Molly Bannaky

Alice McGill, Author, Chris K. Soentpiet, Author, Chris K. Soentpiet, Illustrator Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $17 (32p) ISBN 978-0-395-72287-9
This sketchy, ultimately unfocused picture book introduces the spirited British exile who would become grandmother to Benjamin Banneker, the first black man to publish an almanac. After a cow knocks over a pail of milk, Molly, a 17-year-old dairy maid, must go on trial for theft--a crime punishable by death in 1683 England. However, because she can read the Bible, the court spares her life and instead deports her to America as an indentured servant. McGill effectively portrays Molly's determination when her servitude ends and she stakes her legal claim to farmland: ""That a lone woman should stake land was unheard of, but Molly's new neighbors saw the way she jutted out her chin."" However, the narrative glosses over the evolution of Molly's relationship with Bannaky, an enslaved African she buys to help her work her land, as well as any social complications that may have arisen when she falls in love with Bannaky and later marries him. The abrupt conclusion conveniently introduces Benjamin Banneker and circles back to Molly's life-saving gift of literacy (she is shown teaching her grandson to read). A historical note fills in a few gaps in the story with some additional information about Molly Bannaky and Benjamin Banneker. Unfortunately, neither the note nor the story explains how the surname changed from Bannaky to Banneker. Soentpiet's watercolors span scenes of both public pageantry and private moments, but seem uncharacteristically stiff and undramatic. For example, the climactic spilt milk scene is left to readers' imagination. In addition, the illustrations of Molly are inconsistent; she looks almost like a different person from one spread to the next. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/27/1999
Release date: 09/01/1999
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