Alice McGill Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 0027;s Chapel, North Carolina; Education: Elizabeth City State Teacher's College, B.S.; M.Ed.
Office—P.O. Box 1607, Columbia, MD 21044.
Taught elementary school for eighteen years; became professional traveling storyteller; writer.
Presidential Citation, National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education; Picture Book Award, International Reading Association, Skipping Stones Award, and Jane Addams Peace Award, all 2000, Living the Dream Award, 2001, and Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People citation, National Council for the Social Studies/Children's Book Council, all for Molly Bannaky; Riverbank Review Award, 2000, and National Parenting Publications Award, 2001, both for In the Hollow of Your Hand.
Flying Africans (audio recording) Earwig (Chicago, IL), 1988.
Molly Bannaky, illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1999.
Miles' Song, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2000.
In the Hollow of Your Hand: Slave Lullabies (includes compact disc of McGill singing the lullabies), illustrated by Michael Cummings, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2000.
Here We Go Round, illustrated by Shane Evans, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2002.
Sure as Sunrise: Stories of Bruh Rabbit and His Walkin' Talkin' Friends, illustrated by Don Tate, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA) 2004.
Way up and over Everything, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2005.
Alice McGill began her creative life as a storyteller. Her talent for telling tales was evident in childhood, as one of eight siblings growing up in a small farming village in rural North Carolina. "There was always an audience to listen to my original stories at school or in the cotton fields," McGill recalled on her Web site. "I was delighted when grown ups requested my stories." She later became a schoolteacher, but eighteen years later she returned to storytelling full-time. After ten years of telling one of her favorite stories, about the life of the grandmother of African-American inventor Benjamin Banneker, she decided to commit the story to paper. It was published in 1999 as the picture book Molly Bannaky.
Molly was a teenaged English dairy maid in 1683, when she was convicted of theft. She was sentenced to be hanged—the traditional punishment for stealing at the time—but because she knew how to read the Bible the judge decided instead to send her to the American colonies to serve as an indentured servant for seven years. After she had served her time, Molly staked her claim on a piece of untamed land, determined to turn it into a farm. Breaking the land was too much for one person, so she bought a slave, Bannaky. The two fell in love, and even though it was illegal for blacks and whites to marry each other at that time, Molly freed and then married Bannaky. They had four daughters together, one of whom became Benjamin Banneker's mother. Molly Bannaky's story is, as Hazel Rochman wrote in Booklist, "astonishing."
McGill's second book, Miles' Song, is also historical fiction, but in this case is geared for middle-school-aged readers. Like Molly Bannaky, Miles' Song also has its roots in a story McGill has told outloud. Miles is a twelve-year-old house slave on a plantation in South Carolina when he gets in trouble for looking at a book. His master sends him to a "breaking ground," where hard physical labor is supposed to break his spirit. However, Miles instead meets another slave, named Elijah. Elijah teaches Miles how to read and write, as well as how to play dumb to fool their masters. Miles' Song presents a multi-dimensional picture of plantation life, showing the divisions among the slaves as well as their conflicts with their owners and how, as a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted "the master fosters the caste system of house servants vs. field slaves to prevent rebellion." McGill presents the horrors of slavery "without sensationalism," noted Booklist contributor Hazel Rochman; nonetheless, as Bruce Anne Shook wrote in School Library Journal, "the depictions of the terrible living conditions, poor diet, brutal punishments, and general dehumanizing effects of slavery are vividly rendered."
Here We Go Round follows a seven-year-old girl named Roberta through the summer of 1946. Roberta lives with her parents in Washington, D.C., but when her pregnant mother is ordered to stay in bed for a month prior to the birth of her next child, Roberta is sent to stay with her father's parents in rural North Carolina. Like many only children faced with the prospect of a new baby in the family, Roberta resents having a rival for her parents' attention, and she even wishes the baby would die. "Roberta's constant anxiety about the new baby is authentic and compelling," Gillian Engberg wrote in Booklist, and Black Issues Book Review contributor Lynda Jones thought that McGill "handles her protagonist's disturbing emotions with great care and sensitivity."
In the book In the Hollow of Your Hand: Slave Lullabies and Sure as Sunrise: Stories of Bruh Rabbit and His Walkin' Talkin' Friends, McGill collects traditional African-American songs and stories, respectively, that she heard as a child. In both books McGill provides a note to go with each song or story telling where she first heard it; as a Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote of In the Hollow of Your Hand, these personal stories are "every bit as moving as the songs themselves." The stories in Sure as Sunrise clearly show McGill's background as a storyteller, as a Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded, writing that they are written "in a cadenced dialect perfect for reading aloud."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Black Issues Book Review, September-October, 2002, Lynda Jones, review of Here We Go Round, p. 62.
Booklist, September 15, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of Molly Bannaky, p. 269; April 1, 2000, Hazel Rochman, review of Miles' Song, p. 1475; November 15, 2000, Hazel Rochman, review of In the Hollow of Your Hand: Slave Lullabies, p. 637; February 15, 2002, Gillian Engberg, review of Here We Go Round, p. 1032; April 15, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Sure as Sunrise: Stories of Bruh Rabbit and His Walkin' Talkin' Friends, p. 1441.
Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY), June 9, 2002, Jean Westmoore, review of Here We Go Round, p. F5.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2004, review of Sure as Sunrise, p. 333.
Publishers Weekly, August 2, 1999, review of Molly Bannaky, p. 84; April 17, 2000, review of Miles' Song, p. 81; October 9, 2000, review of In the Hollow of Your Hand, p. 89; January 7, 2002, review of Here We Go Round, p. 65; May 3, 2004, review of Sure as Sunrise, p. 191.
School Library Journal, April, 2000, Bruce Anne Shook, review of Miles' Song, p. 140; December, 2000, Anne Knickerbocker, review of In the Hollow of Your Hand, p. 134; April, 2002, Lauralyn Persson, review of Here We Go Round, p. 117; June, 2004, Mary N. Oluonye, review of Sure as Sunrise, p. 128.
Skipping Stones, May-August, 2000, Paulette Anasari, review of Molly Bannaky, p. 9.
Alice McGill Home Page, http://www.theteller.com (February 27, 2005).
Houghton Mifflin Web site, http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/ (February 27, 2005), "Alice McGill."*
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