• Happy birthday Steven Kellogg (Johnny Appleseed, Pecos Bill), Ellen Showell (The Trickster Ghost), and Eric Rohmann (My Friend Rabbit).
  • The Erie Canal opens in 1825. Listen to “Low Bridge, Everybody Down”. Read The Amazing Impossible Erie Canal by Cheryl Harness and The Erie Canal by Martha E. Kendall.
  • The Pony Express mail service ends in 1861. Read Pony Express! by Stephen Kroll, illustrated by Dan Andreasen, Black Storm Coming by Diane Lee Wilson, and Whatever Happened to The Pony Express? by Verla Kay, illustrated by Kimberly Bulken Root and Barry Root.
  • It’s Worldwide Howl at the Moon Night. Read Big Bad Wolves at School by Stephen Krensky, illustrated by Brad Sneed and The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood.

October is Family History Month, celebrated by genealogists and family historians who believe in actively searching for information about ancestors. Because of my own family research, I have stood on the Gettysburg battlefield and imagined what my great-grandfather experienced there. I now think about the streets of New York City in an entirely different way—because I know my ancestors, commemorated on some of those street signs, founded and settled New Amsterdam. For children’s book writers, one reason to get a handle on your family history comes from the stories you will find. Our book of the day by Patricia MacLachlan, Sarah, Plain and Tall, began as a story passed down in her family.

Patty MacLachlan had already written many books for children when she crafted this masterpiece for seven- to nine-year-olds. After taking her family to North Dakota to show them the farm where her father was born in a humble sod house, she was inspired to preserve his history. To do this she turned to a family story that her mother had often told about a mail-order bride who went to live on the Plains.

Anna, a young girl, narrates the story set in the nineteenth century about her father, Jacob Witting, a widowed farmer. He places a newspaper ad to entice a wife to come to his prairie home and become a mother for his children. After they exchange a series of letters, Sarah Wheaton leaves Maine to visit Jacob and his family. The tension in the story comes from the children, Anna and her brother Caleb—who grow to love Sarah and long for her to love them in return and stay, rather than go back to Maine. In a spare, economical style, the novel of a mere fifty-eight pages explores the feelings of the children and Sarah’s developing love for all members of the group. Sarah, Plain and Tall celebrates family life and how a cohesive unit can be formed by those not related by blood.

MacLachlan wrote two other books about these characters, Caleb’s Story and Skylark. All were adapted for Hallmark television specials featuring Glenn Close. The book has become a staple of second and third grade classrooms across the country. Now a quarter of a century after its publication, this beautiful story and its evocative language has become part of the literary heritage of American children: “I will come by train. I will wear a yellow bonnet. I am plain and tall. Tell them I sing.”

Here’s a passage from Sarah, Plain and Tall:

I am Sarah Wheaton from Maine, as you will see from my letter, I am answering your advertisement. I have never been married, though I have been asked. I have lived with an older brother, William, who is about to be married. His wife-to-be is young and energetic.

I have always loved to live by the sea, but at this time I feel a move is necessary.


Originally posted October 26, 2010. Updated for .

Tags: Award Winning, History, Newbery, Pioneer
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Sarah, Plain and Tall


  1. Denise Engel says:

    Thank you for this site. You describe the novel as being written in “a spare, economical style” and it surely is, but how powerfully written it is. I first read this novel as an adult after viewing the Hallmark movie. I have recommended it to many people.
    I will be looking forward to your postings

  2. Ron Tedwater says:

    Great work keep it coming

  3. G. Perry says:

    The most perfection between two covers.

  4. brandie m says:

    I love this book. I remember sitting in the library and reading it as a child.

  5. Anita says:

    Brandie: How wonderful that you got to read this as a child.

  6. Cathy Ogren says:

    This is such a wonderful heartwarming story.

  7. Trisha says:

    I love the Sarah series of books. Patricia MacLachlan also wrote a 4th book in the series, “Grandfather’s Dance,” a beautiful and poetic story of a child’s love for his grandfather. If I’m remembering correctly, I think this book was part of one of the Hallmark movies; it starred Jack Palance.

  8. G. Perry says:

    One thing that still amazes me is just how closely matched the Hallmark presentation is to the books. A rare thing.

    I never tire of Anne of Green Gables, or Sarah, PLain and Tall, either from reading, or watching the DVDs.

    Years on, I continue to believe Sarah, Plain and Tall, Skylark and Winter’s End are simply a works of extraordinary literary perfection.

  9. G. Perry says:

    Oh, and like lines from Madeline you go around repeating the rest of your life, you never forget “Tell them I sing”

    Every time I hear that line, it does something quite fine to my soul.

  10. Momo says:

    Even here in Australia Sarah plain and tall touched my heart. The opening scene when Caleb asks about his mama always makes me cry. I also have the audio version.

  11. G. Perry says:

    Years on, and I still feel the same.

    So simple. So simple.

    And amazingly beautiful.

  12. Anita says:

    Gordon: Yes, I am always amazed when I pick this up. Everything, language and story, at the most basic level. And yet so hauntingly beautiful.

  13. Whitney says:

    This is the only school book whose setting was the great, early prairie that I actually enjoyed. (Laura Ingalls Wilder was extra-curricular for me.) :)

  14. Karen Lauber says:

    We noticed in class today that the link for mysteries and thrillers seems to be broken.

    Love this site!

  15. Carol Sibley says:

    This wonderful book helped me appreciate the flat landscape of North Dakota when I first moved here!

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