Blue Willow

by Doris Gates

Other authorsPaul Lantz (Illustrator)
Paperback, 1968


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Call number

J Ga


Scholastic (1968), Edition: 1st, 154 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.

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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
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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
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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 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
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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 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,
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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
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gets her through this challenging time.
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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.
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
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school children or adults, a nice read. Recommended.
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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
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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 fingerpost
"Blue Willow" feels like an historical novel about a migrant farming family during the Great Depression, but since it was published in 1940, it was actually written as a contemporary tale.
10-year-old Janey travels with her Dad and step-mother looking for farming work after Dad lost his own farm in
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the Dust Bowl. At the beginning of the book, they settle into an abandoned shack to live there while Dad harvests cotton. Janey meanwhile, just wants to belong somewhere instead of moving every few weeks. The only possession the family has that she cares about is the Blue Willow Plate - a blue China plate with a Chinese design. The plate is mentioned in the beginning of the book, then seemingly forgotten, but becomes significant again towards the last quarter of the story.
"Blue Willow" is about Janey finding a friend - Lupe Lopez; and a place she wants to stay; a sense of belonging somewhere. It's a slow quiet story, with an unrealistically happy ending (perhaps appropriate, since it's more of an upper elementary book than a middle grades story).
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LibraryThing member bell7
Janey Larkin and her parents have moved around a lot over the last few years as her father follows the harvest. Most recently, they've found a shack in the San Joaquin valley and a job picking cotton. The only thing Janey owns of value is a blue willow plate that was in the family for generations.
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As Janey makes friends with Lupe Romero, she starts to wish that they could settle here for good.

This Newbery Honor book from 1940 was a mixed bag for me. It's praised for being one of the first children's literature of its kind, focusing on migrant workers, having a problem the child addresses, and including Mexican Americans one of whom is Janey's best friend. However, for today's sensibilities it's also very much of its time: a little slow to start, moralizing, having a happy ending that stretches credulity, and including some casual racism (a dress Lupe wears makes her look "darker" but Janey chooses not to mention it) and sexism.
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LibraryThing member AbigailAdams26
Ten-year-old Janey Larkin, the daughter of migrant farm workers in Great Depression-era California, clings to the beautiful blue willow plate that once belonged to her mother in this poignant children's novel. As the Larkins settle into a shack in the San Joaquin Valley, while Mr. Larkin goes to
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work in the cotton fields, Janey befriends Lupe Romero, who lives in the shack opposite the Larkins, and goes to the field school run by Miss Peterson. Slowly, Janey begins to feel that this is a place she could call home and put down roots. But when her step-mother becomes ill and work dries up, it looks like the Larkins will have to move on once more. Can the willow plate, a symbol of Janey's deepest desire for a home and a sense of belonging, save her and her family...?

Published in 1940, Blue Willow was chosen as one of four Newbery Honor books in 1941—other Honor Books that year included Young Mac of Fort Vancouver by Mary Jane Carr, The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Nansen by Anna Gertrude Hall, while the Medal Winner was Armstrong Perry's Call it Courage—and it is not difficult to see why. Doris Gates, who worked for many years as a children's librarian in the San Joaquin Valley, spins an immensely engaging and moving story, beautifully capturing Janey's rich inner life, from her changing perception of her wonderful step-mother, Mom, to her puzzling over her father's words on courage, and her discovery of the joys of true friendship with Lupe. This latter is quite interesting, in that it is the earliest example I have encountered, in the pages of popular children's literature, of a genuine friendship across racial and ethnic divides. There were one or two moments that I found dated—Janey wondering why Lupe would prefer a dress that made her look darker, for instance—but on the whole I thought this aspect of the story was very progressive for its time, treating the two friends as equals, delving into Lupe's perspective, and highlighting her many good qualities without making her a saint. The happy ending of the story, while perhaps a tad unrealistic, is nevertheless deeply satisfying.

All in all, I found Blue Willow a wonderful book, and would recommend it to upper primary and lower middle-grade readers who enjoy historical stories, or who are looking for heartwarming tales of children finding a home and happiness. Thematically, it is very similar to Zilpha Keatley Snyder's The Velvet Room, which I have also read and loved, and could be read in tandem with that book.
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Original publication date


Physical description

154 p.; 7.5 inches


059041268X / 9780590412681


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