Grandfather’s Dance

Grandfather’s Dance by Patricia MachLachlan, 2006.

This is the final book in the Sarah, Plain and Tall series.

Cassie is now in the fourth grade, and things are changing in her family. Cassie has come to love her little brother, John, called Jack, who is now a young child who likes to follow their grandfather around and imitate him. Caleb has gone away to school, and Anna is getting married, which is the major event of the story. Through the planning and anticipation that precedes the wedding, Cassie still keeps her journal, with its occasional flights of fancy.

Anna’s wedding brings new excitement to the family farm and thoughts of both the future and the past. Cassie, unlike her older half-siblings, has never been to Maine or met her relatives there, but Sarah’s brother and aunts are coming to the farm for Anna’s wedding. The others remember the last time they saw these relatives, and Cassie looks forward to seeing them.

Cassie wonders about why people get married, and she can’t imagine anyone she loves enough to marry and spend her life with, except maybe her dog. She tries to picture her own future wedding, with a dog as the groom, but it bothers her that she can’t picture her grandfather at her wedding. At first, she can’t quite figure out why she’s having trouble picturing him in the future, but the more she thinks about it, the more she realizes how old her grandfather is. He even comments on his age, saying that he’s getting older every day. Her grandfather seems to be increasingly feeling his age and his heart condition. Before Anna’s wedding, Cassie and her grandfather talk about her future wedding, and her grandfather tells her that he might not be there when she is married. Cassie tries to convince him that he will be, but he says, just in case he can’t, maybe they should have a wedding for Cassie now. He has Cassie put on the nice dress that she will wear to Anna’s wedding, and they stage a mock wedding for Cassie and their dog, Nick, so her grandfather can say that he was at Cassie’s wedding, too.

Anna’s wedding is beautiful, and Cassie and the others enjoy having Sarah’s brother and aunts visit. After the wedding, they have a picture taken of the whole family together. Sadly, it is the only picture of all of them together. Soon after, Cassie’s grandfather dies. All of the wedding guests are still visiting, so they attend the funeral. Jack is still a little boy and upset and confused by their grandfather’s death, but Cassie assures him that their grandfather loved them and that they won’t forget him. The title of the book comes from a little dance that their grandfather did for Jack earlier in the story, which Jack later imitates after his death.

In the back of the book, the author explains how her family was the inspiration for the family in the book. The grandfather in the story was based on the author’s father, and part of the dedication is to him. The author’s father died two years before this book was published. The farm and landscape around it are kind of a combination of the places where her family has lived in North Dakota, Kansas, and Wyoming, which is probably why the books in the series never specify which state they’re in.

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive (multiple copies).

A Hugga Bunch Hello


A Hugga Bunch Hello by Phyllis Fair Cowell, illustrated by Ron C Lipking, 1985.

Bridget likes having her grandmother living with her and the rest of her family. Her grandmother always has time for her and is willing to give her a hug. Her parents are often too busy, her brother thinks hugs are just for girls, and her Aunt Ruth is too fussy.

Then, Aunt Ruth tries to persuade everyone that Bridget’s grandmother should go live in a nursing home. Bridget doesn’t want her grandmother to leave, but she doesn’t know what to do about it.

While she worries, a strange little person steps out of her bedroom mirror. This little person is Huggins, one of the Hugga Bunch. She says that she knows about Bridget’s problem and thinks that she can help. She invites Bridget to come with her to Huggaland.


In Huggaland, the Hugga Bunch take Bridget to see the Book Worm, who may have the solution that Bridget seeks. Both the Hugga Bunch and the Book Worm say that aging can be slowed by affection and “the knowledge that they are needed,” but Bridget thinks that the only solution is to find a way to actually make her grandmother young again.

The Book Worm says that if that’s what Bridget wants, then her grandmother must eat fruit from the Youngberry Tree. Unfortunately, the tree is in the territory of the Mad Queen of Quartz. Although the Hugga Bunch are afraid of her, Bridget is willing to face her for her grandmother’s sake.

Getting there involves going through a few obstacles, including walking sideways on a sideways sidewalk and facing a frightening beast who turns out to be a baby elephant who was under a spell. When they reach the tree, the mad queen takes them prisoner and turns Bridget into a statue. Fortunately, the others manage to break free and save her.


Bridget is happy at being able to bring the Youngberries to her grandmother, but as she passes through the mirror into her room, she accidentally drops them, and they disappear.

Not knowing what else to do, Bridget runs to give her grandmother a hug before she leaves, encouraging her brother to do the same. Bridget’s father wasn’t happy about her grandmother leaving, either, and seeing how much the children will miss her, he declares that she should stay.

This book was made into a made-for-tv movie.  It is currently available on YouTube.  It follows the plot of the book pretty closely.

Magic Elizabeth


Magic Elizabeth by Norma Kassirer, 1966.

Young Sally’s parents are away on a business trip, so she’s been staying with Mrs. Chipley, but now Mrs. Chipley has a family emergency to tend to. Mrs. Chipley’s daughter is ill, and Mrs. Chipley needs to go and help her with her children. While Mrs. Chipley is gone, there is only one other person for Sally to stay with: her Aunt Sarah, an elderly woman who Sally doesn’t really know. Aunt Sarah moved to California when Sally was just a baby, and the only reason why she has returned is that she has decided to sell her old house.


