After the Call: Sarah, Then and Now

I began Sarah, Plain and Tall long ago in my 1790 New England house, while missing my Wyoming home. I sat in the music room with my dogs, watching my children take the school bus. I worked on a typewriter, listening to the noisy eraser cartridge slap back and forth. I still have that typewriter.

When I got a call that I had won the Newbery, I was confused. I called my friend Jane and said, “I think I won something?”

“You won the Newbery!!” she said.

Friends came over. We built a fire in the large fireplace and celebrated. A mouse came out from under the sink to celebrate, too, but I was the only one who saw it. My wonderful editor Charlotte Zolotow; the talented Bill Morris; and Craig Virden, my dear friend, first agent, and later editor, are all gone now. I miss them.

The story of Sarah reminded me of my past in Wyoming — the place I loved and missed.

After my Newbery speech, in the reception line, a very well-known author put her arms around me. “My mother would be so proud,” she said (a private joke that to this day makes me smile). At the celebration my elderly father said, “All this for Patty!” and drank more wine.

The story of Sarah continued with Glenn Close, who would later become a friend.

“You can write a screenplay, right?” she said to me.

“Of course,” I said, never having seen a screenplay. A friend sent me samples, and the story of the place I loved went on.

Glenn took me to every filming of the Sarah movies so I could again see where my East Coast relative had taken a train with her cat to become a mother and wife. I was renewed by the land that I loved and missed.

But what I know is that it’s the children who really keep the story going.

Every week, many times, I get letters from children.

“This is my second-favorite book of ALL time.”

“I read your book over and over.”

“I can’t forget this book.”

And children find my house up on a New England mountaintop. They knock at my door and bring me pictures of the story and tell me how much it means to them.

One child said, “I wish you could write this story again.”

“A great idea,” I told her.

Another child said, “Thank you for winning the Newbery.”

These children carry the book back to me.

From the May/June 2022 special issue of The Horn Book Magazine: The Newbery Centennial.

Patricia MacLachlan

The late Patricia MacLachlan won the Newbery Medal in 1986 for Sarah, Plain and Tall (Harper). My Life Begins! and My Poet are forthcoming (both Tegen/HarperCollins).

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