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Reading the Books of The Great American Read: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

I was profoundly moved by this book in my youth, relating to Francie even though we weren’t impoverished, my father wasn’t an alcoholic and the neighbors didn’t deride us. Like Francie, I adored my dad who was often gone away on business. And like Francie, I loved to read and was often lost in the pages of a book. I watched the movie on television back in the day but as far as I can tell it’s not widely available anymore so no instant streaming recommendation on Netflix or Amazon. 

Peggy Ann Garner as Francie with Jame Dunn as Johnny in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Perhaps with the renewed attention the PBS Great American Read program brings, the film will get reissued just as the book is. Harper Collins has just released a nice fresh paperback edition. Remember the story? 
The American classic about a young girl's coming-of-age at the turn of the century.
From the moment she entered the world, Francie needed to be made of stern stuff, for the often harsh life of Williamsburg demanded fortitude, precocity, and strength of spirit. Often scorned by neighbors for her family’s erratic and eccentric behavior—such as her father Johnny’s taste for alcohol and Aunt Sissy’s habit of marrying serially without the formality of divorce—no one, least of all Francie, could say that the Nolans’ life lacked drama. By turns overwhelming, sublime, heartbreaking, and uplifting, the Nolans’ daily experiences are tenderly threaded with family connectedness and raw with honesty. Betty Smith has, in the pages of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, captured the joys of humble Williamsburg life-from “junk day” on Saturdays, when the children of Francie’s neighborhood traded their weekly take for pennies, to the special excitement of holidays, bringing cause for celebration and revelry. Betty Smith has artfully caught this sense of exciting life in a novel of childhood, replete with incredibly rich moments of universal experiences—a truly remarkable achievement for any writer.

The screen version, directed by Elie Kazan, starred Dorothy Mcguire as Francie’s mother Katie Nolan, James Dunn as Francie's alcoholic father, Joan Blondell as the scandalous Aunt Sissy, with Lloyd Nolan and Peggy Ann Garner as Francie. The screenplay was nominated for writing and James Dunn won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. I’d love to see this movie again! Twentieth Century Fox, I’m talking to you!