A book list of favorite books that I remember from my childhood would not be complete without A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. It’s memorable for so many reasons. Beyond being a classic, the story is a tragic coming-of-age tale that centers around Francie Nolan. Her family struggles with poverty, alcoholism, and the brutal realities of existence for an Irish-American family in Brooklyn, New York.

Some Background on A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Francie’s mother, Katie, is the child of immigrants, who came to America to make a better life for their children. As readers, we’re drawn to the book, because it reinforces the power of the book, reading–and understanding. Francie’s grandmother encouraged her daughter to read the Bible and Shakespeare, but also stressed the urgent need to tell stories: “You must tell the fairy tales of the old country. You must tell of those not of the earth who live forever in the hearts of people–fairies, elves, dwarfs, and such…”

None of the reading tradition is probably foreign to your thinking… It’s likely you’ve been reading for years, that you’ve been surrounded by books, and that you’ve even thought of books as your dearest friends. But, the power in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn delves into more than just a young girl’s reading. She also embraces life, is observant, and learns to live “day to day.”

Embrace Life in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Through tragedy and triumph, there’s something very simple about the concept that we can accept life as it is, and then move forward. Each of us makes our own small fingerprints upon the world, despite the challenges and obstacles each of us encounter. We are struck by the themes and ideas that unfold through the pages…

  • Coming of Age: Francie (Mary Frances Nolan) is 11 years old when the novel begin, but she’s quickly forced to grow up and take on responsibilities that are beyond her years. By the end of the novel, she is 17.
  • Resilience: We have the image of the tree (the Tree of Heaven), which grows despite all the efforts to destroy it. But, Francie is likened to that tree. She is able to survive, grown and overcome even the most difficult obstacles.
  • The American Dream: Francie and her family dare to hope and dream. They work toward success, even as they struggle with the realities of poverty, disease, exploitation, and the realities of life.


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