42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on January 29, 2002
Caleb and Annie are two young children who have had no mother for several years. Then one day, Sarah, a lady from Maine, answers an advertisement their father, Jacob, put in a newspaper, giving new hope to the family of three. Will she be the one to fill the emptiness in their hearts and the silence in their home, at last?
Some adjustments _will_ have to be made first. Sarah has to get used to living away from the ocean that she has known and loved all her life. Jacob has to get used to having a headstrong wife who is just as good at carpentry as he is. The children have to get used to a new and unorthodox mother. Yet their hope that everything will work out always shines through.
"Sarah, Plain and Tall" is a story about people learning to live together and become a family simply because they've grown to love each other. It is also about seeing both new things with old eyes and old things with new eyes. The reader will enjoy this short, joy-filled period in the lives of these characters, whether they are learning how to swim, sliding down haystacks, or tossing cut hair to birds.
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.
56 of 61 people found the following review helpful
on April 19, 2000
As I began to read Patricia McLachlan's Sarah, Plain and Tall Iwas instantly thrust into a time machine that took me back to asimpler time and place. A time of farms and wagons pulled byhorses. A time where there were no such things as computers, the Internet or any of the other distractions that we have today. This is how the Witting family lives their lives. Jacob is the father, Anna the older sister and Caleb, the youngest child. Anna and Caleb's mother died the day after she had Caleb and their father hasn't been the same since. Jacob puts an ad in the paper to find a wife and gets a response from Sarah from Maine. This book is a history lesson in disguise. I realize that all historical fiction is has an underlying history lesson, but this book in and its characters are very convincing. The lessons that the reader will learn are valuable and well taught. Sarah Plain and Tall takes place in 1910 and anyone who reads this book will learn about how people lived their life during this time. The book has many pieces of historical information. For example, it talks about how Sarah was wore very plain clothes, made by herself. It talked about how they had to use a plow pulled by a donkey to turn the fields. In one scene, a devastating storm blows through, and the Wittings must go into the barn to keep safe, but they also have to keep the animals safe. This depicts what a large role farm animals played in the livelihood of families during the early 1900's. The book also talks of how the children had to do real chores around the farm to keep it running smoothly. For example, they have to get up and help milk the cows, feed the animals and sometimes house maintenance. All of these are accurate depictions of life on a farm. Jan Susina's article, "American Girls Collection: Barbies with a Sense of History", argues that this series of books uses a nine-year-old girl to teach other girls about American history. Sarah, Plain and Tall is done in the same style of the books in the American Girl's Collection. It gives children a lesson in history, but it is hidden among an interesting story with adventure, drama and comedy. I think that this fact adds to the value of both of the books. If authors can make books that interest children and teach them something about their history, then they are truly effective authors. I think the audience intended for this book needs to be a little more mature than most of the other books we've looked at this semester. This book allows the children to use their imagination. They can imagine what Sarah looks like, how plain she really is. They can see the plows and the farm animals. Being able to see things in their head is a valuable skill for a child to have. I think that this book definitely gives children a glimpse into the past, like stepping onto a time machine. It definitely had more mature subject matter such as death of a parent, finding a new mate for the father figure and children's feelings of abandonment. Whatever the case, Sarah, Plain and Tall is a story for the ages which will be read for years to come.
