When I was a child, I loved Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan, but I could not, now, recall just why. When my baby girl was overtired and needed to calm down the other day, I saw this book on the shelf, pulled it off, and started reading it to her outloud. After a chapter or two, baby Strawberry was asleep (finally!) and I simply had to finish reading the book. Just as my memories served, it is a gentle, sweet, and love-filled book. I felt myself become emotional as I read it, because MacLachlan does such a lovely job of describing things: she shows us the world of Caleb and Anna.
Sarah, Plain and Tall is about a lonely family in the prairie that lacks a mother. Caleb and Anna are always trying to recall their mother, who died when Caleb was born. Their father no longer sings. They know he is lonely, and they miss the sweetness of a woman’s touch in their home. When their father writes an advertisement for a woman to come and marry him (essentially, a personal ad in a newspaper), Sarah, a plain and tall woman living within view of the sea, responds. She comes to their prairie to meet and court him, and Caleb and Anna find that they already love her dearly. Her influence is felt in their prairie home, and the children worry that her desire to be near the sea will send her away again.
As MacLachlan writes about the prairie contrasted with the sea of Sarah’s home, she writes passionately. There are many things to love, and I personally love how we, as readers, are drawn in to Sarah’s sadness as well as Caleb and Anna’s. We feel along with them all how poignantly they miss the pretty things: for Sarah, the sea; for Caleb and Anna, the joy that comes from singing as you work and gathering together at meals, and so forth. The prose in Sarah, Plain and Tall is simply gorgeous.
Although I began reading this book as a way to soothe my crying and tired daughter, I finished reading it once again in love with the emotional concepts it explores and the gorgeous illustrations the prose creates. Sarah, Plain and Tall is still a wonderful book I’d highly recommend to adult and child alike.