves across the country to be with him. I expected this transition to be more difficult. Sarah is homesick, but that’s about it. I thought there would be some tension, or awkwardness, or discussion of family roles, or adjustment issues as Sarah goes from childless to the mother of two children. I thought we’d find out what exactly motivated Sarah to leave everything behind and become a mother to a family she’s never met. Nope. Everything happens easily, the adults don’t have any emotional baggage, and everyone is thrilled with the changes.
The suspense in the story comes from Anna worrying that Sarah will leave. The best part of the book is how realistically the author captures Anna’s grief for her mother and fear of being abandoned by Sarah. Anna’s emotions are subtle, but the author trusts that young readers will notice them. There’s nothing heavy-handed about this book. The author knows that kids are smart and don’t need to be beat over the head with a moral.
For an adult, this is a quick read. I got through it in about an hour. I enjoyed it, but I was expecting more action.