Sally is a rather shy girl. She’s uneasy around Aunt Sarah, who is obviously unaccustomed to spending time with children, and Aunt Sarah’s creepy cat, Shadow. The house is old, chilly, and filled with strange things. However, Sally is enchanted with the bedroom that Aunt Sarah gives her and the portrait of a girl and her doll that hangs on the wall. The girl looks very much like Sally herself, and Aunt Sarah tells her that the girl was also called Sally and lived in that bedroom as a child, many years ago.


Fascinated by this earlier Sally and her beautiful doll, modern Sally decides to try to find the doll. Although her aunt tells her that she shouldn’t go poking around in the attic, Sally can’t help herself. She finds a trunk with Sally’s name on it full of girls’ clothes, just the right size for modern Sally to wear. There is a doll in the trunk also, but it’s not the same doll as the one in the portrait. When Sally reads the diary in the old trunk she learns the reason why. The doll in the picture, Elizabeth, was lost many years ago, when the earlier Sally was still young. As modern Sally plays dress up with the earlier Sally’s old clothes and studies herself in the mirror, she finds herself taken back in time, seeing the house through earlier Sally’s eyes. In the past, it was a busy and happy household with parents, an elderly aunt, earlier Sally, Sally’s little brother, and Sally’s pet cats.

A short time later, Aunt Sarah wakes modern Sally on the floor of the attic, and they assume that it was all a dream, but this look into the past changes Sally’s feelings about the house and her aunt’s cat, who suddenly seems friendlier and reminds her of the mother cat she saw in the past. Aunt Sarah also seems a little less stern as they discuss earlier Sally and her lost doll. Aunt Sarah says that no one ever saw the doll again after it disappeared on Christmas Eve all those years ago.  Earlier Sally had put the doll on top of the Christmas tree, like an angel, and after the family finished singing Christmas carols, the doll was gone.  They could never figure out what happened to her.  Modern Sally thinks that sounds very sad and wants to investigate the mystery of the missing doll, although Aunt Sarah isn’t very enthusiastic. She says that if the doll could be found, it would have been found long ago, and the earlier Sally has long since grown up and no longer needs it. Although, oddly, Aunt Sarah remarks that the earlier Sally had always thought that Elizabeth was “a little bit magic.”

Modern Sally continues to look for the doll anyway and also continues having moments when she sees the past as the earlier Sally did many years ago, especially when she looks into the mirror in the attic. One day, she invites a neighbor girl named Emily over, and while the two of them are looking around the attic, Emily finds Elizabeth’s old doll bonnet. The girls are excited because they now know for certain that Elizabeth is still in the house, waiting to be found. The girls are running out of time to find her. If Aunt Sarah agrees to sell the house, it will be torn down to build apartments. But, Sally falls ill with the flu, and it isn’t until Shadow gives her an important clue that Sally realizes where Elizabeth must be.

This book is currently out of print, but it’s one that I’d dearly love to see in print once more!  It is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive.

My Reaction and Spoilers

Adults reading this story will probably realize before the children do (spoiler) that Aunt Sarah herself was the earlier Sally, the one who lost her favorite doll many years ago. “Sally” is a nickname for Sarah, like “Molly” can be for Mary and “Peggy” can be for Margaret, although any of those names can also be used by itself.  (In the Middle Ages, it was common for popular names to get different variations of nicknames by changing one sound in the original name and then changing one more sound in the first nickname to get another one, and sometimes even moving on to change one more sound to get yet another nickname that was very changed from the first. Those nicknames that look significantly different from their original names are a holdover from that practice, having lasted even into modern times.  John/Jack works on the same principle.  Fun fact!)  When Aunt Sarah grew up, she stopped using her childhood nickname, but the name was passed on to modern Sally.

At first, modern Sally sees her stern aunt as being witch-like, all dressed in black and fussy, but gradually, the memories of the past, her new relationship with young Sally, and the finding of her slightly-magical doll soften her. There are hints of Aunt Sarah’s youth in the attic, although Sally at first dismisses thoughts that some of the lovely things there could have belonged to her cranky old aunt because she has trouble thinking of her aunt as once having been young, pretty, and sweet. However, part of the theme of the story is that everyone was young once. Aunt Sarah is is bent and achy from arthritis, giving her the witch-like appearance and making her short-tempered at times. She also hasn’t been around children much for years, and part of her fussiness comes from forgetting what it was like to be young herself. Modern Sally, with her resemblance to her elderly aunt, and Elizabeth the doll both work their magic on her, reminding her what it was like to be a young girl and helping to revive a more youthful spirit in her.

I was happy that (further spoiler) Aunt Sarah decides not to sell the house after all, not just because she and Sally will get to spend more time together, but because old houses like that are rare these days. I like the idea that the old family heirlooms in the house will now be preserved, like the sleigh out in the old barn and the melodeon, a type of small organ.  I liked the way the book described the melodeon making musical sounds as people walk past it because of the way the floor boards move.  I also loved the description of the gas plant that Sally sees in earlier Sally’s memories.  If you’d like to see what a gas plant looks like when it’s lit, have a look at this video on YouTube.MagicElizabethMelodeon