Sarah, Plain and Tall
Here is an award-winning book about a midwestern pioneer family and it is a favorite of children and teachers. The reading level is 3.9, high third grade to beginning fourth grade. It is a great book to read when studying the early settlers in the middle part of the country. Sarah, Plain and Tall chapter summaries will supplement your reading and ensure everyone has a good understanding of the book.
The story begins by Caleb asking older sister, Anna, about his mother. Mother died the day after Caleb was born and he wants to hear about the woman he never got to know. He wants to know the little things: what she said, the songs she sang. He needs a mother.
Papa comes home from a trip to town. He finally tells the children that he has placed an ad in the newspapers for a lady who could be a wife for him and mother for the two children. Papa received a letter in response. It is from Sarah Wheaton who lives by the sea in Maine. She has been taking care of her brother but now he is getting married. Sarah feels it is time for her to move on.
Both children and Papa write individual letters to Sarah. Anna asks Sarah if she knows how to braid hair and what her favorite color is. Caleb asks if she likes small houses and wonders if she snores. Sarah responds that yes she can braid hair and no she doesn’t snore. She tells them she has a cat and that she and the cat will come for a month to visit if they agree. Caleb, Anna and Papa agree that she should come. Sarah says she will come by train and Papa should look for someone who is plain and tall and wearing a yellow bonnet.
Sarah arrives by train in the spring. Father goes to pick her up while the children wait anxiously at home. Sarah brings them a small gift from the sea. She seems lonely for the sea. The children try to be very good so that she will stay.
Sarah describes the shells she brought from the sea. She shows them how to pick flowers and hang them to dry. They compare things about Maine with things that are on the prairie. Sarah begins to sing.
Sarah has never touched a sheep before so she is excited to see the sheep and lambs. She loves all the animals. She tells the children about the dunes in Maine. Papa takes them to a “dune” that he has by the barn. It is a huge pile of hay nearly as tall as the barn. Sarah climbs it and slides down laughing. Papa and the children join in the fun. The she draws pictures for them.
Papa teaches Sarah how to plow the fields. Then Sarah asks the children about winter on the prairie. They tell her that they go to school in the winter. Sarah tells them that she is good in arithmetic and writing and that she loves books. Sarah is hot and wants to swim so she uses the cow pond. This was something the family had never done! She begins to teach the children how to swim.
Neighbors on the prairie live far apart but still pitch in to help each other. The neighbors, Matthew and Maggie, come for the day to help Papa plow a field. They bring some live chickens as a gift. Maggie, like Sarah, had answered an ad in the paper to come to the prairie to be a wife and mother. She moved from Tennessee. The two women talk about what they miss. Anna listens and is worried that Sarah will want to go back to Maine. Maggie also brings flowers and the two women plant them. They become friends quickly and make plans to learn from each other. Maggie reminds Sarah that there is always something to miss no matter where you are.
Sarah is strong-willed and determined to learn to ride a horse and drive a wagon. She says she wants to be able to take the wagon into town. Caleb and Anna worry that she might catch a train and go home if she is able to get into town. To everyone’s surprise, Sarah puts on a pair of overalls and helps Jacob fix the roof on the house. Suddenly a violent storm begins to brew. The family gathers the animals from the fields and everyone stays in the barn all night.
After cleaning up the storm damage and doing the chores, Sarah learns how to drive the wagon. The next day she gets up early to drive into town. Caleb tries to think of ways to get her to stay: he could pretend to be sick or tie her up. Papa and the children are on edge all day wondering if Sarah will return from town. At suppertime she returns. Caleb begins to cry in relief and Anna says they were worried that Sarah left on a train. Sarah says that she will always miss her home but she would miss them more if she left. She gives them gifts that she got for them in town. Anna knows that soon there will be a wedding. Their family is happy again.
With the Sarah, Plain and Tall chapter summaries, you will be able to have a good discussion about the book or enhance your understanding. You may want to think about the good things and bad things about pioneer life. Lots of fresh air, open spaces and animals to play with! No TV, cell phones or computers! Great things to talk about!