1986: Sarah, Plain and Tall (A Plain Plains Tale)

VERDICT: Treasure

Laurinda’s Rating: 3.5/5

Sarah, Plain and Tall, the 1986 Newbery Medal Winner, is a short, sweet story about two kids wishing for a new mother and the woman who comes to fulfill that role. Caleb and Anna live out on the plains; they lost their mother to childbirth, the day after Caleb was born. Caleb loves hearing about his mother, and both children miss her, particularly the songs she used to sing.

One day, their father Jacob tells them that he placed an advertisement in the paper for a bride, and Sarah from Maine replied; after some correspondence, she comes out to visit, telling the kids that “I will wear a yellow bonnet. I am plain and tall.” Sarah is a strong-willed but kind woman who quickly adjusts to farm life, insisting that she be taught how to plow and how to drive a wagon. She decides to marry Jacob. Everyone is overjoyed.

This is a very simple story meant for elementary school students. Scholastic suggests this for 3rd grade and up, but I actually think that many kids younger than that could tackle it. There aren’t any big words or hard concepts to trip them up. My feelings are somewhat mixed. Because it’s aimed at young readers, the plot and character development are both basic: kid wants, and gets, a mother. The only tension is whether Sarah will stay or go, and even that isn’t played up for the suspense. The best fiction for this age groups has a special something – whether it’s humour, stronger sentiment, or shining character development – that elevates it beyond a simple tale. Sarah, Plain and Tall, while a quick read and enjoyable for what it is, lacks that vital spark. I’d recommend this for younger kids who are fans of historical fiction. Most adults and older kids can skip this Newbery entry.

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