Thursday, April 7, 2011

F is for Francie Nolan

A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN by Betty Smith---perhaps one of the greatest YA/adult crossover books ever written, ranking right up there with THE BOOK THIEF in its universal appeal.  It's the story of a young girl, daughter of an alcoholic father and an uneducated but incredibly determined mother, growing up in the Depression in immigrant New York.

So many Awesome things about Francie and I've probably read 500 books since I last read this one but here's what I remember STILL about the story (forgive my bad memory if I don't get this all exactly right)--

1. Francie doesn't drink her coffee. Her family is incredibly poor and they shouldn't waste anything but her mom gives her the opportunity to opt out of coffee. It's a tiny ounce of freedom in what would seemingly be a stifling environment. And it is all the more important because it comes from her mother. It is like the man who tends wounded feet in the concentration camp in Primo Levi's IF THIS IS A MAN. He trades his skills for rations of bread. It is a tiny freedom for the prisoners to decide if feet or food are more worth it, and the smallness of it makes an even greater impact.

2. Francie treats numbers and math like a narrative about a family. My sister read the math passage to my daughter when she was 5yo and complaining how she didn't numbers. Sometimes, we go back to it to remind her that numbers can be friendly and warm if you look at them from Francie's perspective. 

3. Francie was smart. She read every day from Shakespeare and the Bible. Her mom said she would only get somewhere if she was smart and could read smart books. Shakespeare and the Bible!  So Awesome. And even more Awesome that no one understood her when she started talking about people "begatting" children. I love how much Francie cherished the written word and it was truly a game changer for her in her life. I frequently feel this way when I see my kids reading. What would we do without books?

Favorite Francie quotes:

"Oh, magic hour when a child first knows it can read printed words!"

"Well, a person can only cry so long. Then he has to do something else with his time."

"Books became her friends, and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she was tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone, she could read a biography."   


Tara Tyler said...

I need to look up that math reference and lay it down for my students!
Happy F Day =)

Paige said...

I love love love this book! Another favorite part was when her dad got her transferred to a different school and walked her there - awesome!

That stinks about not posting on FB, maybe I can post for you. Bummer!

Jeffrey Pierce said...

Thank you for sharing. I'm definitely going to have to check out the book. :)

Rachel Searles said...

Shame on me, I haven't read this book yet! I thought I had but I'm getting it mixed up with a different story about a girl in New York...the only detail I remember is that she builds herself a writing corner in her apartment using an old crate. Now I have no idea what book that was.


Seems like a very good book will look it up to see if I can get it in the UK
Pleased to me you throught the A to Z.



Thanks for your comment most valued,

Carrie said...

I need to read this. I got it in my head when I was little that it was about trees and I've been avoiding it ever since. I mean, I liked trees and all, but I didn't want to read about them.

You've inspired me!

Charmaine Clancy said...

This book sounds really sweet :)