Prepublication Reviews and Expertly Selected Title Lists

Molly, by Golly!: The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter

Written by Diane Ochiltree. Illustrated by Kathleen Kemly.

Set in the early 1800s in New York City, Molly by Golly! is the story of Molly Williams, who was a cook for a volunteer firefighter and regularly prepared meals for the men of the community who also served in this capacity. Thus it was one wintry day that when she heard the church bells clang signaling a fire, she rushed to be of help. This time, however, it was not food that was needed, but extra hands as sickness had severely limited the number of men who responded.

Molly did not hesitate. Donning a leather fireman’s hat, she pitched in to help. And help she did. She helped pull the heavy tanker to the scene of the fire, passed water on the bucket brigade, worked on the pumper, manned a hose, and pulled down parts of burning walls. In the end she received the highest compliment she could hope for from the Fire Captain: “Molly, by golly, you’re as fine a fire lad as any!”

While classified as a legend since so many story details had to be imagined by Ochiltree, Molly Williams was a real person and in fire fighting histories is mentioned as “the first known female fire fighter in America.”

The story flows well and the illustrations by Kathleen Kemly are in double page spreads suffused with vibrant reds and blues against the snowy backdrop of an early American city. Fire fighting methods are accurately portrayed, even those not mentioned in the text, so the pictures add detail to the story. Molly’s blue print dress and red checked apron are historically what she was said to wear. Both the motion and emotion of responding to a crisis situation are reflected in the lively illustrations.

This picture book would be very appropriate for use in units on women who made a difference and of course in units about firefighting, especially during Fire Prevention Week. Ochiltree has supplied a wealth of material in the back of the book to aid in research.

However, no matter how “useful” a picture book is in education, it needs to stand first and foremost as an exciting and delightful experience in and off itself. Molly, by Golly is a winner in every way.

~Cathi Rooth

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