A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Readers of this classic short novel will learn about farm life in the midwestern United States during the 19th century, including transportation, diet, gender roles, and child rearing. They'll also encounter differences between the landscape of the American prairie and the East Coast.
There's always something to miss, but family makes a home.
Positive Role Models
Sarah sets an example of independence and self-sufficiency (within the confines of 19th-century gender roles) when she wants to be able to transport herself to town alone and insists on helping repair the leaky roof. She also models kindness to all creatures with her love of the animals and children. The character sends another subtle message: that a woman's goodness and worthiness of love and family don't hinge on physical beauty.
Violence & Scariness
A mother has died after childbirth. A lamb dies, and Sarah shoos the turkey buzzards away before they can eat it.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Sarah and Jacob display mild physical affection, including one kiss, and once Jacob puts his arm around her.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Patricia MacLachlan's Newbery Medal-winning novel Sarah, Plain and Tall -- set in the rural Midwestern prairie during the 19th century -- is the simple story of a widower called Jacob; his children, Anna and Caleb; and Sarah, the woman from Maine who answers Jacob's newspaper ad for a wife. After letters are exchanged between father, children, and Sarah, Sarah journeys from the east coast to their farm to get to know them and decide whether she'll marry Jacob and join the family. The story highlights everyday life on a farm, the children's growing attachment to Sarah, and their wariness that she will find their home too small or too big a change and decide to return to Maine. There's very mild violence in the story itself (a lamb dies), though readers learn that the children's mother died before the book begins. The main source of tension is the children's yearning for a mother and their uncertainty about whether Sarah will choose to stay.
Is It Any Good?
Sarah, Plain and Tall showcases author Patricia MacLachlan's immense talents. She portrays family life in such simple language and heartwarming scenes, readers almost don't realize the depth of feeling that's building -- until we do. Anna and Caleb's longing for a mother is below the surface of every question they ask and every move they make, as they get to know Sarah and wonder what she will decide.
This is a beautiful and meaningful story for kids who enjoy family-centered books. It also can be a great read-aloud to share even with kids who prefer more action-packed fiction; sometimes kids need to be led a bit to perceive the impact of a book that seems this quiet.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.