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.
Grades K-2. The subject is a natural for classrooms and libraries, but there is nothing dry or didactic in Ochiltree’s tale of volunteerism. It has enough action, drama, and fascinating period details about firefighting to keep boys and girls engaged. Set in New York City, the story chronicles how Molly Williams, an African American cook, jumped in to help a skeleton crew of firefighters put out a house fire during the 1818 blizzard. Working tirelessly alongside the men to battle the raging blaze, Williams proved she was “as fine a fire lad as any,” and through her capable, courageous actions, she secured both a job as “Volunteer No. 11” and a place in history. Kemly’s richly colored double-page illustrations are filled with energy and action and extend the information about early-nineteenth-century life, especially techniques for fighting fires. Substantial back matter includes lists of related books and websites and more on Williams—but does not touch on whether she was a slave, as some sources claim—and firefighting past and present.