Cover image for Molly Bannaky
Molly Bannaky
McGill, Alice.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston, Mass. : Houghton Mifflin, 1999.
Physical Description:
1 volume (unpaged) : color illustrations ; 35 cm
Relates how Benjamin Banneker's grandmother journeyed from England to Maryland in the late seventeenth century, worked as an indentured servant, began a farm of her own, and married a freed slave.
Reading Level:
AD 720 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR LG 4.8 0.5 34596.

Reading Counts RC 3-5 4.9 3 Quiz: 21223 Guided reading level: NR.
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PIC.BK. Juvenile Fiction Oversize
PIC.BK. Juvenile Fiction Picture Books
PIC.BK. Juvenile Fiction Picture Books
PIC.BK. Juvenile Fiction Picture Books
PIC.BK. Juvenile Fiction Picture Books
PIC BK Juvenile Fiction Picture Books

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On a cold gray morning in 1683, Molly Walsh sat on a stool tugging at the udder of an obstinate cow. When she spilled the milk, she was brought before the court for stealing. Because she could read, Molly escaped the typicalpunishment of death on the gallows. At the age of seventeen, the English dairymaid was exiled from her country and sentenced to work as an indentured servant in British Colonial America. Molly worked for a planter in Maryland for seven long years. Then she was given an ox hitched to a cart, some supplies-and her freedom. That a lone woman should stake land was unheard of. That she would marry an African slave was even more so. Yet Molly prospered, and with her husband Bannaky, she turned a one-room cabin in the wilderness into a thriving one hundred-acre farm. And one day she had the pleasure of writing her new grandson's name in her cherished Bible: Benjamin Banneker.

Author Notes

Alice McGill is an award-winning author and professional storyteller. Among her books is the ALA Notable Molly Bannaky, winner of the 2000 IRA Picture Book Award and the 2000 Jane Addams Award. Alice McGill has toured to collect and tell stories in thirty-nine states, Canada, the West Indies, and South Africa. She lives with her husband in Columbia, Maryland.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Ages 4^-9. Her grandson was Benjamin Banneker, the famous self-taught African American astronomer and mathematician (a biography of Baenneker is also reviewed in this issue); but Molly Bannaky's own life story is just as astonishing. This handsome, large-sized picture book shows her as a woman who was strong enough not only to survive harsh times but also to break new ground. The historical fiction story starts in seventeenth-century Britain, where she is a dairymaid who is saved from the gallows because she can read the Bible. After being extradited to America, she is freed after seven years as an indentured servant. She stakes her claim in the wilderness and buys a slave, Bannaky, to help her. They fall in love, marry (even though it is forbidden by colonial law), build a successful farm, and bear four daughters, one of whom marries an ex-slave and has a son, Benjamin. In the final double-page spread, Molly Bannaky is teaching her grandson to read and write. An afterword fills in the history, but the book's focus is on the big, richly detailed watercolor narrative paintings that combine historical pageantry with close-up portraits of a towering woman and her family. --Hazel Rochman

Publisher's Weekly Review

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 theftÄa 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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 2-4-The oversized format and stunning watercolor paintings turn this fictionalized biography of the grandmother of Benjamin Banneker into an exciting visual experience. In clear, straightforward prose, McGill tells the story of an English dairymaid sent to the gallows for accidentally spilling "his lordship's milk," but saved because she could read from the Bible. She is exiled to America where she serves seven years as an indentured servant in Maryland. When finally granted her freedom, Molly Walsh stakes her claim and starts a farm, attempting to grow tobacco, but soon realizes that she needs help. She purchases an African slave, Bannaky, vowing to treat him well and to set him free once her land is cleared. The two grow to love one another and break Colonial law by marrying. The story then jumps to the next generation and ends with Molly teaching her grandson Benjamin to read and telling him of his proud heritage. A historical note fills in some additional details. The large, double-page spreads throughout, in which Soentpiet brilliantly uses space, tone, texture, and color, particularly in lighting up portions of each painting, bring depth and drama to the text. The lush green of tobacco leaves; the dark blue of ship, water, and sky; and the pervasive glow of candles, fires, and sunsets augment subtle symbols in composition and vivid characterization communicated through body language and facial expression. A good story in a fabulous artistic package.-Marie Orlando, Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.