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Book Review

Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in the “Sarah, Plain and Tall” series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Anna Witting and her younger brother, Caleb, live on a midwestern homestead with their papa, Jacob. Their mother died the day after Caleb was born. Some years have passed, but Papa still longs for help, companionship and a mother for his children. A woman named Sarah Wheaton from Maine sees and answers his ad for a mail-order bride.

Papa shares Sarah’s first letter with the intrigued children. She says she has always loved living by the sea but might consider a change now that the brother she lives with is getting married. Papa and the children begin corresponding with Sarah. The kids are especially pleased to hear she sings the way their mother did.

In the spring, Sarah comes for a month’s visit. She brings her cat, Seal, and gifts of seashells. She is plain and tall, as she indicated in her letters. But they soon discover she is cheerful, spirited and adventurous, too. She teaches the family new songs. They slide down a hay dune that mirrors the sand dunes she loved in her childhood. Sarah and the children exchange questions about their experiences as Sarah gets a taste of pioneer life.

The children grow to adore Sarah, but they watch her closely for signs she won’t stay. They know she misses the sea and her family. She draws sketches of the farm, but something seems to be missing from them. The kids also overhear Sarah talking with a neighbor about missing home. The neighbor understands, but she reminds Sarah there is always something to miss, no matter where you are. The neighbor brings flowers to plant, and Papa gets Sarah some chickens.

Sarah asks to learn how to ride a horse and drive a buggy. She helps Papa fix the roof just before a big storm that drives the family and animals into the barn overnight. Papa teaches Sarah to drive, but the children are afraid. They worry she’s going into town alone to buy a return ticket to Maine.

The day she goes to town, they hide their tears and spend anxious hours waiting for her. She returns with colored pencils, so she can bring the colors of the sea to the new place she has decided to call home. Anna looks forward to a summer wedding and imagines all the days and years ahead with her family.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems


Authority Roles

Papa advertises for a bride so his children can have a mother. He is playful and sings with them and Sarah. Sarah pays close attention to the children, playing with them, protecting them and asking questions.





Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

You can request a review of a title you can't find at reviewrequests@family.org.

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.



Readability Age Range

9 to 14


Patricia MacLachlan






Record Label



Charlotte Zolotow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers


On Video

Year Published



Newbery Medal, 1986; Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, 1986 and others


We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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