Patricia MacLachlan's 'Sarah, Plain and Tall' tells the story of a widow who is looking for a new wife and mother for his two children. In her journey to find a family, Sarah learns that home truly is where the heart is.
Sarah, Plain and Tall Summary
Sarah, Plain and Tall is told from the perspective of 12-year-old Anna living on the prairie in the 1800s. Anna lives with her younger brother Caleb and their father Jacob. Their mother died while giving birth to Caleb, though Caleb does not know that. Anna remembers a time when happiness filled their house, filled with their Papa's singing. Anna shares these memories with Caleb, who wishes Papa would sing, too. But Papa does not sing anymore, because he's forgotten the words, he says. Caleb asks Anna to tell him the story of his birth, but Anna leaves out some details, most importantly that she did not like Caleb at first because their mother died after his birth.
Seeing the need for a woman in their house, Jacob places an advertisement in the paper for a new mother and wife. A woman named Sarah Wheaton responds and says she would like to come out for a month to see if it's a good fit. She is from Maine and lives near the sea. She describes herself as 'plain and tall.' Anna and Caleb write to her as well, and hope that she will sing when she comes.
Sarah arrives by train and brings her cat, Seal, as well as gifts for Anna and Caleb. Anna and Caleb are worried she will miss the sea and her family and have so many questions for her. But Sarah likes the farm, the animals, and Anna and Caleb. She sings with them, picks wildflowers, and braids Anna's hair. Sarah tells them stories of the sea, while Anna and Caleb share stories of winters on the prairie.
When summer arrives, Sarah is still with Jacob, Anna, and Caleb. She meets their neighbors, Maggie and Matthew. Maggie is not from the prairie either, and she and Sarah find they have much in common. Sarah confides in Maggie, telling her she misses her brother and Maine, but Maggie reminds her that she will always miss something no matter where she is.
Sarah tells Jacob that she wants to learn to do things around the farm, especially drive a wagon. She tells him she wants to go to town alone, but Anna and Caleb are afraid that it might be because she wants to leave them. Once she has learned, Sarah climbs into the wagon and heads to town. Anna remembers vividly the day her mother died, the wagon taking her away, as well. She is afraid she will never see Sarah again.
But Sarah returns and brings gifts for Anna and Caleb. She tells them that as much as she misses the sea, she would miss them even more if she left. She tells Jacob she wishes to marry him and truly begin a life on the prairie together.
Anna had to grow up fast, with the death of her mother and helping to raise her younger brother. She is much more aware of the feelings of loss and worry than Caleb, and although she is excited to meet Sarah, Anna worries that she will want to stay.
Caleb relies on Anna to tell him stories of their mother and their past. Anna is like a mother to him, especially since he has no memories of his mother. He is excited to meet Sarah, but he, too, worries about her liking them. The most important quality that she has is that she will sing to them.
Sarah is independent and brave, as shown through her long journey alone from Maine to the prairie. She wants a family of her own but is torn between her love of the sea and her love for Jacob, Anna, and Caleb.
Along with his difficult duties of running a farm, Jacob also has the tasks of raising his children. Since his wife died, Jacob has done his best to raise Anna and Caleb and provide a loving home for them. But his spirit is gone, and he recognizes that this is affecting his children, too. He places an ad for not only a wife for him but also for a new mother for his children who will hopefully help bring life back into the house.
After losing his wife from complications birthing Caleb, Jacob's life loses vitality. Caleb and Anna hope for days of music, singing, and happiness on the prairie, like Anna's memories of life before their mother died. Their father, Jacob, places an ad for a new wife and mother, and he receives a response from a woman named Sarah. Sarah travels far to be with them, and though she misses her home and her brother, she learns to love Jacob, Anna, and Caleb even more.