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on April 19, 2001
Love Makes a Family
Sarah, Plain and Tall, is about a young girl named Anna who tells a love story about how her small family found their missing link to happiness. Anna's mother died at the birth of Caleb, Anna's younger brother. Since the death of her mother things have not seemed right around the prairie, there has been a longing for a mother figure. In the times of covered wagons and tumble weed, a man could write off for a mail order bride; which is what Jacob, Anna's father did. In response a young woman from Maine, named Sarah, showed up on the prairie in a yellow bonnet, she was plain and tall. Instantly the family fell in love with Sarah, she fit the roll of mother, nurturer, lover, and partner. Sarah completed the circle of love that made the family. Sarah, Plain and Tall is a love story, but not your typical love story. It is about the love that a young girl and her family crave for a mother. This story shows the importance of a female roll model in a family. Even though the family was fine and being taken care of, each other family members were missing something. Anna wanted someone to braid her hair, Caleb wanted someone to sing like his mother did, and Jacob wanted a partner to help him with raising his family and to give him affection. This is a love story, but a most unusual one. The structure is strong,and the characters firmly established. (Sutherland) This book shows the effect on how a mother type role is needed in the stability of a family. Once Sarah arrived, things in the family changed. Flowers were being hung up, children were taken care of, haircuts were given, and meals were always prepared. Everyone in the family became happy, and realized on what they had been missing out on since the death of their mother. Although, Sarah missed Maine but she herself found here roll to be satisfying. Sarah's character is a strong independent woman who is needed by three people who crave caring. A woman automatically has the instinct to be a mother. Sarah never realized hers until she found this family. Sarah had a simple life in Maine. She lived with her brother, who was about to be married. Sarah had never really had the opportunity to be needed. In Anna's family Sarah was needed and was loved. She became a mother and a partner over night; she fell in love with the family and her new life. " `We thought you might be thinking of leaving us,' I told her. `Because you miss the sea.' Sarah smiled. `No,' she said. `I will always miss my old home, but the truth of it is I would miss you more.'" The family was completed with Sarah in it, and Sarah's life was completed with the family in it. This book shows that no matter how complete a family is; a mother's love can make the family stable and secure. We all have voids in our lives, we just never know what they are until they are filled.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on January 7, 2004
The book of the same title was incredibly thin but packed such a powerful punch that it's no wonder it was made into a movie, and it's not at all cheesy. Set in 1910, it's the story of the Kansas frontier, and of Sarah, a spinster schoolteacher from Maine who answered a newspaper ad placed by a widower seeking a wife to mother his children. Watching the wariness with which all the people approach each other and the lonely situation is emotional. Sarah, of completely different background, soon wins over the sad little household, and slowly a certain and very special kind of love develops.
Perfect for family viewing, okay for kids of all ages.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on June 3, 2000
During the days of homesteading on the American plains, it was not unusual for women to die in childbirth. Caleb and Anna lost their mother to the birth of her second child.The two children yearn for a mother while their father, Jacob, needs a woman to care for his children and home. This is the reason why Jacob advertises for a mail-order bride. Sarah lives on the beautiful Maine coast. She has never married, so when she sees the ad, she answers, describing herself as plain and tall. The children anxiously await Sarah's arrival. Her intention is to investigate the family and the plains before making a committment. She is quiet and matter-of-fact, but quickly captures the hearts of the two children. They worry she does not want to stay, their father seems to be too impatient, and Sarah learns to drive the buggy. When she goes into town, the children are afraid that Sarah, who misses the Maine seashore, is gone for good. This is a lovely story about the need for love, while teaching the reader about life in the midwest during the previous two centuries. Gentle and inspiring.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
"Sarah, Plain and Tall," by Patricia MacLachlan, received the 1986 Newbery Medal, a distinguished honor in the world of literature for young people. The honor was well deserved. "Sarah" is a warm, moving story.
"Sarah" is a story told in the first-person by Anna, a young farm girl who lives with her widowed father and younger brother, Caleb. Anna's father sends by mail for a prospective new wife: Sarah, a woman from the Maine seacoast. As the story unfolds, Sarah arrives on the farm and gets to know the family.
MacLachlan writes in a simple but poetic style that expertly conveys the emotions of her characters. MacLachlan is wonderful at catching the details of farm life, which the reader discovers along with Sarah. I also like the way MacLachlan evokes the Maine coastal landscape through Sarah's dialogue. There is a subtle suspense to the story: will Sarah decide to stay and become a part of the story?
