Blue Willow

by Doris Gates

Paperback, 1976



Local notes

PB Gat


Puffin Books (1976), 176 pages


A little girl, who wants most of all to have a real home and to go to a regular school, hopes that the valley her family has come to, which so resembles the pattern on her treasured blue willow plate, will be their permanent home.


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

176 p.; 5.13 inches


0140309241 / 9780140309249



User reviews

LibraryThing member empress8411
Janey Larkin lives a nomadic life, under the care of her father and stepmother. Her greatest and only treasure is a blue willow ceramic plate that once belonged to a mother she can no longer remember. As her family sets-down near her father’s current job of picking cotton, Janey begins long for a change to “stay as long as they want” but achieving that dream might cost her greatest treasure.

Janey’s journey is brilliantly displayed. She matures through her friendship with Lupe, and through her education, gaining an understanding of courage and what’s important. Watching her struggle with the difficult things around her is part of the “realistic” nature of the story. While the ending is a bit – Shiny – where everything works out perfectly, the journey of how she gets there has danger and difficulty, and her start in life is not rosy-pink and happy.

It should be noted that Lupe, Janey’s friend, is clearly of Mexican origin. Surprising for the era, Lupe and her family are written with respect and accuracy to their culture but without any of the stereotypes so prevalent during the era (or even today). Lupe is a well-rounded side-character, an excellent part of the story and a refreshing take on non-European cultures that make up America.

The prose is simple, with easy-to-read words and both writing and subject are suitable for children ages 6+.

Note: Doris Gates received both praise and criticism for this book. One of the first “realistic” children’s books, Blue Willow entered the scene during a debate between teachers, librarians, and authors regarding realism vs. imaginative in Children’s Literature. In dealing with poverty, intenerate workers, illness, and even death, Blue Willow helped pave the way for books for children that accurately reflected the world they already knew. Gates is considered a major influence and pioneer in this area.
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LibraryThing member Whisper1
A 1931 Newbery Honor book, it is quite refreshing to read this tale of a young girl tired and weary of moving with her father and mother from job to job, place to place, with no roots. Janey has one prized possession, a blue willow plate given to her a long time ago.

When I think of all the possessions most American children of today own, I wonder if they an relate to an impoverished girl who is so very proud of just one object.

When the dust bowl hit Texas, Janey's family had to leave. Living in a migrant worker life style, they come upon a shack located in the cotton groves of California. From her travels and loneliness, Janey has a chip on her shoulder. Thus, when a girl whose father also works in the fields befriends Janey, it is difficult for Janey to trust.

Soon the Romero family bonds with Janey and she grows confident, while always knowing the back of her mind that she and her family will be moving along as soon as the cotton crop is finished.

When Janey's mother becomes ill and there is no money for a doctor, Janey seeks a local doctor to help, offering him the willow plate.

This is a tale of poverty, and of making the best of life, a tale of trust and friendship, and a tale of forsaking all when love is involved.

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LibraryThing member MerryMary
A gentle tale of friendship and longing for a home. In many ways ahead of its time.
LibraryThing member EmScape
Janey is travelling with her parents from Texas to California while her dad searches for work. They squat in a shack near Fresno during the cotton harvest. Janey wishes more than anything to stay in one place, attend a "regular school" and have a home in which to display her most prized possession, a Blue Willow plate.
Janey's family is very poor, but generally happy. The meagerness of her possessions forces her to take joy in small things like a trip to a free fair, catching catfish by a river, and being able to borrow a library book. The book is old and has some outdated notions about society (and particularly a girl or woman's place in it), but that can be overlooked in such a simple, straightforward tale for young children. In fact, I believe it would be beneficial for some of our more materialistic children to read this and have it pointed out to them how much they take for granted.
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LibraryThing member crfonten
This is the story of a girl whose family has been moved to California after the Great Depression. She has one treasured item, a plate belonging to her great grandmother. This plate has a picture of a home on it, one that she has been dreaming of more than anything else. This plate it her hope that gets her through this challenging time.… (more)
LibraryThing member fuzzi
This is a sweet story of a young migrant girl living in California during the 1930s. The author has done a wonderful job of bringing her characters to life, and presenting a believable narrative in a style similar but not exactly like Lois Lenski or Laura Ingalls Wilder. Appropriate for grammar school children or adults, a nice read. Recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member cbl_tn
Ten-year-old Janey Larkin, her father, and her stepmother are among the migrants who made their way to California in the wake of the Dust Bowl. The family moves frequently as Janey's father follows the harvests. Janey carries her ideal of home with her in the treasured blue willow plate that belonged to her mother. This move is different, and Janey finds herself longing to stay in this corner of the San Joaquin Valley near the river that looks so much like the scene in the blue willow plate.

I'm sorry that I missed this book during my childhood. I would have loved it if only for the connection to my grandmother's blue willow dishes. Those dishes are one of the strongest memories I have of meals in my grandmother's kitchen. This story could be used as supplemental reading for a unit on the Great Depression and/or the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. However, the book does contain some mild stereotyping of Janey's Mexican American neighbors, the Romeros. Janey also acts out occasionally in a way that would be considered inappropriate by today's standards.
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LibraryThing member Hamburgerclan
This is a tale about Janey Larkin, the daughter of migrant workers in 1930s California. They arrive at the San Joaquin Valley and set up housekeeping in an abandoned shack. Janey wearily settles in for yet another temporary home as her father works the cotton harvest. The story follows a few months in the family's life, showcasing some of the aspects of the workers' lives. It's a rather pedestrian and predictable tale, but Ms. Gates does do a good job of establishing the setting and making it seem real.
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LibraryThing member electrascaife
A sweet little dust bowl story with nice characters, but not a lot of substance. A happy, fluffy Grapes of Wrath for Kids, if you will.






(79 ratings; 4.1)
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