Best Kept Secret
Hi, readers! Better to Wish, the first book in The Family Tree series, begins in 1930 in rural Maine and introduces readers to eight-year-old Abby Nichols. Book Two, The Long Way Home, starts twenty-five years later, as Abby's daughter Dana celebrates her seventh birthday in the family home in New York City. At the start of the third book, Best Kept Secret, the time is 1977, the setting is Princeton, New Jersey, and it's Dana's almost-seven-year-old daughter Francie's turn to share her story.
Francie is the only child of Dana Burley Goldberg, a children's book writer and illustrator, and her husband Matthew, a successful artist who also teaches at Princeton University. Matthew and Dana each have a studio in the family home. Matthew often works at odd hours, sometimes late into the evenings or on the weekends, while Dana's successful books mean lots of travel for appearances and signings. Francie struggles with dyslexia, a condition that makes it hard for her to read, and she doesn't feel that she is special at anything. Although she's extremely bright, she has trouble reading the books her mother has written, and she doesn't have her parents' artistic abilities. But she has one talent that will greatly influence her school years and future career - Francie likes to make up stories in her head, and she's very good at it.
I grew up in Princeton, so it was fun for me to relive some of my childhood traditions and activities with Francie. I have fond memories of the shops, the neighborhoods, and the schools I attended, and I incorporated many of these into the story. Like Francie, I played in Marquand Park. Francie's mother Dana eventually rents a studio on Charlton Street in downtown Princeton, just as my father did when he worked as a freelance artist. And like the Goldbergs, our family always attended the Thanksgiving service at the University Chapel.
Best Kept Secret follows Francie from kindergarten through her graduation from Smith College. Through the years, there are triumphs to be savored, but along with these come many challenges. Her parents' marriage becomes strained, a beloved aunt becomes ill, and a much-loved mentally challenged uncle comes to live with them. But Francie's greatest challenge comes when she is just nine years old and has a terrifying experience. Too scared to tell anyone what happened, she locks the secret away, but it haunts her for years to come. In the prologue to Better To Wish, Francie's grandmother Abby reflects on the power of secrets: "The things hidden and the things unsaid that sometimes cause more trouble and more grief as the years pile up, more than the things brought out into the sunshine for all to see."
Like the two previous stories, Francie's is written over the course of many years, with each chapter describing a single but significant day in her life. I wanted the reader to see the characters in a series of snapshots, as if turning the pages of a family photo album. The final book in the Family Tree series will conclude with the story of Francie's daughter Georgia. Four generations of women, each with different challenges, dreams, and aspirations. And each with secrets. For now, it's Francie's turn to continue the story that began almost one hundred years ago in a little town in Maine.
P.S. Create your own family tree on the Scholastic Family Tree web page!