Study Guide

Sarah, Plain and Tall

By Patricia MacLachlan

Sarah, Plain and Tall Introduction

These days, people have all kinds of Internet resources to help them meet singles in their area—Tinder, OkCupid, and even Craigslist for the brave at heart. But in Patricia MacLachlan's book, Sarah, Plain and Tall, the main character finds her new husband through a rather strange method: by answering a newspaper ad from a Midwestern farmer.

Say what?

The story follows the Witting family—Jacob and his children, Anna and Caleb—who are excited for a woman named Sarah to join their farm. She's answered Jacob's ad in the newspaper for a new wife, and the kids are really hoping she'll want to stay with them forever once she comes. Through the trial period with Sarah, the book explores how strangers can become family and what it means to leave behind everything you've known to start over again.

The Witting family and Sarah might be scoping each other out to see if they're all a good fit, but when it comes to Sarah, Plain and Tall, the verdict is in: This book's a big deal in the world of children's lit. Published in 1985, in 1986, it won a Newbery Medal and a Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction for Children (source).

Yep, Sarah, Plain and Tall is a big cheese.

Plus, if you like this read, there's plenty more where that came from. In fact, there are five books in the series: Sarah, Plain and Tall; Skylark; Caleb's Story; More Perfect Than the Moon; and Grandfather's Dance.

So dust off your work boots and get ready for Sarah, Plain and Tall to transport you to a long-ago time.

What is Sarah, Plain and Tall About and Why Should I Care?

True story: dealing with family issues and big changes is never easy. It isn't now, it won't be in the future, and it wasn't in the past. Struggles with family and change are timeless.

So, while Sarah, Plain and Tall might take place on a farm in the 1800s, this doesn't mean the story isn't relevant to modern day readers. There's a reason why the book continues to be taught in schools so many years after first being published: The fact of the matter is that once you take away the particular setting and time period, Sarah, Plain and Tall is a story about a family coming together and creating a comfortable, loving home together—and that's something anyone can relate to. Families come in all different shapes and sizes, and it's up to the people within them to make sure there's lots of love and caring to go around.

Even though the Witting family comes together in their own strange way, they still manage to make a cozy and wonderful home life—yes, even with a mail order bride from Maine. It's important to have people in your life who care about you and support you, and there are so many ways to get this. Just as Sarah becomes an intrinsic part of the Witting family and the kids can't imagine life without her, you never know who might come along to make your family feel complete, too.

Sarah, Plain and Tall Resources


Straight from the Source
Learn more about author Patricia MacLachlan and see her full list of books on the HarperCollins website.

Get Ready to Dog-ear
Pick up your own copy of Sarah, Plain and Tall (or one of the sequels) here.


Sarah on Small Screen
Can you imagine Sarah, Plain and Tall as a made-for-TV movie with Christopher Walken as Jacob and Glenn Close as Sarah? No need to strain your brain—this movie exists in real life.


Writing Plain
In an interview with Publishers Weekly, MacLachlan explains that her writing style is plain and spare because she grew up on the prairie which is plain and spare… just like the setting and writing in Sarah, Plain and Tall.

Writer and Teacher
MacLachlan discusses in an interview what it's like to write children's books, as well as what it's like to teach writing classes given her background.


Made for TV
Catch a glimpse of the 1991 movie by watching the trailer.


Oral Storytelling
If you have an hour to spare, you can listen to the entirety of Sarah, Plain and Tall on audiobook.


The Writer at Home
MacLachlan's author photo is pretty adorable, but that dog looks like it wants to protect its privacy.

Original Cover
The original cover of Sarah, Plain and Tall is one that can probably be found in libraries across the country.

Movie Stars
Glenn Close plays Sarah in the TV movie, and Christopher Walken plays Jacob. Is this what you imagined Sarah and Jacob looking like when reading the book?