In Memory: Patricia MacLachlan

Photo Credit: John MacLachlan

By Stephani Martinell Eaton

Patricia MacLachlan, award-winning and prolific author, died at home on March 31 in Williamsburg, Massachusetts. She was 84.

Obituary: Patricia MacLachlan by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Award-winning children’s book author Patricia MacLachlan, widely lauded for her spare, realistic stories about everyday family life, died on March 31 at her home in Williamsburg, Mass.”

Patricia MacLachlan, author of ‘Sarah, Plain and Tall,’ dies at 84 by Emily Langer from The Washington Post. Peek: “Mrs. MacLachlan wrote more than 60 children’s books during her half-century career, which she began in her mid-30s after her own children started school, leaving her time in the day to collect her memories and observations and turn them into stories.”

Patricia MacLachlan, ‘Sarah, Plain and Tall’ Author, Dies at 84 by Annabelle Williams from The New York Times. Peek: “Ms. MacLachlan’s work often focused on families and never shied away from difficult topics.”

MacLachlan was born on March 3, 1938 in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

In numerous interviews MacLachlan credits her parents, Phil and Madonna Pritzkau, with instilling a love of reading and stories. She studied English and graduated from the University of Connecticut in 1962, the same year she married Robert MacLachlan.

After graduation, she taught junior high school and became active with the Children’s Aid Family Service Agency. After own children started school, she began to write.

In 1979, her first picture book, The Sick Day, now with new illustration by Jane Dyer, was published by Pantheon. After two more picture books, her editor Charlotte Zolotow encouraged her to write a novel. She wrote Arthur, For the Very First Time (Harper & Row, 1980). In 1985, she published Sarah, Plain and Tall (Harper & Row, 1985) as a gift of memory to her mother who was suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, the mail order bride, Sarah, represented her mother’s step-grandmother. The book won the Newbery Medal and the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction.

Reviews of her books praise her “spare and gentle prose.” The New York Times reviewer Eden Ross Lipson wrote that Sarah, Plain and Tall was “accessible to early readers, perfect for reading aloud, poignant and affecting even to jaded teenagers and weary adults.” It has sold over 7 million copies. Four sequels follow: Skylark (Harper & Row, 1994), Caleb’s Story (HarperCollins, 2001), More Perfect Than the Moon (HarperCollins, 2004), and Grandfather’s Dance (HarperCollins, 2006). In 1991, MacLachlan helped adapt the novel into a movie starring Glenn Close and Christopher Walken.

Many of MacLachlan’s works are autobiographical, mined from family stories, and include relationships between the old and the young. In a 2013 HarperKids interview, MacLachlan said, “I write about old people and young people together and that’s because I had wonderful parents and they were wonderful grandparents. I always had a great respect for how alike the old and the young are.”

President George W. Bush congratulates National Humanities Medal recipient, author Patricia MacLachlan, Feb. 27, 2003, in the Oval Office. Photo by Paul Morse, Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library & Museum

In all, MacLachlan wrote over 60 titles for children. In addition to the Newbery and the O’Dell Award, she received a 2002 National Humanities Medal. She said, “Children read with a certain belief and vision about finding themselves in literature. Literature changes their lives.” HarperCollins announced three more of her books will be published this year.

Cynsational Notes

Stephani Martinell Eaton holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts where she won the Candlewick Picture Book Award and the Marion Dane Bauer Award for middle grade fiction. She is represented by Lori Steel at Raven Quill Literary Agency. Connect with her at