Chapter 21: There are two teachers who visit Francie's school each week. The music teacher, Mr. Morton, is especially talented and is wonderfully successful at introducing classical music into the children's lives. Miss Bernstone teaches art. Both Mr. Morton and Miss Bernstone love the children, regardless of how poor they are. Their weekly visits are the one bright spot in an otherwise unhappy educational process.
Chapter 22: Francie has finally learned to read. When she realizes that she recognizes words and then phrases and sentences, she is thrilled. Francie also devises a game to help her learn arithmetic. She imagines that each number is a member of her family, which allows her to visualize arithmetic and understand it better.
Chapter 23: One day, Francie walks beyond her immediate neighborhood and finds herself in a neighborhood where there are no large apartments. She sees a lovely brick building, which is the school for that neighborhood. Francie is enchanted by what she sees and wants to attend this new school. When her father comes home that evening, Francie is waiting for him and asks if she can attend the smaller school.
Francie and her father walk to see the new school. When they arrive at the school Johnny begins to sing and tells Francie that they must find a house near the school and write down the address. They need an address to give to the school so that they can prove that Francie lives in the neighborhood. When she hears about it, Katie is not in favor of this lie, but she does not stop Johnny from writing a letter arranging for Francie to transfer to the new school. Johnny explains to Francie that the lie is for the greater good, which makes it okay.
Neeley expresses no interest in changing schools, so Francie enrolls at the new school by herself. She loves her new school and does not mind that she must walk 24 blocks each direction to school. In the new school, children are not beaten or mistreated. The principal and teachers are wonderful, and even the janitor is well liked, generous, and friendly.
Francie's excitement at her discovery that she can read is one of the most exciting events in her life. Readers already know from the first chapters of the narrative that Francie loves books and the library and that she reads a book a day. Her ability to create human stories out of her arithmetic problems further reinforces the comment from Miss Tynmore (the piano teacher) that Francie must become a writer. At Francie's birth, Katie's mother had told her daughter to nurture her child's imagination, and as a child, Francie's love of books is coupled with a well-developed imagination. Both traits suggest a more promising future for her than the existence of hard labor that Katie must endure.
As is common for the children of immigrants, they tended to fare better than their parents in many ways. Francie's ability to advocate for her own education suggests that she grow up with advantages that her parents did not have. The new school that she enters is far superior to the old one. The parents whose children attend this school have lived in the United States for many generations. They know their rights and their children's rights, and they know enough to demand a better education. Unlike the school near Francie's home, the new school is not overcrowded. Francie does not have to share a desk, and the new teachers, who are not forced to deal with many more students than they can possibly handle, tend to be kinder and more generous with their time. In the old school, the only nice teachers were the two who visited once a week, but in the new school, all the teachers are caring and kind to all the children, not just the students who are rich. In the old school, Francie was the only child in her class who could claim to be an American, since she was the only child whose parents were born in America. In the new school, all the children are Americans.
Francie is careful in choosing Johnny to support her desire to change schools. She knows instinctively that Katie would not be helpful, because if the old school is good enough for Neeley, it is good enough for Francie, too. The vaccination story in Chapter 18, which resulted in Johnny's comforting of Francie in the middle of the night, should be remembered in considering Johnny's value as a father. It is Johnny who helps Francie get into the new school. Johnny is not always an attentive father, but it is clear in these two instances how much he loves Francie. Since his early death was predicted in Chapter 8, readers already understand that when Johnny dies, Francie will lose the one parent who actively cares for her emotional well-being. Although Katie loves Francie, she is primarily focused on the child's physical well-being. Katie's emotional tie to Neeley is much stronger, and Francie suffers, even if she does not know why.