Kimberly Erskine's Reviews > Sarah, Plain and Tall

Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
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's review
May 27, 2012

it was ok
Read in February, 2012

When I first started reading Patricia MacLachlan’s Sarah Plain and Tall I thought it was a rather strange story. It seemed strange to me that someone would write a middle grade book about a father putting an ad in the paper for a new wife/mother for his children. However, as I continued to read I realized that the book was set in a different time period – colonial times- and that this was actually a very good idea. The author has chosen to write about colonial times in order to teach younger children about this fascinating time period. From a writer’s perspective, I gained insight on how to introduce historical concepts to young children in a way that is fun and not confusing or overwhelming. They are learning about history, but because of the casual, story-book styled tone, they are having fun learning about history. The story is written as a story, not a textbook so it does not feel like a history lesson.

In addition, the story uses repeated, rhythmic phrases and songs. For example, it tells of the fun song that Caleb made up, “Woolly Ragwort” when the text states:

Woolly ragwort all around,

Woolly ragwort on the ground,

Woolly ragwort grows and grows,

Wooly ragwort in your nose (MacLachlan 27).

This helps to give the story a fun and silly element that readers will enjoy and laugh at. In addition, the text is broken down into a series of short chapters. This is a step up from the picture books. The short chapters allow for easy, fast-paced reading that breaks the content up in ways that will not seem overwhelming for beginning readers. This is a very useful strategy that I could apply in my own writing.

Another thing I noticed in this story that I could use in my own writing is that the story uses a child as a narrator. The entire story is told through Anna’s perspective rather than that of her father or Sarah. This makes the story more relatable for young readers. We can see how Anna views her brother and how she is dealing with the loss of her mother. Change is the main theme of this story. From a writer’s perspective, I have learned that change is a good topic to write about when it comes to children because children are so often afraid of change and have difficulty coping with it. There are many changes featured throughout this story. Initially, the family has to deal with not having their mother anymore. Next, they have to learn how to adapt with having Sarah around. Similarly, Sarah has to learn to accept her new environment and the loss of the sea. This is a major change for her. The story has an honest tone as it shows that even with Sarah around, the children still miss their mother. Likewise, Sarah enjoys spending time with the children, but still misses her brother and the sea. The text teaches a lesson – that it is okay to accept change and it is okay to still even miss things, but it does not come off as being too preachy (McLachlan 45-46; 65).
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