Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Blue Willow: A Book That Lillie and Kate Read

After reading What I Saw and How I Lied, I contacted the author, Judy Blundell through Facebook. I was impressed with Judy's knowledge of the books that Evie Spooner, her post WWII character, read. Including this literature brought historical accuracy and greater depth to Evie's character. Judy told me how she located her resources. She inspired me to find a few books which Lillie Harris and Kate Dinsmore, my two protagonists, would have read. 

As some of my faithful blog readers know, my story includes Lillie and Kate uncovering a china cup that belongs to both their families. Over the process of writing Half-Truths, I've played with different china patterns. My friend and writing mentor, Joyce Hostetter, suggested the popular Blue Willow pattern. When I posted this picture on Facebook, several friends commented about their grandmothers' collections. 

Becky Levine and Joyce chimed in that I really needed to read the book, Blue Willow, which they remembered from their own childhoods. After reading it I realized I'd found a book which both girls would have enjoyed and a story that could provide rich subtext for Half-Truths.

Winner of the Newbery Honor in 1941, Blue Willow recounts the story of a family shaped by the Great Depression. Ten-year-old Janey Larkin longs for a permanent home for herself and for her most beloved possession, a blue willow china plate that belonged to her great-great grandmother. Her father is an itinerant farm worker who struggles to support Janey and her step-mother.  When the family moves from one farm to another, the plate goes with them but stays packed away. "…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. In the meantime it was kept sadly tucked away, a reminder of happier days before its owners had become wanderers in search of a livelihood." (p. 23)

Because the plate had belonged to Janey's mother, it had become a part of her memories that were mixed up with "Mother Goose rhymes and gay laughter and a home of their own.  And because the willow plate had once been a part of all this, it had seemed actually to become these things to Janey. It was the hub of her universe, a sold rock in the midst of shifting sands." (p.23)

Fast forward twenty years, and like Janey, Lillie is enthralled with the story depicted in the blue willow pattern. Here will be my readers first introduction to the china in Chapter 1:
I tackle the breakfast dishes, washing and stacking them so they dry nice. I take special care with Big Momma’s china cup. There’s a chip along the rim and I don’t know how many times my grandmother has glued the handle back on. Daddy teases her that he’s going to get her a new cup for her birthday, but she says her coffee won’t taste right coming out of any other cup. She never lets anybody else drink out of that cup neither. The way she prizes it, you’d think a boyfriend gave it to her.
I rinse and wipe the cup dry, tracing my finger around the blue doves flying over the pagoda. When I was little, Big Momma told me the legend of the young Chinese lovers who were turned into doves when they eloped against the girl’s Daddy’s wishes.  This was one of Big Momma’s favorite stories. Mine too. A girl loving a boy when her Daddy didn’t think he was good enough for his daughter?  You can’t get more romantic than that!

Later in Half-Truths, Kate's little sister Maggie discovers a blue willow tea set in their grandmother's attic. 
     Maggie pulls out crumpled sheets of yellowed newspaper and throws them on the floor. I start to gather up the paper but then stop. Maggie holds up a blue-patterned tea pot for us to admire. I gasp and put my hand over my mouth. But it’s too late. The girls look at me questioningly.  
“What’s the matter, Lillian?” Maggie ask.  “You look like you seen a ghost!”
“It’s Blue Willow,” I blurt out.  “Big Momma’s got a cup just like it at. The pictures on it tell an old Chinese love story.”
“Ain’t that something!” Maggie pulls out a creamer, sugar bowl, and two cups. Who would have figured that Grandmother and Big Momma would have the same tea cup?”
Miss Anna Kate looks from me to the china and back to me again. “It’s just like the china in the book.” Her voice is slow and thoughtful.
“You mean Blue Willow?” I ask.
“It was my favorite book in fifth grade,” Miss Anna Kate gets a faraway look in her eyes as if she’s recollecting the story. “You read it?”
I nod. “I love the part when Janey pays the rent with the plate so they can stay in their shack…”
Miss Anna Kate interrupts me, “…but then in the end, finds it on the mantle in their new home.”
“What are y’all talking about?” Maggie’s crosses her arms across her chest and looks perturbed.
I shrug. “Just a book.”

Miss Anna Kate corrects me. “Just the best book ever."
We smile at each other. I’m surprised we’ve got something in common. But I gotta admit, it feels good.
Blue Willow china: generations old. 
Facebook friends: generations new.


Carin Siegfried said...

I loved that book when I was a kid.

Martina Boone said...

I loved this book when I was little, and I still have a copy on my shelf. Also with a huge antique Blue Willow collection! :)

Carol Baldwin said...

thanks, Carin and Martina, for leaving comments. Martina-- you'll be doubly interested in my book now! :)

Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

Oh, I loved reading this! A passage I haven't seen yet and such a telling one.

Blue Willow is deeply embedded in my psyche - both this book and also the love for the china.

One of my favorite yard sale finds ever was a 79 piece collection of BLUE Willow for 10.00. My heart still races when I think about that dewy Saturday morning.

And seeing it here - both on the book cover and the china - revs it up again.

You and your protag are getting someplace,Carol.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Joyce. Blue Willow has successfully added more layers to my work! Thanks for encouraging me to explore it.

Barbara Younger said...

I loved Blue Willow too. Just looking at the cover takes me back to those happy reading days...

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Barbara. I don't know how I missed this book growing up! Better later than never though!

Linda Vigen Phillips said...

This makes me want to go back and read this great book again. I love how you have found the tie-in to your WIP. Thanks for sharing, Carol.

Carol Baldwin said...

Glad you liked it, LInda!

Rosi said...

Now I have two books I really want to read -- Blue Willow and Half Truths! Let me know if you need a Beta reader. I'm happy to say my local library has Blue Willow. Thanks for sharing all of this.

Carol Baldwin said...

Rosi, Thank you for your kind offer to be a Beta reader. I'll keep you in mind, for sure!

Kim Van Sickler said...

The Blue Willow china pattern sounds like a powerful and appropriate tie-in. How great is it that there's also a book with the same name that they both could have read. I love meaningful symbols in a story.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Kim. I LOVE symbols too!! I was delighted to discover all of this for my book.

Kathy B said...

Carol, Thank you for bringing up a book that I want to add to my reading list. Also, the passage you shared from Chapter one when you show Lillie "..tracing the blue doves flying over the pagoda..", was a great description. I used to do that with my mom's teapot from Japan! :)

Linda A. said...

Your WIP will be richly blessed by all this research and reading of books that influence your story. Happy for you!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks Linda and Kathy. I'm glad you liked this post- I enjoyed writing it!

sheri levy said...

Oh that's wonderful. Great research and bringing a wonderful story together.Will have to read Blue Willow... Love your writing, Carol!!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks Sheri. Hope an agent and editor and readers agree with you!

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