Sarah, Plain and Tall

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Sarah, Plain and Tall
Drawing of a girl watching a woman cut a boy's hair
First hardcover edition
Author Patricia MacLachlan
Country United States
Language English
Genre Children's novel
Publisher Harper & Row
Publication date
April, 1985
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 58
ISBN 0-06-024102-0
OCLC 11372082
LC Class PZ7.M2225 Sar 1985
Followed by Skylark

Sarah, Plain and Tall is a children's book written by Patricia MacLachlan, and the winner of the 1986 Newbery Medal, the 1986 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction and the 1986 Golden Kite Award. It explores themes of loneliness, abandonment, and coping with change.

Sarah, Plain and Tall was followed by four more books exploring the Witting family after Sarah's arrival: Skylark; Caleb's Story; More Perfect Than the Moon; and Grandfather's Dance. The first three books — Sarah, Plain and Tall; Skylark; and Caleb's Story — were the basis for three television movies: Sarah, Plain and Tall; Skylark; and Sarah, Plain and Tall: Winter's End. The screenplay for each movie was written by MacLachlan. All three movies, starring Glenn Close and Christopher Walken, have the same actors playing the roles of Sarah, Jacob, Anna, and Caleb.

Plot Overview[edit]

Set in the western United States during the late 19th century, Jacob Witting, a widowed farmer who is still saddened by the death of his wife during childbirth several years earlier, finds that the task of taking care of his farm and two children, Anna and Caleb, is too difficult to handle alone. He writes an ad in the newspaper for a mail-order bride. Sarah Wheaton, from Maine, answers his ad and travels out to become his wife.

While Anna is initially apprehensive about Sarah as she still has memories of her late mother, Caleb is excited and deeply hopes that Sarah will stay. When Sarah arrives conditionally for one month, Anna notices that Sarah is lonely and misses the sea. Stubborn and persistent, Sarah gradually wins over Jacob with her insistence on learning and helping out with farm tasks. The Wittings become attached to her, though Caleb constantly worries that their home is not enough for Sarah and that she misses the sea. When Sarah goes to town by wagon on her own, Anna tries to reassure Caleb that Sarah will return, though she secretly fears that Sarah will not. The family is overjoyed when Sarah returns by nightfall. Sarah admits that while she misses the sea, she would miss the Wittings more if she left them. Anna reveals that Jacob and Sarah married soon afterward.

Stage adaptation[edit]

The story was turned into a one-act children's musical and produced by TheatreWorks USA. The score is by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin. It ran Off-Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Theatre during the summer of 2002, with a cast that included Becca Ayers as Sarah, and John Lloyd Young as Caleb.[1] It was brought back to New York in 2004, with a sold-out three-week run off-Broadway. It also ran at the O’Neill Theater Center, Waterford, Connecticut, in August 2003, with direction by Joe Calarco and featuring Kaitlin Hopkins.[2]


  1. ^ Van Gelder, Lawrence."Theater Review: The Pain of Loss, Assuaged by a Fresh Face"The New York Times, July 18, 2002
  2. ^ Hernandez, Ernio."New Duncan Sheik and Laurence O'Keefe Musicals Play at CT's O’Neill Center, Aug. 2-10", August 2, 2003

External links[edit]

Preceded by
The Hero and the Crown
Newbery Medal recipient
Succeeded by
The Whipping Boy