Study Guide

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Chapter 20

By Betty Smith

Chapter 20

  • Katie is a total germ-o-phobe, a warrior woman battling an army of diseases. You see, the kids are packed in so closely together at school that they often catch stuff from each other—like head lice.
  • Katie hears about the whole lice situation in the classroom and gets on it, scrubbing Francie’s hair and scalp with strong soap and then brushing her hair with a comb dipped in kerosene and braiding it up very tight. (Shmoop’s head hurts just writing this sentence.)
  • Not only is it painful, but the poor girl reeks.
  • The teacher sends a note home instructing Katie to stop using kerosene on Francie’s head, but Katie ignores her and does it every day.
  • When there is an outbreak of the mumps, Katie germ-o-phobia gets even worse.
  • She makes garlic necklaces for her family to wear under their shirts… which means Francie now stinks of kerosene and garlic. Poor kid—everywhere she goes, crowds part like the Red Sea for Moses.
  • But, guess what? Katie’s plan works.
  • They can’t be sure why (perhaps it’s just because people stay far away from them), but Francie and Neeley are never sick. They never even get a cold. Amazing, right?
  • Unfortunately, though, Francie is stuck as an outsider because of how bad she smells. Her stink is a social disease though physically she stays well.