Alice McGill,
Molly Bannaky,
illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet
(Houghton Mifflin, 1999)

My 7-year-old daughter brought Molly Bannaky home from the library because she and the book's protagonist share a first name. It was a good choice -- the book is nicely educational, offering a slice of early colonial history and a peek into the early days of gender and racial equality in the future United States.

Molly was a British milkmaid who, for twice spilling her master's milk into the dirt, was sentenced to transportation for stealing. (Only her ability to read from the Bible saved 17-year-old Molly from death.) Arriving in Maryland in 1683, Molly worked for seven years as an indentured servant before earning her freedom and a few of the basic necessities -- an ox, a plow, seeds, a rifle, etc. -- and the opportunity to lay claim to land of her own.

Her independence in those days was unusual enough. Imagine her neighbors' shock and dismay when Molly bought, then freed and married, a slave newly arrived from Africa. Although technically illegal for a white woman to marry a black man, Molly was never charged for the act and her husband, Bannaky, proved a useful and knowledgeable member of the community before his death. He left behind his wife and four daughters, who thrived in the New World.

Alice McGill's narrative is simple, straightforward and easy for young ears to understand. Her interpretation of the true story is stripped of many details, yet it provides readers with good insights into the life and times of Molly Bannaky.

But this book is a good example where it seems that the artist's name should be given top billing over the writer's. The text is no great stretch for a writer; it's a simple summation of events. But Chris K. Soentpiet's depiction of the people and their surroundings brings the story to life, full of expression and rich detail.

Molly Bannaky is, in any case, a good introduction for children to early American history and the gender and racial issues that were a part of the nation's development.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 23 April 2005

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