Saturday, December 1, 2012

Sarah, Plain and tall by Patricia MacLachlan

Re-reading books falls into three categories for me. Firstly I re-read books every year to students in my library.  There are some books like The Amazing Adventures of Chilly Billy by Peter Mayle that I have now read hundreds of times.  Secondly there are books I want to read again but somehow cannot find the time. I look at them longingly in my library and hope one day I can pick them up but there are always so many new books to explore.  Thirdly there are books like Sarah, Plain and Tall which I do occasionally re-read just for the shear love of the story.  I do not really have a top ten or top twenty book list but if I did Sarah, Plain and Tall would certainly make the list.

Looking at the publication date of 1985 I imagine I must have read this book when it was first published although I have no real memory of this.  I have tired on a few occasions to read this book aloud to students but the first chapter does make me cry every time.

"What did I look like when I was born?' 'You didn't have any clothes on,' I told him.  'I know that,' he said ... 'And she named me Caleb,' he went on filling in the old familiar story.... 'And Mama handed me to you in the yellow blanket and said ..' He waited for me to finish the story, 'And said ..?' I sighed. 'And Mama said , 'Isn't he beautiful, Anna?' 'And I was,' Caleb finished.  Caleb thought the story was over, and I didn't tell him what I really thought.  He was homely and plain, and he had a terrible holler and a horrid smell.  But these were not the worst of him.  Mama died the next morning. That was the worst thing about Caleb."

Quoting this section from page two of this very famous book I have just noticed the blanket was yellow.  This is significant because when Sarah arrives to join the family and possibly marry Pa she is wearing a yellow hat.  A beautiful memory of Mama is that she sang.  Anna asks Sarah in a letter if she likes to sing.

"Dear Jacob, I will come by train.  I will wear a yellow bonnet. I am plain and tall. Sarah.  ... Tell them I sing..."

I think Sarah, Plain and tall resonates with readers because it has such honesty.  Patricia MacLachlan based this book on a true event in her family history.  There is a movie of this book but I strongly recommend reading this very short novel first.  It only takes about one hour to read right through. If you enjoy Sarah, Plain and Tall you should also read Black-eyed Susan.  I do wonder that I am drawn to these books about life as an early settler in America.  It probably goes back to all the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder I read as a child. I simply devoured those books.  There are four more books in the series about Anna and Caleb.  The cover I have put here is not the same as my copy.  I have the Puffin edition from England.  Here is a very comprehensive set of teaching notes.  I also own a cassette tape of this story read by Glenn Close.  Click these links if you want to read more of the plot or a detailed review.


kinderbooks said...

Reading about Patricia MacLachlan made me think about two of her other books 'Baby' and 'Journey' that I read a long time ago, but loved. I'd love to revisit them. Like Sarah Plain and Tall they are short novels, but so engrossing and do relationships so well. I think they may be out of print. Why are lots of really good things OOP. My list is getting longer!

Momo said...

These two are new titles to me. I will need to investigate. I did like All the Places to love her picture book but I was disappointed by Edwards eyes.