Sarah, Plain and Tall

Sarah, Plain and Tall is a children's book written by Patricia MacLachlan, and the winner of the 1986 Newbery Medal, the 1986 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction and the 1986 Golden Kite Award. It explores themes of loneliness, abandonment, and coping with change.

Sarah, Plain and Tall
Drawing of a girl watching a woman cut a boy's hair
First hardcover edition
AuthorPatricia MacLachlan
CountryUnited States
GenreChildren's novel
PublisherHarper & Row
Publication date
April, 1985
Media typePrint (Hardback & Paperback)
LC ClassPZ7.M2225 Sar 1985
Followed bySkylark 

The book was followed by four more exploring the Witting family after Sarah's arrival: Skylark, Caleb's Story, More Perfect Than the Moon, and Grandfather's Dance. The first three — Sarah, Plain and Tall; Skylark; and Caleb's Story — were the basis for three television movies: Sarah, Plain and Tall; Skylark; and Sarah, Plain and Tall: Winter's End. The screenplay for each film was written by MacLachlan. All three, starring Glenn Close and Christopher Walken, have the same actors playing the roles of Sarah, Jacob, Anna, and Caleb.

Plot overviewEdit

The story is set in the Midwestern United States during the late 19th century. Jacob Witting, a widowed farmer who is still saddened by the death of his wife during childbirth several years before, finds that the task of taking care of his farm and two children, Anna and Caleb, is too difficult to handle alone. He writes an ad in the newspaper for a mail-order bride. Sarah Wheaton, from Maine, answers his ad and travels out to become his wife.

While Anna is initially apprehensive about Sarah as she still has memories of her late mother, Caleb is excited and deeply hopes that Sarah will stay. When she arrives conditionally for one month, Anna notices that Sarah is lonely and misses the sea. Stubborn and persistent, she gradually wins over Jacob with her insistence on learning and helping out with farm tasks. The Wittings become attached to Sarah, though Caleb constantly worries that their home is not enough for her and that she misses the sea. When Sarah goes to town by wagon on her own, Anna tries to reassure Caleb that Sarah will return, while secretly fearing that she will not. They are overjoyed when Sarah returns by nightfall. Admitting that she misses the sea, Sarah says that she would miss them more if she left. Anna reveals that Jacob and Sarah married soon afterward.

Stage adaptationEdit

The story was turned into a one-act children's musical and produced by TheatreWorks USA. The score is by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin. It ran Off-Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Theatre during summer 2002, with a cast that included Becca Ayers as Sarah, and John Lloyd Young as Caleb.[1] It was brought back to New York in 2004, with a sold-out three-week run off-Broadway. It also ran at the O’Neill Theater Center, Waterford, Connecticut, in August 2003, with direction by Joe Calarco and featuring Kaitlin Hopkins.[2]


  1. ^ Van Gelder, Lawrence."Theater Review: The Pain of Loss, Assuaged by a Fresh Face"The New York Times, July 18, 2002
  2. ^ Hernandez, Ernio."New Duncan Sheik and Laurence O'Keefe Musicals Play at CT's O’Neill Center, Aug. 2-10" Archived 2011-06-29 at the Wayback Machine, August 2, 2003
Preceded by
The Hero and the Crown
Newbery Medal recipient
Succeeded by
The Whipping Boy