From the Publisher
"The oversized format and stunning watercolor paintings turn this fictionalized biography of the grandmother of Benjamin Banneker into an exciting visual experience. . . . A good story in a fabulous artistic package." School Library Journal
This handsome, large-sized picture book shows her [Molly Bannaky] as a woman who was strong enough not only to survive harsh times but also to break new ground. Booklist, ALA
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature - Jan Lieberman
Benjamin Banneker, a respected scientist and mathematician, published an almanac that featured astronomical tables and scientific essays in 1791. What is as fascinating as this almanac is the story of Banneker's grandmother whose story is told in this stunning picture book. In 1683, Molly, a dairymaid accidentally spilled the cow's milk. According to English law, she could be hung. Since she could read the Bible, her life was spared. She was shipped to Maryland as an indentured servant. Seven years later, she won her freedom, a plow, tobacco, and corn seeds to begin a new life. She bought a slave to help her run her farm. They married, which was a shock to the locals because she was white! They raised four daughters, one of whom was Banneker's mother. Soentpiet's paintings glow with humanity. The panoramic scenes leave indelible mind images.
Children's Literature - Children's Literature
The heroine of Alice McGill's picture book is neither black, nor American. She was a 17th century woman who defied social, racial, and gender prejudice, and was also the grandmother of celebrated African-American scientist and mathematician, Benjamin Banneker. As a young woman, Molly Bannaky committed a minor misdeed and only escaped an English death sentence because she could read and thus became an indentured servant in America. After release, she bought a farm and an African slave, who later became her husband. The introduction of Benjamin Banneker comes at the very end of the story and is a lovely surprise for those who know of him. The illustrations by Soentpiet are realistic and his obvious research and predominately monochromatic watercolors represent the period well. For those who don't know of Banneker, I recommend preceding a reading of Molly Bannaky with the recent paperback, Dear Benjamin Banneker (Harcourt, Ages 6 to 10, $16.00) by Andrea and Brian Pinkney. Scratchboard illustrations and writings filled with quotations give a sense of this man of mixed race who corresponded with Jefferson about social injustice, unraveled mysteries of the skies and seasons and published almanacs to share his knowledge with others. 1999, Houghton Mifflin, Ages 6 to 10, $16.00. Reviewer: Susie Wilde
A sneeze and a cow kicking over the milk launches this true tale of a 17-year-old dairymaid in England in 1683; Molly was subsequently accused of stealing her lordship's milk and brought before a court. Sentenced to seven years of bondage in America, she then struck out on her own, staked a claim and raised tobacco. She bought an African slave named Bannaky, who taught her about irrigation and crop rotation; when they fell in love, she freed him so that they could be legally married. Molly eventually taught her grandson, the famed Benjamin Banneker, how to read and write. McGill's telling is fine and sure, except for an unwieldy flashback in the beginning that explains a previous spilling of milk. Soentpiet adds to the drama of the story with bold, atmospheric paintings. The problem comes in the matching of text to art; the pacing, for children, is horrible at first, with a scene of Molly facing a courtroom of stone-faced men before she has even spilled the milk (the text to gets the courtroom mid-paragraph). Later, the scene of her working for someone else with two oxen is too similar to her striking out on her own with one ox; the scene of her realizing she can't manage on her own shows several other people working alongside her. These don't destroy the suspense, but will compromise the accessibility of the story for children. (Picture book. 4-8)