A Pickpocket’s Tale
Ages 8 to 12
Random House, 2006, 0-375-83379-X
Ten-year-old Molly is facing something which no child should have to face. She is in the dock and she is waiting to hear what punishment the judge has decided is suitable for her crime. Molly is a pickpocket and she has been caught. She knows that others have been hanged for stealing and she knows that she too might end up hanging “by the neck until the body be dead.” Thankfully Molly, and others like her, are going to be sent to Virginia where they will have to work for “a period of seven years.”
In actual fact, after a terrible journey in the bowels of a ship, Molly ends up in New York where she is sold to a Jewish merchant. It would appear that the Jews do their best to ‘rescue’ their own when they are transported to America, and though Molly knows nothing about Judaism, her dead mother was Jewish and so is Molly.
All Molly wants to do is to go “home”. Surely there must be some way that she can find the money to pay her way back to England? She knows that if she is caught running away she could face the gallows and yet she still wants to go back to London and the world that she knows.
As she plans and dreams Molly learns to adjust to her new life in the Bell household. Mr. Bell and his family are good to her, treating her with kindness. It is true that Molly has to work hard but she also has a roof over a head, as much as she can eat, and good clothes to wear.
Then one day a slave comes to the Bell’s kitchen door, a young girl who has been beaten half to death. Suddenly Molly sees that there are some who are even worse off than she is. She begins to think about right and wrong, about good and evil, and she begins to wonder who she is and what she wants.
In this beautifully written book Karen Schwabach brings life in England and New York in the 1700’s to life. She paints a portrait of a world full of hardship and suffering, racism and bigotry. She captures the misery that many young people who had no one to care for them experienced. Often Molly’s own experiences are upsetting and sobering, but in the end this book is about finding hope. For the first time in her short life Molly has the choice to build a real future for herself. She does not have to be tied her past; she does not have to be a London pickpocket for the rest of her life.
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