I won't give away the ending. But I will say that "Sara" is a gentle and compassionate book for readers of all ages.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on June 22, 1999
Sarah grew up with the sea by her side. It is so much a part of her that when she has to leave it, she is deeply saddened. This is something I can relate to. I grew up in Cornwall, England, and the one thing I would say I miss most of all is being able to go down to the rocks when I feel sad, and watch the salt water slap against the granite. It is so calming. Sarah is obviously upset throughout the book, but deals with her homesickness by seeking similarities with the sea. She compares the ripples as the wind blows past the hillocks of wheat to the rolling waves of the ocean. Seeking similarities, and connections is a basic and reassuring trait of human beings. The writer cleverly intertwines the three strands of the story, the Mother's story, the family's and Sarah's, mixing the third person narrative with the letters. The descriptive language is both beautiful and soothing. We see the story from all sides, and so can contrast the isolation Sarah felt in the beginning with feelings of the children, who want nothing more than to see their father happy. We can see that there are strains on everyone, but that each of them finds a way of dealing with it. In a sense the children's upheavals at loosing their mother and the introduction of a stepmother, are the harshest, but they seem to manage to cope. Looking at Sarah's progression through the book, you can see how she moves from feeling like an outsider, to discovering a way of coping with her feelings, and we see her starting to feel happy again. This is a book which deal in themes that are common to many people. Loneliness, feeling left out, being homesick. The writer deals with these and other themes in a light hearted manner, making this a thoroughly readable and enjoyable book.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 27, 2000
This book is about a young girl who lives on a farm with her father and brother.The girls mom died when her brother was born. The Father wrote an ad in the paper asking for a wife. Sarah repyed to the ad. She exchanged lettles to everyone in the family.After a while, she said she would be coming by train and she would be waring a yellow bonnet. She said she would stay for a month to see if she liked it there.She had a lot of fun that month, but she missed the sea in Maine. She brought her sea shells and her cat named seal. She named her that because she was gray. You'll have to find out for your-self if Sarah stays, and the trails they overcome in the month.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 1999
This is the classic story of two children on a farm in the West whose Father advertises for a mail-order bride, Sarah of Maine. Sarah leaves the seacoast that she loves to travel to this new home. This short novel won the 1986 Newbery Medal for best contribution to American children's literature and it has always been popular. It was even made into a film for television starring Glenn Close. The story is based on a true event in the history of the author's family. The book gives children insight to life on a homestead and the importance that homesteaders had in having an intact family.
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
The Amazon.com rating system is severely flawed. This book deserves 4 and 1/2 stars, but no such rating exists. Just the same, "Sarah, Plain and Tall" is a short sweet story. Some have criticized MacLachlan's unrealistic depiction of a mail order bride that has a say in whether she stays or returns to her hometown. Arguments have been made that this depiction is not historically accurate and that women did not have such choices in the pioneer days of early America. I am willing to point out that the book itself is a little more complex. Though told with an adult sensibility, the primary eyes and ears of this tale are those of small children. To them, everything depends on whether or not Sarah stays. It is worth noting that Sarah herself never says that she is "deciding" on whether or not she is staying. Nor does the father offer any sort of worry or concern along those lines (unless you count his initial reluctance to teach Sarah how to drive a carriage). My own personal theory is that this idea is solely in the heads of the children. The fact that Sarah does not immediately marry their father does throw this interpretation into a little confusion, but it's far easier to believe that Sarah "does things her way" and wants to wait a little while before marrying someone she doesn't know, rather than believe she would have any real choice in the matter.
I have been told that boys would never voluntarily read this book on their own because it is (horrors) pink. Furthermore, it has a girl's name in the title. And admittedly such things would be highly suspect to most (not all) little boys. Just the same, I believe boys will get just as much out of this story as girls would. I recommend "Sarah, Plain and Tall" to any child that is into stories of orphan children finding a home. Though a different reading level, it wouldn't pair badly with "Pictures of Hollis Woods" or even "Bud, Not Buddy". Alternatively, it would also go well with homestead stories like the Little House books or "Caddie Woodlawn". Short simple chapters make it a great read aloud tale for the younger set. Enjoy!