Sarah, Plain and Tall-A Novel About Family
I taught elementary school for twelve years, nine of them as a third grade teacher. In 1991, I was introduced to the wonderful and heartfelt children’s novel, Sarah, Plain and Tall. Written by Patricia MacLachlan, this short, yet powerful novel, tells the tale of how the Witting family and Sarah meet and fall in love. Ms. MacLachlan won the 1986 Newberry Award for this story.
The characters in Sarah, Plain and Tall came to life as a Hallmark Presentation in 1991. I remember taping the movie as I watched Glenn Close and Christopher Walken breathe life into Sarah and Jacob (in fact, I still have that VHS tape!). My students loved the book and as a reward for studying it, we watched the movie with the other third grade classes.
The movie was so beloved by viewers, that Ms. MacLachlan went on to write four more books in the series.
What is the Newberry Award?
Named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery, this honor is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.
A Summary of Sarah, Plain and Tall
Sarah, Plain and Tall takes place on a farm in Kansas in 1910. It is told through the eyes of nine year old Anna, whose mother died several years earlier while giving birth to her brother, Caleb. Papa used to sing, but has not since Mama died. Running the farm and raising two young children is too much for Anna’s father, Jacob.
Jacob places an advertisement in the newspaper for a wife, and Sarah Wheaton, a spinster who lives by the ocean in Maine, responds. She writes back that she will travel to them by train and stay for one month to see how it works out.
Sarah is very homesick for Maine. She misses the ocean, as there is no flowing water to wake up by in landlocked Kansas. She misses her favorite flowers, which are not the ones that grow in Kansas. She misses her brother and her three aunts, with whom she lives.
Later in the story, Sarah decides it is time to go into town alone. Anna and Caleb fear she will never return because of all that she longs for. But she does come back, because no matter how much she misses Maine, she would miss the children and Jacob even more.
The Other Books in the Sarah, Plain and Tall Series
There are four more novels about Sarah, Jacob, Anna, Caleb and the others who become part of the family. These stories will be loved as much as the first one.
In the second book, entitled Skylark, Sarah takes Anna and Caleb to meet her three aunts in Maine, while Jacob deals with all of the problems o the farm during a drought. Will she want to return to Kansas after returning to her first home?
Caleb’s Story, the third book in the series, is told through Caleb’s eyes. We meet Grandpa, Jacob’s father, and little sister, Cassie. Can the pain of the past ever be forgiven?
More Perfect Than the Moon is the title of the fourth book. The family journal has been passed on to Cassie in this fourth book in the series. She is eight and worried about the new baby Sarah is having. Will it be a wonderful surprise?
The fifth and final book of the Sarah, Plain and Tall series, Grandfather’s Dance Anna is getting married and the relatives are flocking to Kansas for the big day. At the same time, Grandpa’s health is failing. This gentle story about the loss of a grandparent is a poignant way to end the series.
Why Use Free Online Teacher Resources?
When I started teaching in 1987, the internet did not exist. In 2002, when I left public school teaching, the internet was still in it’s infancy as a teacher’s resource. There were only a few websites devoted to teaching elementary school subjects. I had to rely on whatever my local teacher store had in stock, hope another teacher in a different building would share her resources, or create my own unit. Most of the time, I created my own materials.
With all of the free online teacher resources, educators do not have to spend time developing their own units of study. There are many teacher websites with all kinds of information, including materials to help teach Sarah, Plain and Tall.
Below is a list of websites that have ideas to help you teach this wonderful novel.
Online Teacher Resources for Sarah, Plain and Tall
Here you will find discussion questions and activities.
This site has pre-reading ans post reading activities.
Sarah Plain and Tall Crossword Puzzle. This form will help you make your own custom crossword puzzles using your own clues and words. Completely free and no registration needed.
Free printable worksheets for teachers.
Free presentations for teachers and students in a PowerPoint format.
Caleb and Anna have been living without a mother for a long time. In fact, Caleb doesn’t even remember Mama, who died a day after he was born. Anna tells him that Papa and Mama sang every day, and now Papa doesn’t sing at all. Find out more at Scholastic.
A forum thread with lots of helpful tips.
Featured image from pixabay.com and edited by the author in picmonkey.com