SPOTLIGHT ON MOLLY WILLIAMS, AFRICAN-AMERICAN FIREFIGHTER LEGEND
When my picture book based on the adventures of America’s first female firefighter, Molly Williams, was released in 2012, I did several interviews for bloggers. One of the nicest was this one, from DEBtastic Reads, debtasticreads.wordpress.com. DEBtastic Reads! is Debbi Michiko Florence’s blog featuring author interviews and book buzz for books for kids and teens. I’ve know Debbi for years and it was a pleasure ‘talking’ with her about this book of mine, which went on to win the bronze medal in the 2013 Florida Book Awards, and others. As for Debbi’s writing life, I’m happy to report that the first two books of her chapter book series, Jasmine Toguchi, will be released May 2017 with FSG. She is also the author of two nonfiction children’s books and an upcoming early chapter book series. In honor of Black History Month, I’m re-posting our conversation here:
Q: Congratulations on the release of your newest picture book, MOLLY, BY GOLLY! The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter (Calkins Creek), fabulously illustrated by Kathleen Kemly. You first became interested in Molly when you came across her legend while researching another book. What inspired you to turn this into a picture book?
A: First, it was the great spirit of volunteerism that is at the heart of Molly’s legendary tale. What Molly lacked in experience she more than compensated for with her courage and strength. It was a great opportunity to inspire future firefighters and other community helpers. Second, it was a chance to show kids how fires were actually fought in early American times. I was meticulous in my research of these details, and so was illustrator Kathleen Kemly—the firefighting history experts who double-checked our efforts were equally meticulous—because we all wanted to present as accurate a picture as possible. Kids will certainly get an appreciation for the modern equipment we have today. Third, Molly’s legend was filled with the type of action and emotion sure to inspire fabulous illustrations…which is just what happened!
Q: I was fascinated to learn how intensive and exhausting firefighting was in the 1800s! What part of your research for this book surprised you the most?
A: The biggest surprise was learning that the earliest pumper engines were not transported to the scene of a fire by a team of horses as I’d always assumed—PEOPLE did. The cobblestone streets were very narrow and bumpy, and it was often easier and safer for humans to maneuver the heavy pumper in tight spots. Also, since there were no paid fire companies at the time, there were no funds for buying, feeding and housing horses to help fight fires. There were no firehouses as we know them today, either. The volunteer companies only had equipment sheds for their very basic tools. No “sliding-down-a-fire-pole” fun for these early firefighters!
Q: Molly was a cook for firefighters. You share some delicious-sounding dishes in the book! What are some of your favorite comfort foods?
A: My favorite comfort foods: Pad Thai Noodles, Salted Caramel Ice Cream and Carolina Pulled Pork—but not all in the same meal! I had a wonderful time researching early American cookery, and just loved the quaint-and-quirky names of dishes that Molly might have fixed for her ‘fire laddies’. I’ll end with one such recipe from “Molly’s Cookbook”. Although the origination of the recipe is old, it’s adjusted for modern-day cooks. Enjoy!
1 cup white cornmeal
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1/2 cup milk
In a medium bowl, place cornmeal and salt.
In a medium saucepan over high heat, bring water to a rapid boil; remove from heat. With the saucepan in one hand, let the boiling water dribble onto the cornmeal while stirring constantly with the other hand. Then stir the milk into the mixture (it will be fairly thick, but not runny).
Generously grease a large, heavy frying pan) with the bacon drippings and heat. When pan is hot, drop the batter by spoonfuls. Flatten the batter with a spatula to a thickness of approximately 1/4 inch. Fry until golden brown, turn, and brown on the other side (adding more bacon drippings as needed).
Serve hot with butter, maple syrup, or applesauce.
Makes 4 servings.
Recipe and history courtesy of http://whatscookingamerica.net