Janey Larkin is
the ten-year-old daughter ofa migrant familyin San Joaquin Valley, California,in the late 1930s when America is still suffering the effects of theGreat Depression. Her most treasuredpossession is a Blue Willow platethat had once belonged to her great-great-grandmother. The picture of a bridge and a stream and a little house onthe willow pattern plate represents the permanenthome she dreams of.
Janey can barely remember her old home, a farm in Texas, and now that her father is an itinerant worker she has no place to call her own and no lasting friends, as the family has to move constantly. Despite the grinding poverty, the family is close and loving, and fun is had, as when Janey and her friend Lupe attend the county fair, and when the family goes fishing beside the river.<1>
When Janey's stepmother falls sick, they have difficulty paying the rent. The rent-collector, Bounce Reyburn, is unsympathetic, and Janey is faced with having to sacrifice her one treasure.