NEWBERY MEDAL WINNER – 1986
by Patricia MacLachlan
New York: HarperCollins, 1985
58 pp., 9 chapters
Ages: 5 +
Interests: history, farm life, prairies, stepmothers
Next: the sequel Skylark
Anna and Caleb’s mother died when Caleb was born, and they’ve almost gotten used to not having a mother. But when their father decides to write away for a mail-order bride, they become quite excited at the prospect. Sarah, who describes herself in her letters as simply “plain and tall”, arrives for a trial month’s visit. She is really wonderful and both children (and their father) quickly grow to love her and hope she’ll stay. However Sarah misses the ocean… Will she stay or will she go back home?
A warm, gentle story of a farm family in the pioneer past. Anna’s memories of her mother’s death are revisited right at the start of the book. The loss is of course linked to Caleb’s birth, but Anna dearly loves her little brother, and exhibits great maturity in caring for him. Father’s plan to remarry is a happy surprise to both children, who welcome Sarah with open arms. This is actually a ‘stepmother story’ in which nobody acts badly!
This lovely book includes vivid descriptions of the passing of the seasons on the prairie, as well as interesting details about pioneer farm life. Admirable, warm, creative characters provide a wonderful model of a loving family. An extremely gentle introduction to this period in history, without the details that can mar other ‘pioneer era’ books. (ie. racism, violence, tragedy)