Title: Molly’s Pilgrim
Author: Barbara Cohen
Illustrator: Daniel Mark Duffy
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Audience: Ages 5 – 9 years
Summary: Molly’s life in Winter Hill school is not happy. Her English is uncertain, her clothes are different and some of the girls sing, “Jolly Molly, your eyes are aw’fly small. Jolly Molly, your nose is aw’fly tall”. Molly’s parents are Russian Jewish immigrants who have found a place in New Jersey to live and work after being driven from Russia. Molly’s difference becomes more pronounced as the class begins to plan for Thanksgiving, a holiday she knows nothing about. Each child is to make a pilgrim doll. When Molly explains this to her mother, her mother knows exactly what to do. “I’m a pilgrim who came to this country to be free to worship,” she says. Molly sees with a sinking heart that her mother has made a doll dressed as a Russian peasant but she has to take it for she has no chance to make anything else. The class makes fun of Molly for not understanding what a Pilgrim looks like but she explains to the teacher what her mother said. The teacher proclaims Molly’s mother to be a modern pilgrim and goes on to explain that the idea for Thanksgiving really came from a Hebrew festival, the Feast of Booths. The doll stays on the teacher’s desk throughout the year as a reminder that it takes all kinds of pilgrims to make Thanksgiving.
Literary elements at work in the story: This is a first person narrative and the voice rings true as a young child’s experience in a difficult situation. The book was first printed in 1983 and was reprinted with a different illustrator in 1990. It also won an academy award as the Best Short Film of 1985.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? Prejudice and school cruelty are present in the story although whether or not anti-semitism is a fully developed attitude in grade school is debatable. Culture and financial status are also factors in the treatment of Molly by the children. Elizabeth, the main persecutor in the story, is overdrawn. Molly’s mother is a strong, positive woman in difficult circumstances.
Theological Conversation Partners: The Feast of Booths or Succoth was one of the three major celebrations of the Jews. It commemorated the wilderness wandering and occurred with the fall harvest. (Ex. 23:16; 34:22; Lev. 23:33-36, 39-43; Deut. 16:13-16) Families built booths and lived outdoors for a week, feasting and recalling their deliverance from Egypt. The two histories are different, of course, but religious freedom is one of the main reasons for the American Thanksgiving.
Persecution of outsiders drove the Pilgrims to America and it is still present in the American classroom that Molly attends. Molly’s Pilgrim is a continued reminder of the importance of appreciating and understanding those who are different, of the contributions that they have and will continue to make. Thanksgiving to God is at the heart of the religious celebrations of both Christians and Hebrews.
Faith Talk Questions:
- What about Molly sets her apart at school?
- Are there children who are different in your school? How are they treated?
- Why is Molly’s mother sure that she qualifies as a pilgrim?
- Why did the original Pilgrims come to America?
- What do you think is the meaning of Thanksgiving?
- What are some ways to celebrate that reflect this true meaning?
- Write a Thanksgiving prayer or find one in the Hebrew Scripture using the refrain from Ps. 136.
Review prepared by regular contributor Virginia Thomas
Molly’s Pilgrim by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.