fiction favorites…Blue Willow

Blue Willow, by Doris Gates, illustrated by Paul Lantz

To begin with, it had belonged to Janey’s great-great-grandmother, so it was very old.  Then it had belonged to Janey’s mother.  But that was a long, long time ago before that mother had died and Mom had come to take her place.  The memory of her mother was so shadowy to Janey that if she tried to hold it even for a second, it faded away altogether.  It was like a bit of music you can hear within yourself, but which leaves you when you try to make it heard. ..

In addition to everything else, the willow plate was the only beautiful thing the Larkins owned.  It was a blue willow plate, and in its pattern of birds and willows and human figures it held a story that for Janey never grew old.  Its color, deep and unchanging, brought to her the promise of blue skies even on the grayest days and of blue oceans even in an arid wasteland…

But, strangely enough, not once since the drought and dust storm had driven them out of Texas had the blue plate ever been used…Never had it been unpacked except for brief moments.  And never, Mrs. Larkin had declared long ago, would it be put out as a household ornament until they had a decent home in which to display it.

Janey Larkin is a ten-year-old girl, newly arrived in the San Joaquin Valley.  Her father, left destitute by the Dust Bowl, is an itinerant worker, and for five years the three Larkins have alit briefly in one place after another after another, only to move on when the harvest is done.  Janey longs for permanence; for a stable home; for a sense of belonging to a place; for a friendship that lasts.

The one piece of continuity for Janey is the blue willow plate that’s been passed down to her.  It is her treasure and the source of hope, for many reasons.

As the Larkins settle into an abandoned shack, Janey wonders again if they might be lucky enough to stay put this time.  On the positive side, there’s the Romero family across the way, with such a nice girl named Lupe,  just her age.   However,  with a man as surlyas Bounce Reyburn demanding  rent,  Janey knows the time will soon come when they are forced out.

Doris Gates won a Newbery Honor for Blue Willow in 1941.  It is a beautiful story, with sunny moments, and harsh realities; courage and kindness; and a strong, closely-knit family that weathers it all together.  Great historical fiction for girls ages 9 and up.  My own daughters have all loved this one.

Here’s the Amazon link:Blue Willow