Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Remembering Patricia MacLachlan


The SCBWI is mourning the loss of one of the most revered members of our community, Patricia MacLachlan, who passed away March 31. She was 84.

Patty, as she was fondly known, was born in Wyoming and raised in Minnesota. An only child, she had a vivid imagination which often revolved around her imaginary friend, Mary, who she insisted was real and deserved to be a full member of the family. Her mother recalled that there was always a place set for Mary at the dinner table and even on one occasion her father was not allowed to sit on the couch because Mary had already stretched out on it to take a nap.

Despite her love for story and books, Patty did not believe she could ever rise to be a writer, but nevertheless, at 35, she sat down and penned her first book. That book, Sick Day, told the story of a young girl with a cold who stayed home from school and spent the day with her father. After that debut book garnered warm reviews, she went on to write more stories in the same simple and sensitive style on subjects not usually seen in picture books of that era. Topics ranged from mental illness to disability, and once again her work was well received by both critics and young readers.

In 1980, after her editor had encouraged her to try her hand at novels, she published her first book in that genre, Arthur, For the Very First Time, the story of a boy’s emotional coming of age when he spends a summer with his great uncle and aunt.  In an early review by Zena Sutherland, writing for the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, she said, “The story has a deep tenderness, a gentle humor, and a beautifully honed writing style.”  

Later that same year the SCBWI presented the book their prestigious Golden Kite Award.

In 1985 the SCBWI awarded her a second Golden Kite for another novel, Sarah, Plain and Tall, which told the story of a mail order bride, and was based on a true story related by the author’s mother.  Arguably her most celebrated work, Sarah, Plain and Tall received numerous honors including the Newbery Medal, Christopher Medal, and the Scott O’Dell Historical Fiction Award.

SCBWI’s Lin Oliver, a lifelong friend of the author, writes that: “In Sarah, Plain and Tall Patricia MacLachlan created an enduring classic for the ages. We will remember her not only for her beautiful writing but for her zesty, loving, irreverent spirit which permeated her life, her friendships, and her work.”

Ms. MacLachlan followed up Sarah with Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt, the story of an eleven-year-old girl who, through music lessons alongside a young boy, experiences a first love. Many more books, both novels and picture books, were to follow, including Skylark in 1994 a sequel to Sarah, Plain and Tall, and Painting the Wind and Bittle, both collaborations with her daughter Emily.

Writing in the Orange County Register, book reviewer Catherine Keefe has written: “MacLachlan is the critically acclaimed author of the kind of children’s stories so compelling that readers clasp the book to their chest and sigh when the last page is turned.”

We at the SCBWI could not imagine a better tribute. And as we celebrate her life, we mourn the passing of such an incredible talent and friend.