I read this years ago when I spent the summer reading authors named Smith. This is a problem novel extraordinaire, so it should be appealing to students in middle school, but it is a challenging read, best suited to strong readers with an interest in history.It was published in 1943. The prose is dense and lyrical, and the premise very sad.
Francie's family struggles to get by in Brooklyn in the early 20th century, mainly because the father is an attractive but frequently drunk ne'er do well who finds it hard to hold a job. Francie's mother cleans for people, and Francie and her brother collect rags and bottles, because the pennies they earn might buy dinner that night. The family tries to do better and is rebuffed at every turn. I remember being so relieved at the end of the book that things turned out okay.
My 8th grader was given a copy for Christmas by her godmother, and she's been reading it a bit at a time because both of us loved it. That is a huge selling point for any book.
If there are any librarians out there who have not picked up a copy of this, you must immediately go and read Chapter 2. If the following passage doesn't break your heart and make you more aware of how you treat every child, you are dead inside. Dead!
"Each week Francie made the same request and eack week the librarian asked the same question. A name on a card meant nothing to her and since she never looked up into a child's face, she never did get to know the little girl who took a book out every day and two on Saturday. A smile would have meant a lot to Francie and a friendly comment would have made her so happy. She loved the library and was anxious to worship the lady in charge. But the librarian had other things on her mind. She hated children anyhow."