In Doris Gates' novel Blue Willow, where did Janey want to stay the most at the fair?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Doris Gates’ novel Blue Willow, the children in Janey’s school are economically and socially deprived, seemingly destined to lives of ignorance and want. The Great Depression has taken its toll, and even once relatively prosperous families have been rendered destitute. Janey, however, has seen a little more of the country, and been exposed to more than most of her classmates. As the young protagonist of Gates’ novel, she is perceptive and intelligent, and her trip to the county fair in Fresno with her friend Lupe proves more transformative than even this intellectually curious child had imagined. It is the abundance Janey observes at the fair, however, that she finds particularly striking. Approaching the obligatory agricultural exhibit, she marvels at the “great mounds” of fresh fruit. For this child from a Texas farm, the wealth in fresh fruits she witnesses amazes even her. As the story’s narrator describes Janey’s reaction, “Nowhere except in the pages of the Old Testament had she ever come upon such a bounty . . . Surely, this San Joaquin Valley was a land flowing with milk and honey.”

While Jayne is mesmerized by the abundance of fresh produce at the fair, however, it is a strangely-adorned booth there that most entrances her. Gates describes the setting as follows:

“In its center was a round table literally heaped with books. Big books and little books, all of them shiny and new had been arranged on some kind of rack so that from the table’s edge they rose in a circle to make a small mountain of books . . . The gay covers caught Janey’s eye and held her spellbound. She felt drawn to that table as by some force beyond her power to withstand.”

This booth, of course, is the library booth, and Janey’s entry into this booth symbolizes her entry into an entirely new world. Like all the children in her school, Janey had access to books, but they were all old and worn. These books, however, were new, and they cast a spell on this young girl that would not be broken, and that would draw her back. As this chapter on Jayne and Lupe’s trip to the fair progresses, Janey’s fascination with the books only grows, and it is clear that, henceforth, books will play an increasingly important role in her life.

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