Title: Molly by Golly, The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter
Author: Dianne Ochiltree
Illustrator: Kathleen Kemly
Publisher: Calkin’s Creek, 2012
Themes: African Americans, Firefighters, New York City
Genre: legend, biography
“Our Molly is a fine a cook as any in New York City.” The Lads in Fire Company No. 11 liked to boast.
“In Fact she’s wondrous fine.”
“Molly’s Hasty Pudding is always the tastiest.” the Captain always said.
“No, Sir,” Isaac would declare, it’s her chicken roly-poly makes a man’s mouth water.
“Hot apple tansy is Molly’s most delicious dish,”Jonas was sure to insist.
The argument would go around the fire company’s table until the very last bite of venison stew or codfish muddle had disappeared. But one thing the men agreed: Molly. by golly, put hands and heart to every task, in or out of the kitchen.
One wintry day, she proved just how wondrous fine she could be.
This legendary tale introduces young readers to Molly Williams, an African American cook for New York City’s Fire Company 11, who is considered to be the first known female firefighter in U.S. history. One winter day in 1818, when many of the firefighting volunteers are sick with influenza and a small wooden house is ablaze, Molly jumps into action and helps stop the blaze, proudly earning the nickname Volunteer Number 11. Relying on historic records and pictures and working closely with firefighting experts, Dianne Ochiltree and artist Kathleen Kemly not only bring this spunky and little-known heroine to life but also show how fires were fought in early America. (Goodreads)
Why I like this book:
Dianne Ochiltree has written a fictionalized account of America’s first female firefighter, an African-American named Molly Williams, and a little known folk hero. The story, crafted from legend and a few available facts portrays Molly Williams as a servant-cook who took up the firefighter’s role in a time of need.
Molly’s not just a hero; it is her motivation that really hooks the reader in. Molly was faced with a circumstance where the opportunity to do good took precedence over any other role that was assigned or expected of her. Encouraging young readers and future firefighters to do the same in the name of unselfish public service is at the heart of this larger than life character! The addition of much humor and lightheartedness in the lengthy but flowing text, help accentuate Molly’s courage.
The vivid illustrations and double page spreads in watercolor make the story vibrant and detailed. The somewhat stereotypical images feel totally appropriate for a folktale for young children.
Don’t miss my interview with the illustrator here.
Teachers and librarians will want to include Molly in classroom activities of all sorts. Besides the obvious connections to firefighting and public service, the content does provide elementary-aged students a glimpse into a neglected area of early American city life. Add this piece of Americana to the collection with confidence that it will circulate and spark conversation about life past and present.
An author’s note explains how she embellished the historical record for this particular book; “Frequently Asked Questions” (a great way to address particular points raised by the text); further grade-level books to read; websites; a pointer to how to find fire museums to visit in person; a bibliography; and an acknowledgements that includes the subject matter experts consulted by the author.
Find more “Perfect Picture Book Friday” reviews at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog HERE.
I love all of the stories that begin with “America’s first female…” So many stories are being discovered and written into story form for kids about the contributions women have made throughout history. Can’t get enough of them. Molly’s story really shows a woman who throws caution to the wind and does what needs to be done — especially in the early 19th century in NYC.