Books that Promote Peace & Nonviolence

Caleb's Story

Patricia MacLachlan

Caleb's Story 
Patricia MacLachlan

 Caleb's Story
Caleb's Story

From Our Editors
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)

The stranger lurking on the Witting family's prairie farm turns out to be their long-lost grandfather, whose presence plus prodding from Sarah forces Jacob to deal with his past.

From the Publisher

Anna has done something terrible.
She has given me her journal to fill.
In Anna's journal the words walk across the page like bird prints in the mud. But it is hard for me.
It is hard for me to find things wo write about.

"It's your job now," Anna says to Caleb as she hands him her journals. He worries that he'll have nothing to write about, until one winter day his younger sister, Cassie, discovers a mysterious old man in the barn and everything changes. Everyone is excited about the arrival of a new family member except for Jacob, who holds a bitter grudge. Only the special love of Caleb, and the gift he offers his grandfather, can help to mend the pain of the past.

The Newbery Medal-winning Sarah, Plain and Tall began the Witting family's saga as Sarah came to the prairie as a mail-order bride to live with Jacob, Anna, and Caleb. In Skylark Sarah learned to adopt the prairie as her home and the family as her own. Caleb's Story continues in Patricia MacLachlan's signature style, spinning a tale of love, forgiveness, and the ties that bind a family together.

From the Critics
From Book Magazine  
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.
—Kathleen Odean
From Publishers Weekly  
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.
From Children's Literature  
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
From School Library Journal  
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.
From AudioFile  
Here is another superb performance in this newest book of the SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL saga. Introducing the characters of Grandfather and Cassie, the oldest and youngest of the family, Close remarkably changes her voice to make them utterly come alive. From the gruff old man, who materializes after so many years, to the sweet little girl whose innocence wins over Grandfather, the listener is treated to a wonderful interpretation of this touching drama of family and togetherness. Close makes Caleb's voice shine as he becomes the lead storyteller. As a special treat, an interview with the author is included at the end of the story. D.L.M. (c) AudioFile 2001, Portland, Maine


© 2002 Dennis W. Mills, Ph.D.
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