"A Tree Grows In Brooklyn" Inspired NPR's Kee Malesky To Reach For The Sky : NPR Extra "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn" was the source of childhood inspiration for NPR Librarian Kee Malesky
NPR logo "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn" Inspired NPR's Kee Malesky To Reach For The Sky

"A Tree Grows In Brooklyn" Inspired NPR's Kee Malesky To Reach For The Sky

NPR Librarian Kee Malesky 2010 Doby Photography/NPR hide caption

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2010 Doby Photography/NPR

NPR Librarian Kee Malesky

2010 Doby Photography/NPR

Last week, we broke the news of our Washington Desk Editor's stealthy side: NPR's Ron Elving kept his PG-13 reading indulgence purposefully hidden from his father (it's just more fun that way!).

Today, NPR Librarian Kee Malesky looks back on the YA novel – and its strong, female protagonist and fellow Brooklynite – which inspired her to grow self-reliant and to pursue her passions:

"I remember the first time I was excited about my ability to read. I was only eight, reading The Curlytops at Silver Lake one morning, when I came across a word I didn't recognize – exaggerate. I carefully sounded it out as I had been taught to do. It was a thrilling moment, and I've never forgotten it; it was the beginning of my life as a reader.

"My first truly favorite and life-changing book came along a few years later. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was probably on my eighth grade summer reading list, or maybe I just stumbled on it at the public library. But I immediately knew that this was a book I would love forever, and not just because I, too, grew in Brooklyn.

"I read the first line – "Serene was a word you could put to Brooklyn, New York" - and stopped, reread it, and went to the dictionary. Did serene have a meaning I wasn't aware of? How could you call Brooklyn "serene"? It was a wonderful place to grow up – the center of the Universe, where everything happened and everything was available to you – but I didn't think it was serene. But I kept reading, and thought about that sentence, and realized that sometimes – a weekend afternoon in the summer, for example – Brooklyn could be quiet and peaceful, with the soft salty breeze rising from the harbor. The novel is set in the first two decades of the 20th century, and I imagined that Brooklyn could indeed have been a place of at least occasional serenity and calm.

"The main character, Francie Nolan, was a girl who loved to read – a book a day was her goal, as she went through the library shelves systematically from A to Z. My parents and teachers had always encouraged me to read, so Francie reminded me of myself. I must admit that the librarian depicted in the book wasn't really a sympathetic character, so I don't think she influenced me to join the profession. But Francie and her struggles – some very unpleasant things happen to her – did make me think that I could be strong and self-reliant, and do whatever I wanted with my life. The tree of the title – "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" – stood for those qualities and inspired me to value books and the history of the city I love."

Kee isn't the only one who holds this YA book dear either. The Library of Congress is currently featuring A Tree Grows in Brooklyn as one of the eighty-eight "Books That Shaped America" in an exhibition running at the Library until September.