Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Audio

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Audio

Betty Smith
For ages 14 and up
Unabridged audiobook (CD)
Performed/read by: Kate Burton
Caedmon, 2008   ISBN: 978-0061650499

Francie Nolan lives with her brother Neely and her mother and father in the slums of Brooklyn in New York. Her mother, Katie, works hard to provide for her family by cleaning and by being a janitress in the building in which she lives. Francie’s charismatic and handsome father is a singing waiter. He tries to do the best that he can to provide for his family but unfortunately Johnny Nolan has a vice which he cannot seem to beat – he drinks too much. Francie knows that her father cannot be relied upon but she cannot help loving him with all her heart. Calling her his “Prima Donna” Johnny makes Francie feel special and loved, something her mother cannot seem to do for her daughter.

Life in the tenements is hard, for the Nolans are very poor. Katie is very good at making meals using stale bread and every penny is stretched as far as it will go, but there are still times when the Nolans go hungry. There is one thing that Katie insists on though. She reads to her children from the bible and from a big book of Shakespeare’s works, and she saves as much money as she can so that she will one day be able to buy “a bit of land.” She hopes that an education will give her children opportunities that she did not have and she does what she can to make sure that Francie and Neely stay in school as long as possible.

The family muddle along somehow and then Johnny dies, his drinking finally catching up with him. Johnny was not a very good provider but his intermittent paychecks did make a difference and without them Katie is not sure how she is going to manage. Will she have to pull the children out of school?

This remarkable portrait of a family and of life in New York in the early 1900’s was first published in 1943. Listeners will be able to follow Francie’s life from the time when she was just a baby to the days when she begins to make her own way in the world, a young woman who is determined to get an education and who has dreams and hopes which are far removed from the tenements where she grew up. Betty Smith does not gloss over what it was like to live in Brooklyn in those days and listeners are not spared many images of the cruel and bleak reality of what it is like to live a life of poverty. Full of colorful descriptions of tenement life and rich with vibrant characters, this is an audiobook that listeners will come back to again and again, finding something new to appreciate every time they listen to it.