A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

The history of this book captured my attention. This story gave me a snippet of American History and a reminder that all children, regardless of when or where they are born, are more similar than they are different.


The beloved American classic about a young girl’s coming-of-age at the turn of the century, Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a poignant and moving tale filled with compassion and cruelty, laughter and heartache, crowded with life and people and incident. The story of young, sensitive, and idealistic Francie Nolan and her bittersweet formative years in the slums of Williamsburg has enchanted and inspired millions of readers for more than sixty years. By turns overwhelming, sublime, heartbreaking, and uplifting, the daily experiences of the unforgettable Nolans are raw with honesty and tenderly threaded with family connectedness — in a work of literary art that brilliantly captures a unique time and place as well as incredibly rich moments of universal experience. from Goodreads

An illustration of a Brownstone three story building with a tree struggling to grow out of concrete is featured on the cover of the book.


I first heard of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn in connection to soldiers during WW2. Betty Smith’s bestselling novel was produced in a special “armed services” edition designed to be sturdy and compact. This more pocket sized copy was mass distributed to soldiers stationed around the world and many of them wrote the author telling her that her story gave them a tangible piece of home. I’ve wanted to read this book ever since.

I finally got an opportunity this summer and slowly but surely the story of Frannie Nolan won me over. This little girl reminded me of the importance of imagination, the indignity of being singled out, and the power of a positive attitude. But the story also highlighted for me the pivotal role parents and other adults play in their children’s lives. I could write paragraph after paragraph of how much I love Frannie’s maternal grandmother who couldn’t read or write but was, by far, the wisest person in the book. Or how Frannie’s father’s unwavering belief in her shaped her future in a way that couldn’t be tainted by his alcoholism. And the realistic portrayal of Frannie’s strong mother, Katie, I just found myself in awe.

I can understand how reading this book at a younger age wouldn’t have made such an impact on me. Reading this while I was Frannie’s age would have been frustrating. I would have been furious at her treatment by the students in her first school and by the doctors and teachers who dismissed her. I can only think that as a child this would have been like watching Seinfeld or reading Dilbert, it wouldn’t be funny because I wouldn’t understand. As an adult all I can see is how Frannie rose above all of that.

Before I read the story I pictured soldiers sitting around the world being reminded of their America or, perhaps, even their neighborhood in Brooklyn. I assumed the passages alleviated their homesickness. Now, I have to wonder if it was Frannie all along encouraging them to just keep putting one foot in front of the other that brought them respite. Even 75 years after the original publication, it was this message that rang out loudest to me.

Tell me, please!

Name a character that inspires you?


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