A Compare and Contrast Lesson on the Movie, Sarah Plain and Tall
About the Story
As part of a unit study of life in the early 1900’s, you may have chosen to read the Newbery Medal winner Sarah Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan. To enrich the lesson further, show the movie Sarah Plain and Tall. The movie adds more depth to the characters, shows the scenic landscape of the Midwest and provides a visual aide of life at that time.
Compare and contrast the Sarah Plain and Tall movie with the book. For example, Caleb is the same in both book and movie. Papa and Anna have a bigger struggle in the movie. Surprisingly, the dialogue in the book and the movie are sometimes identical, especially at the beginning.
Prepare for the Movie
Before the students watch the movie, ask them to watch for answers to the following questions (answers are provided for you):
1. Why do you think Sarah bought a ticket to go back to Maine as soon as she got to Kansas? (She saw an old overweight man and a dirty cowboy when she got there and thought one of them might be Papa.)
2. How did the town people react to Sarah? (They were not friendly because they did not know the real reason that she was there.)
3. Why do you think Sarah bought the homemade peaches from the storekeeper even though Anna told her they were awful? (To try to make friends with the storekeeper)
4. Why didn’t Papa warm up to Sarah when she came to Kansas? (He was still grieving for his first wife. Sarah was very different. She was more strong-willed.)
5. Why do you think Anna did not warm up to Sarah when she first came? (She was afraid she would leave like her mother did.)
6. How did Sarah help Maggie, the neighbor, in the movie, which was not mentioned in the book? (She helped deliver her baby.)
7. Why did Papa blame himself for his first wife’s death? (She had so much trouble with the first pregnancy that the doctor said no more children. But Papa wanted a boy so his wife got pregnant again.)
8. How is the ending different in the movie? (In the movie, Papa goes after Sarah when she traveled to town by herself because Anna told him that Sarah had a return ticket to Maine. Sarah actually went to sell the ticket to give the money to Papa for the storm damage.)
Writing Assignment on the Comparisons
Give the students a Venn Diagram to start. Have them jot down the similarities and differences before beginning.
Answer in complete sentences and paragraphs:
1. Choose one of these characters: Anna, Papa or Sarah. What did you learn about the character from the movie that was not in the book?
2. How did the supporting cast (town people, neighbor Maggie) make a change in how the family adjusted to each other?
3. What would you like about living in the Midwest in the early 1900’s? Dislike?
4. Write a letter (friendly letter format) describing yourself to someone as if they were going to join your family as Sarah did.
Seeing the movie is a wonderful way to finish up a unit on the book or on midwestern life in the early 1900's. If you prepare your students before they view the movie, they will get more out of it. Then compare and contrast the book and movie.