A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

atreegrowsinbrooklyn     Previously known for her plays “So Gracious in the Time” and “Three Comments on a Martyr”, Betty Smith changed the American literature world with her “fictional” novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith is a coming of age novel  about a girl that encompasses various different hardships in the poverty-stricken borough of Brooklyn during the early 1900’s. This classic American novel published in 1943 immediately drew attention to its author and its content. Published during the middle of the Second World War, Smith attracted various different audiences that related to her book. By the end of 1945, Betty had earned nearly $110,000 just from the sales of more than 3 million copies of her book.

Although considered fictional, Betty Smith composed this novel with various non-fictional experiences from her own life. Reading about Betty Smith’s life experiences allows the reader to see the various sources of inspiration for the events and people in the book even if the book is labeled fiction. What inspired Smith to bring such an ordinary person’s life into a fictional literary realm? While interviews never addressed the subject, various literary critics did. Critics agree that because of the chaotic time period in which the book was published in, the American public accepted and drew towards the conversations of poverty, immigration, the working class, and women. According to C.S Johnson’s Dissertation, He states that the Betty Smith would not have been as successful if the economic and social conditions had not been favorable. Smith’s ability to give the reader different versions of the “American Dream” draws everyone, from the immigrant to the American native.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is told from an omniscient point of view, which allows the audience to see the moral development of the protagonist, Francie, as well as the thoughts of other characters that help shape her development. The narrator brings the reader on a thrilling ride from life before Francie to Francie’s near-end of adolescence age. Smith paints the hardships and experiences of Francie and her family so vividly that the reader cannot hold back their emotions of sorrow, love, and despair for the protagonist. Through these hardships is when Smith weaves in the experiences of poverty, treatment, and living conditions that were faced by early immigrants. Smith also weaves in the social and political conditions of New York in the years prior to World War One. Through Francie the reader begins to understand the historical contexts that were experienced by Betty Smith during her childhood.

Betty Smith encompasses various different important topics that still make her novel favorable and desirous to read years later. Smith’s incorporation of universal literary themes and the symbolism of the ever-famous tree of heaven allows readers to dive into her novel to explore their significance and connections to modern day life. Her ability to place the reader in Brooklyn back in the early 1940’s through the use of vivid word pictures and expressions allow the reader to see life for early immigrants and their families.

– DML

Dave at Night: A Departure for Gail Carson Levine

Dave at NightGail Carson Levine is known for writing fairy-tale–inspired children’s books such as Ella Enchanted and The Princess Tales. But you’ll only finds traces of a fairy tale in Dave at Night. Levine has said: “Dave at Night is historical fiction, my only novel without a shred of fantasy.”

Instead, Levine saw Dave at Night as an opportunity to imagine her father’s childhood. Her father had been an orphan at the Hebrew Orphan Asylum on 137th Street and Amsterdam Avenue during the 1920s, but he never spoke of his time there. So after his death in 1986, Levine researched the Hebrew Orphan Asylum and the time period more broadly, thereby giving us Dave at Night.

The story of Dave at Night is told from the perspective of the spirited, trouble-making, eleven-year-old Dave Caros. Dave is living in a Jewish community in the Lower East Side in October 1926 when his only living parent, his father, dies. (Dave’s mother died in childbirth, an event, Dave jokes, resulting from his earliest attempts at making trouble.) Soon after his father’s death, Dave’s brother Gideon goes to live with their Uncle Jack, leaving Dave with their evil stepmother, Ida, who does not waste any time in abandoning Dave at the Hebrew Home for Boys. From the very beginning, Levine does a remarkable job of revealing 1920s New York through the eyes of an impoverished yet sunny boy. Dave marvels at the automobile in which he rides to his father’s funeral, perhaps not altogether aware of what has happened and what will happen.

When he enters the Hebrew Home for Boys for the first time, Dave describes it as colder than outside. Later that day, at lunch, Dave describes the meat he and his peers are served as “gristly,” and the reader begins to see how the boys’ days are tightly regimented, just as the days at the actual Hebrew Orphan Asylum once were. Not to mention the fact that the asylum’s superintendent, Mr. Bloom (a.k.a. Mr. Doom), terrorizes the boys on a daily basis. Levine has an uncanny ability to set detailed scenes, using only an authentically adolescent voice. The action, too, matches the psyche of a daring adolescent boy, as Dave quickly finds a way to slip out of the asylum by night.

Through Dave’s nights out, Levine artfully weaves the history of the Harlem Renaissance—with all its great writers, painters and musicians—into the novel. On his first night out, Dave meets an elderly Jewish man named Solomon Gruber, who takes him to a rent party on 136th Street, claiming to be his grandfather. And it’s not long before Solly begins to actually fill that role in Dave’s mind. At the rent party, Dave befriends a wealthy African American girl named Irma Lee Packer. Dave is mesmerized by Irma Lee’s beauty and kindness, and she and Dave quickly become the best of friends. Although the doom and gloom of the Hebrew Home for Boys may seem to contrast Dave’s colorful nights in Harlem, there are some sunlit moments there. As Dave becomes closer to each of the “elevens” (the orphans of his age), Dave learns the meaning of friendship and loyalty.

It’s with the help of all of his new friends that Dave makes just the right amount of trouble – an amount that might make life at the Hebrew Home for Boys tolerable. Dave at Night does not want for history, introspection, action or character diversity. With much skill, Levine writes a historically accurate novel featuring a round, lovable narrator, a varying plot and a wide array of wicked and endearing characters.

-SD

The Mundane Beginning of Our Town and its Fantastic Message

During my reading of Our Town, I found myself getting, at first, bored then anxious. I particularly found myself bored at certain parts where daily life was predictable because I had seen them portrayed in many sitcoms of the 90’s. I found myself anxious at the end of act two and the beginning of act three. After the end of act two, I found myself predicting that Emily and George were going to be the first people in town to ever get divorced, which is what drove my anxiousness. I state that I have a love/hate relationship with this play because while I was deeply attracted to the ending and its message, the beginning was too slow. While the predictability of life during this time may not be known for current young adult readers, I believe that this slow beginning is something that may disengage young adult readers (especially if they have not read traditional plays like Shakespeare). While I am torn about teaching it, I do love the ending. My favorite part was when Emily travels to the past and realizes that some of the most important moments of life and how disengaged we are with one another. Any suggestions on how to address this love/hate relationship in a classroom?

– DL(SP15)

NetGalley: My One True Love

There’s an amazing site out there that all teachers should know about…NetGalleynetgalley. NetGalley is a site for teachers, librarians, and bloggers: basically anyone who shares books, and their opinions of books with other people. The purpose of the site is simple; users sign up, and then are able to get digital copies of books before it is released. After you’ve read the book you write a review for the publishers to use if they want. They have books from every genre you can imagine, from YA, to cookbooks, to graphic novels, and more. Recently they added a youtube channel, where you can see things like this video on how to write a book review.   JMV