Book Report: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Book Report

"Some people called it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed fell, it made a tree which struggled to reach the sky. It grew in boarded-up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps and it was the only tree that grew out of cement. It grew lushly, but only in the tenement districts."

________________________________________Characters of Note________________________________________


Smith, Betty. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: A Novel. Toronto: Musson Book, 1945. Print.


(noun) literature : a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character

Molly Malone

Francie's father, Johnny, makes a tradition of singing this song as he arrives home. Francie's Irish heritage is never far from mind when Johnny is around. Yet in sharp contrast to the other children in her neighborhood, she is a 2nd generation American citizen as both Johnny and Katie were born in the USA. Francie's success compared to that ofher grandparents, parents, and peers emphasizes the cross-generational struggle to achieve the American Dream.

Originally Published

New York: 1943



Sissy's Johnny


Sgt. McShane

Paper Collars

One persistent memory Francie has of her father is his paper shirt collars. Per the advertisement below, detachable shirt collars came in more expensive linen or rubber versions (illustrated below), but Johnny's use of paper collars is a reflection of his economic and social roles in society. Paper shirt collars appear sturdy, but are ultimately flimsy and susceptible to the elements (such as when Johnny falls in the water and the paper collar crumbles). Johnny is always well dressed, and even when drunk, he appears sober. Contrastingly, when sober Johnny appears drunk. Like a clean paper shirt collar, Johnny is not as solid as he appears, and if you look under the surface, you see he would crumble under the slightest touch.

Plot Summary

This novel unfolds through the narrator's account of growing up in working-class Brooklyn during the early-mid 20th century. Our heroine, Francie Nolan, relays the intimate details of her life experience from a position of mature reflection, while simultaneously transporting us into the joy, confusion, pain, and curiosity of the journey to adulthood. We watch Francie transitions, somewhat linearly, from early childhood to school, then higher education and the workforce. She learns from her family, neighbors, and people met or encountered along the way. One of the greatest gifts granted by the narrator's REFLECTIVE wisdom is the way it elevates the seemingly trivial, the mundane-in-the-moment, to hold equal weight and poignancy as any turning point.

Press Clipping Bureau

Toward the end of the book, Francie takes a job with a Press Clipping Bureau, where she eventually becomes a Newspaper reader. Before word processors with cut and paste there were readers and people to make clippings! This picture illustrates the workspace in which Francie may have been working.


Rommely Girls

Aunt Sissy

Aunt Evy

Mary (Grandma)

Katie (Mama)?


Sample Labor Union Pin

Johnny was an active member of the Waiter's Union, and particularly proud of his Waiter's Union pin, which might have looked something like the one below. Labor unions emerged in the late 1800s and spread in popularity through the early 1900s as a way for workers to ensure their wage, health, or general work concerns were met. Unions are still popular for various types of work today.

The Nolans



Katie (Mama)

Johnny (Daddy)


  • Education
  • Familial love
  • Prejudice
  • Resilience
  • Gender
Uncle Willie's Horse Cart
Uncle Willie delivered milk with a horse and cart, which may have looked something like this Trolly Cart from 1912.


Written by:

Betty Smith

(December 15, 1896 – January 17, 1972)

Born & Raised in Brooklyn, NY.