Sarah Plain and Tall written by, Patricia MacLachlan was 1985’s Newbery award-winning junior novel and is this month’s chosen Centennial Book Club Read. It is a short story, so if you think you don’t have time to read it before the book club meets next Tuesday, you still do! It is also a novel young readers will love since it is written from the perspective of Anna, a girl growing up during the late nineteenth century in western United States.
Anna’s mother died from complications following the birth of her little brother Caleb. The children are worried about their father after noticing he doesn’t sing anymore. Thinking about life in the late 1800s there definitely weren’t entertainment choices for kids then that there are now, and Papa’s singing was an enjoyment they missed. It was also nice to note that these children were sensitive to their father’s lonely feelings and wanted him to be happy again. In fact when he tells the children they will soon have a visit from a woman named Sarah, and that he was thinking she might like to stay as his new wife … their new mother … they are excited and supportive of his decision to solicit a mail-order bride. Back then it was not uncommon for settlers of the Western frontier to “order” brides from more populated Eastern states.
MacLachlan’s “family of choice” story is simple, yet at the same time beautifully described in almost a lyrical way. Sarah’s leap of faith, to answer Papa’s ad, comes in part because the brother who she is living with will soon marry, and she doesn’t want her governance of the household interfering with ideas his new bride might have. Sarah refers to herself as plain and tall and points out that she will bring her cat along. The children write her with curious questions of their own, things that Papa most likely wouldn’t think to ask. When Sarah arrives it is understood that she is here on a trial basis and of course the children are cautious to not do anything that might run her off. They learn all about the seacoast that Sarah misses and she learns to plow and raise chickens. The story was touching to me in that it showed how the new family bonded and love grew with daily tasks. I also enjoyed the historical setting and how life seemed simpler and easier, even without the conveniences of today.
The Centennial Book Club is open to all, and with this novel especially to younger readers. It would be great to hear a child’s perspective on a story told from a child’s perspective. Join the discussion at 6:00 p.m. in Hotel Tavern on September 22, and save the date for a library matinee showing of the movie based off the book at 2:00 p.m. on September 26.