The Barnes & Noble Review
From award-winning author Patricia MacLachlan comes another installment in the heartwarming saga that began with Sarah, Plain and Tall. This time out the story is told through the eyes of young Caleb, who is handed the duty of writing in the family journal when older sister Anna moves to town. At first Caleb fears he will have nothing of interest to write about, but then a mysterious man named John shows up on the farm, throwing the Witting family dynamic completely out of kilter.
The mystery man turns out to be Jacob's father, who was thought to be dead. Caleb and his younger sister Cassie are delighted to discover that they have a grandfather, and Sarah happily welcomes him into the household, as well. But their joy is tempered by Jacob's obvious anger with the old man, an anger that stems from the fact that John walked out the door when Jacob was a lad, never to return. Still reeling from the emotional pain of that abandonment, Jacob can't forgive his father for never writing so much as one letter of explanation.
Grandfather offers nothing in the way of apologies or explanations, and Caleb soon discovers that the old man is hiding a dark secret. Sarah despairs over Jacob's refusal to forgive, worrying that the two men are running out of time. For it is clear to anyone who cares to notice that Grandfather isn't in the best of health. It will take a startling revelation, a young boy's determination, and a terrible tragedy before the Witting household can finally begin to heal. MacLachlan sets her story amid the bitter, unforgiving cold of a prairie winter, letting it serve as a metaphor for the equally frigid corners of Jacob's heart. But just as the winter's chill must eventually give way to the sun's heat, so must Jacob's heart begin to thaw beneath the warming rays of his family's love. (Beth Amos)
Fans of the incomparable Sarah, Plain and Tall will want to read more about the family created when Sarah moved from Maine to Nebraska to marry Anna and Caleb's father, Jacob. An older Anna, who is now moving to town, leaves Caleb a blank notebook and the task of writing "one page at a time." After Caleb finds a strange man in the barn, the family must confront events from the past. Now Caleb has both a story and a tangle of emotions to record in this quiet, touching novel about families and forgiveness.
Taking over the reins from his sister Anna, who narrated Sarah, Plain and Tall and Skylark, Caleb describes the event in this heartwarming third installment, in which Jacob is reunited with his father. As the novel opens, readers meet Cassie, the baby whom Sarah carries in Skylark; the country is at war in Europe; and Anna leaves home to work for a doctor in town and gives Caleb the responsibility of recording the family events. While Jacob drives his older daughter to town, Cassie spots a man on the property. Thinking it's one of Cassie's imaginary friends, Caleb ignores her until he sees the man for himself. When Jacob returns, the mystery of the man's identity is revealed, and wounds from the past begin to slowly heal. In an uplifting subplot, Caleb discovers why Jacob's father did not correspond with his son all the years he was away and begins to set things right. The narrative cribs liberally from Anna's entries in Skylark, but fans of the first two books will enjoy learning more about this resourceful and loving family. Ages 8-10. (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Patricia MacLachlan's beloved historical novel Sarah Plain and Tall won the Newbery in 1986. Caleb's Story the third book in this series, is told by Anna's younger brother. Again, MacLachlan uses a spare, poetic style to reveal a strong sense of feelings, time and place. Caleb writes of a harsh Midwestern winter when flu and WW I rage, and his grandfather appears at the family farm. Years ago the old man deserted Caleb's father and hasn't communicated since. Their animosity is palpable as is Caleb's desire to bridge the rift. Caleb, who writes and sees with his heart, realizes that his grandfather is sick and can neither read, nor write. He has the courage to confront the surly old man and work to solve the problems. Moods and situations vary surprisingly often in this short book. There is relief in the antics of young Cassie, Caleb's sister; a comfort in catching up with characters that readers have grown to love; and finally, seeing the characters unite to overcome struggles. The book is a testimony to the statement that great things really do come in small packages. 2001, HarperCollins, $14.95. Ages 8 to 10. Reviewer: Susie Wilde
Gr 4-6-In this third book in the series begun in Sarah, Plain and Tall (HarperCollins, 1985), Caleb is given the responsibility of writing down everything that happens on the farm now that his older sister Anna has gone to live in town to finish school. At first, he thinks there will be nothing to write about, but when an old man appears in the middle of winter, the family's quiet life is suddenly disrupted. The stranger turns out to be Caleb's grandfather, who left when the boy's father, Jacob, was young. While Jacob allows him to stay, he refuses to forgive or even speak to the man. Caleb slowly realizes that his grandfather is illiterate, and he teaches him how to read and write. It takes his efforts and a near-tragedy to reconcile the differences between the men. Readers who are new to the Witting family will quickly become acquainted with the events of the past through the excerpts of Anna's journals that Caleb shares with his grandfather. Despite some heavy elements, MacLachlan manages to provide some lighter moments and humor through Cassie, the baby who was about to be born at the end of Skylark (HarperCollins, 1994), and who is now a lively and inquisitive child. This is an excellent work of historical fiction, a satisfying sequel, and an inspiring tale about love and forgiveness.-Ashley Larsen, Woodside Library, CA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Newbery Medalist MacLachlan continues the story of the Witting family, with the believable characters readers have come to know and love from Sarah, Plain and Tall (1985) and its sequel, Skylark (1994). The family has changed, as Sarah and her husband Jacob now have a daughter named Cassie, a feisty, outspoken little girl of four or five, and older daughter Anna is living in town to attend school and work for the local doctor. Another major change in family dynamics occurs when Jacob's long-lost father suddenly appears. He is a worn-out, cantankerous old man with nowhere to go but his old farm, which he abandoned, along with his family, when Jacob was a boy. The bitter conflict between father and son is the heart of the narrative, this time told in first-person (and recorded in his own journal) by Caleb, who also copies passages from his sister Anna's journals from the previous two stories to help him understand his family. Sarah remains the rock, urging her husband to forgive his father and caring for all of them in her wise, understated way. MacLachlan's appreciative readers will savor this new addition to the chronicle of a delightful family, and many will be hoping for another volume in the series so we can learn precocious Cassie's story as she grows older. (Fiction. 8-10)
“Spare yet elegant prose.”
“A welcome continuation of a well-loved story.”