Skip to Main Content

Second Read is a new BPL Presents series that reevaluates canonical classic and contemporary work and encourages lively debate around books and reading. Panelists Jen Doll, Rita Meade, Robert Rorke and Noelle Santos reevaluate A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is 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.

​Jen Doll is the author of the young adult novel Unclaimed Baggage and the memoir Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest. She's also a freelance journalist who's written for publications including The Atlantic, GQ, New York Magazine, The New York Times, Topic, The Village Voice, and The Week. She was given a copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for her 11th birthday and has re-read it every year since. 

Rita Meade is the Library Information Supervisor at the Bay Ridge Library, one of the busiest branches in the Brooklyn Public Library system. She is the author of Edward Gets Messy (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, 2016), which was awarded the inaugural Anna Dewdney Read-Together Award recognizing a picture book that is "both a superb read aloud and also sparks compassion, empathy, and connection." Rita was named one of the “100 Most Influential People in Brooklyn” by Brooklyn Magazine, has served as a judge for The Story Prize, and has written for several publications and literary sites such as School Library Journal, Book Riot, and Reading Rainbow. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is her favorite book of all time.

Robert Rorke was born and raised and lives in Brooklyn. He is a TV editor at the New York Post who has also previously written for Publishers Weekly, TV Guide, Los Angeles Times, and Seventeen. He received his MFA from Warren Wilson College and his MA in English from Stanford University.

Noëlle Santos is just weeks out from opening The Lit. Bar: the only bookstore (and wine bar) in the Bronx. Her entrepreneurial journey includes winning NYPL & Citi Foundation’s 2016 business plan competition, operating an 800-member book club, and crowdfunding over $170,000. Noëlle’s hustle has garnered dozens of profiles by media outlets including Forbes, The Today Show, Essence, Glamour, Ebony, Latina, and The Huffington Post. As Noëlle strives to bring a physical bookshop to the Boogie Down, she takes The Lit. Bar mobile to serve the bookselling needs of schools, local, independent, and celebrity authors. Noëlle leverages her platforms on the American Booksellers Association’s Advisory Council and social media to promote book culture in inner cities, diversity in the book industry, and entrepreneurship as a form of activism.

And don't miss our 75th Anniversary Celebration on November 14.

Support generously provided by HarperCollins Publishers

close navigation
Becoming a BPL Sustainer is the most convenient way to support free access to books, tech, literacy programs and more on a monthly basis. BPL can plan better when we know we can count on your consistent support.
Donate now