Skylark is the sequel to the Newbery-winning novel Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan. It continues the story of the Witting family after Sarah marries Papa and becomes the children’s new mother.
As Skylark begins, a photographer is taking a picture of the Witting family so that Sarah can send an image of everyone to “the aunts,” her relatives in Maine. When the process is finished, Sarah says she hardly knows what the aunts look like anymore. The photographer comments that the weather is probably better in Maine. The prairie, where the Witting family lives, is suffering from a horrible drought.
The photographer says that his grandfather had to leave the prairie during a drought long ago. Sarah thinks this is terrible, but Papa says that the Witting family will never leave. “We were born here. Our names are written in this land,” he says. The adults go inside, and Caleb says what both children are thinking: “Sarah wasn’t born here.” He tries to write Sarah’s name in the dirt, but he misspells it. Anna is normally a patient older sister, but she is so worried about the drought that she finds herself snapping at Caleb.
Now that Papa and Sarah are married, the children want their family to live happily ever after. In spite of the drought, they manage happiness for a while. When Papa says there is not enough water to wash the floor, Sarah comments that the lack of water is not all bad. The family celebrates when everyone learns that Seal, the cat, will soon have kittens. They also reminisce about the letters they wrote to each other before Sarah came to live on the prairie. Sarah says she learned to love the children through their letters. Even Papa, who sometimes does not use words well, made her love him with the messages he sent.
Matthew and Maggie, the Wittings’ neighbors and good friends, come for a visit. The adults talk about the drought, commenting that the water level in some wells is down. However, they all maintain that they will stay on the prairie. The conversation turns to happy topics, too. Matthew and Maggie have a new baby, and the Wittings’ cow gives birth to a beautiful calf which Papa names Moonbeam. “I am surrounded by motherhood,” Sarah says.
Sarah receives a letter from Maine. The aunts describe storms and rain and green hills. Sarah reads aloud. She reads a comment about measuring rain in a glass, but she leaves out some of the aunts’ words because she does not want to upset Papa by making him think about the lack of water. The family is conserving water more and more strictly. The plants are dying, and everyone worries that they will not be able to keep the animals alive. Later, Caleb puts a glass out on the fence to measure the rain when it comes.
The water level in the Wittings’ well drops by about a foot. Papa says they will soon have to haul water from the river for the animals. The family drives to town and meets a local family that has to leave because their well is dry. Sarah knows she can do nothing to help. This upsets her so much that she stalks away to be alone. “Sarah likes to make things right,” Caleb says.
When the family arrives home, they find a fire burning on the prairie. Papa and Sarah soak grain sacks in the pond and beat back the flames. Papa tells Sarah to stay back, but she runs up close and fights the fire alongside him. The flames blow toward her, and her skirt catches fire. Papa throws her down and puts the flames out. When he is sure she is okay, he shouts at her: “I told you to stay back! You never listen!” Sarah just tells him to stop yelling and goes back to beating the flames. When the fire is out, Papa...
(The entire section is 1530 words.)