Newbery Book Review

Sarah, Plain and Tall

On the back cover of Sarah, Plain and Tall the New York Times said: “An exquisite, sometimes painfully touching tale.”  I remember having read this as a kid and loving it, AND I remember the Hallmark movies.  Anyone else remember those?  Anyone else agree that they were, “painfully touching?” :)  This book was perfect for me this week because I honestly didn’t have a lot of time to do anything but sleep, eat, work and knit.  I needed to start and finish Lesta’s gift,  finish Annika’s gift and am still attempting to finish Christina’s.  The rush in getting them done is because Lesta is here this weekend and can take them back with her to Colorado.  So, knitting has been my hobby this week even though I’m tired and losing some motivation.  Anyway!  Patricia MacLachlan wrote a short book (numbering 58 pages) and for that I am thankful.

Another, I guess you could call it, blessing about this book is that I had put one on hold at the library but it wouldn’t have gotten to me until later in the week.  So Forrest checked the kids library at his work and found it!  Not only that but it looks like the exact same copy that I read as a kid.  I know you can’t “judge a book by its cover” but I do, pure and simple.  If a book is not aesthetically pleasing to me on the outside I have a tough time getting into it.  That’s not to say that I’ve been pleasantly surprised by ugly-looking books or sorely disappointed by pretty ones.  Needless to say, I was pumped about reading a copy that took me back to my first encounter with Sarah.

She is plain.  And tall.  She loves the sea and everything surrounding it.  She sings and swims in cow ponds and loves animals.  She draws and she laughs.  Both Anna and Caleb fall in love with Sarah from the first mention of her when their Papa reads the letter from her saying she saw his ad in the newspaper for a wife and is possibly interested.  (The wife and mother of this little family had died after having Caleb.)  All three of them, Papa, Anna, and Caleb write letters to her asking her questions about what she is like and she in turn responds with straight forward answers tinged with spunk.  (In fact, if I could tweak the title at all I’d probably call it: Sarah, Plain, Tall and Spunky.)  Even when she comes for a month on a sort of trial basis the kids, and Papa too, get more and more attached…and more and more worried.  Caleb is the voice of their worry as he’s always asking Anna or Papa: will she stay? is she too lonely for the sea?  Or expressing his excitement when Sarah makes statements of ownership regarding their farm or the house, translating it to mean she’s planning on staying.  All of this worry and uncertainty climaxes when Sarah decided to take the wagon in to town by herself and won’t tell them what she’s doing.  As a reader you experience the tension of this family that has already experienced deep loss as they wait to find out: will she come back and stay with us or will she leave forever?  In some ways it is kind of comical how a small book with large print and short sentences can truly evoke such painful emotion.  On the one hand I found myself rooting for Sarah to stay with the family and on the other hand I felt her pain as she longed for her home that was comfortable and familiar.  I’m probably feeling that tension because sometimes my heart hurts that I live so far away from the place I still call home.  I love the home that Forrest and I have and are creating but, like all of us, my heart hurts from the loss of family and friends that no longer live close by.  In fact, this week I realized just how lonely I am for the people who are so dear to my heart that I just don’t get to see as often as I’d like.  As the holiday’s come upon us I wish that everyone I’ve ever called friend or family could be crammed into my small house.  One evening this week I came downstairs and told Forrest I was lonely because so many of my friends have either moved or our lives are too busy to even see each other anymore.  I feel like I’ve lost touch with so many and that just makes me kind of ache all over.  And all of this from a kid’s book.  I think this is the first post that I’ve actually cried while writing it.  First time for everything I guess.

But don’t despair.  (I tell myself and you.)  With the knowledge of how deeply I care about the people in my life comes the impetus to do something about it.  To make a phone call, send a text, drive a car, send a pigeon!  You get the idea.

And Sarah stays.  It’s Caleb who finally sees the cloud of dust indicating the wagon pulling up.  (this got me all choked up too.)

“Papa took the reins and Sarah climbed down from the wagon. Caleb burst into tears.  “Seal was very worried!” he cried.  (hey, it’s me.  I forgot to tell you that Seal is Sarah’s cat.)  Sarah put her arms around him, and he wailed into her dress.  “And the house is too small, we thought!  And I am loud and pesky!”  Sarah looked at Papa and me over Caleb’s head.  “We thought you might be thinking of leaving us,” I told her.  “Because you miss the sea.”  Sarah smiled.  “No,” she said.  “I will always miss my old home, but the truth of it is I would miss you more” (MacLachlan, 56-57).

Oh gosh. All I can say is: painfully touching.

Till next time…


4 thoughts on “Sarah, Plain and Tall

  1. oh gosh, indeed. What a precious book! I wish, too, that everyone you love could all cram into your little cottage this Christmas. Thanks for telling us about this simple and sweet book. And oddly enough, I blogged about a Caleb today, too.

  2. Oh my old (not by age – you’re still a young woman – I’m the one that just turned…wait for it…….30!) my dear old friend!

    Your post touched me tonight. I think my turning of 30 this year has made me a tad more sentimental than usual (if that is really even possible.) It has been years since I have thought of tall, plain Sarah. And I truly understand your feelings. I love my home. The thought that we may not be able to stay here in our house is sad to me because it is the first house that my husband and I have shared, the first house we have lived in as a family with our children. God is leading and directing and who knows if we will stay or go, but the thing is that I miss so many friends and so much of the excitement and fun of days gone by and at the same time, I wouldn’t want to go back. I am where I am supposed to be. And so, of course, are you. God is good! :-)

    Love you!

  3. Okay, this one is a first at making me teary. My heart aches too…I love the memories of having you and Andrew home. The Christmas’s spent baking cookies. Decorating the tree. Getting ready for Mimi who would stay for a month as well as the times that we had Nana and Bop-bop. Such precious memories that at times my heart can’t breathe for fear that one might slip out of my memory’s reach. Then I think of you and Forrest and the extended family that you now have and I love that too. Being with you two causes anyone to fall in love with love. So it’s more memories to fill our hearts.

    We can’t wait to be two of the people who get to cram into your yellow cottage this Christmas. New traditions and memories…here we come!!!!

    Tell Fran that she did an excellent job making the book seem sweet and sad. :)

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