Away Goes Sally is a calm, quiet work of historical fiction describing the life of one family in 1790. Coatsworth evokes both a nostalgic warmth and a feeling of anticipation about what will happen next. Her choice of words in the poems at the end of the chapters appeals to the senses: In one of the poems, the reader can almost feel the coziness as “the cat sleeps warm beneath the stove” in the middle of winter, and Dinah, Sally’s cat, “folded her paws before the fire and purred herself to sleep.” Coatsworth helps the young reader identify with the story through the character of Sally Smith. Sally performs chores, sews, and makes tea and serves it to the family, roles befitting a young girl of the late eighteenth century. She also notices and shows appreciation for what is around her.
The letter from Cousin Ephraim Hallet asking the family to come to Maine to live is the focal point of the book because it requires a decision to be made. Another message is delivered in the letter: As Ephraim writes of his wife, “Jennie says that she prefers being the head of the poor to being the tail of the rich.”
The most important theme in this book is the love and respect that the family members show one another. Aunt Nannie is adamant about not wanting to leave the farm in Massachusetts. She also believes that Sally should not go, despite the young girl’s enthusiasm for the idea. Uncle Joseph, who has been instrumental in...
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In Away Goes Sally, Elizabeth Coatsworth’s first period story, she uses terms appropriate for 1790 and for the setting. In setting her work in Massachusetts and Maine, she was writing about places that she knew well and loved. While Coatsworth does not delve into the psychological depths of her characters, they are believable nevertheless. She believes in using an economy of words and is precise, writing exactly what she means. Coatsworth displays considerable warmth in her storytelling, and Away Goes Sally moves along as leisurely as the little house on runners. Sally and her family reappeared in Five Bushel Farm (1939), in which the family is established on the new farm in Maine, and in The Fair American (1940). In the latter story, Pierre, a French boy of the aristocracy, boards an American ship in an attempt to escape the aftermath of the French Revolution. Sally helps to save his life when a French officer comes aboard to look for refugees.
Many of Coatsworth’s books of historical fiction deal with problems that are universal, not caught in time: moving to what is hoped to be a better place to live in Away Goes Sally, building and getting settled in a new home in Five Bushel Farm, and suddenly becoming a refugee and finding a place to belong in The Fair American.