October 25

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Author’s Notes and Not-So-Trivial Pursuits by Sarah Albee

Teachers often tell me that authors’ notes are useful pedagogical tools for their classroom book discussions. As it turns out, authors’ notes are extremely helpful tools for authors as well. I usually write my author’s note at the very end of the writing process (usually when my editor reminds me to do so). And in the process, I always learn something about myself, and my motivation for writing the book.

So today is publication day for my new book, Troublemakers in Trousers: Women and What They Wore to Get Things Done. I’m excited to share it with you, Nerdy friends!

Here is how my author’s note begins:

When I was in third grade, I showed up at school wearing a black-and-white checked pantsuit. It was the seventies, so I’m pretty sure it was a hundred percent polyester. I thought I looked extremely “dy-no-mite.” My class was going on a field trip—some sort of outdoor nature expedition—and I figured that surely the dress code for girls wouldn’t apply that day. I was wrong.

The school principal called my parents. My dad had to leave work and bring me a skirt to change into.

That was a pivotal moment in my life—an awakening of sorts. I became suddenly aware that double standards and dumb rules existed, and a lot of them were unfair to girls in particular.

I’d forgotten all about that pantsuit incident, but when I began pondering what to say in my author’s note, the memory bubbled up. Other memories did, too, and I suddenly understood why the topic felt so personal. I already knew quite a bit about trouser-wearing women in history, thanks to having written this book a few years ago:

But Troublemakers is about much more than what women wore. It’s about twenty-one particular women. Some were queens. Some were pirates. Some were soldiers, or athletes, or outlaws. It’s about their strength and courage in the face of injustice, double standards, mockery, and danger. It’s . . . personal.

I connected with every one of these women. And I hope that kids will, too. I also hope they’ll see how fun and fascinating history can be.

And speaking of fun, here’s the trailer:

And now for a bit of Troublemakers Trivia!

The object of this game is to identify any one of these Troublemakers. But it’s okay if you’ve never heard of any of them—some of them were new to me, too. I can’t wait to introduce them all to my readers. (Answers are below.)

1. In 1910, this Troublemaker made history when she became the first person to fly a plane over Ireland, She built her own aircraft, using bicycle handlebars, an empty whiskey bottle, and her aunt’s ear trumpet.

Why I connect with her: I am mildly risk-averse, but I deeply admire people who are willing to take huge risks. She took huge risks.

2. This Troublemaker became the first woman to play professional, major-league baseball. She replaced Hank Aaron on the Indianapolis Clowns (a Negro League team), after he was called into the white major leagues.

Why I connect with her: I love how she mopped the floor with the dudes who doubted her abilities. As someone who has often been the sole female on a basketball court, I might have an emotional connection with that.

3. This Troublemaker disguised herself as a soldier to fight against the British in the American Revolution. At one point she was shot and seriously wounded in the leg. To avoid detection, she extracted the musket ball herself, using rum to clean the wound and digging it out with a knife and a sewing needle.

Why I connect with her: Just as a fangirl. What a Boss. Also that knife/sewing needle thing.

4. This Troublemaker, an enslaved light-skinned Black woman, disguised herself as a white planter, while her darker-skinned husband posed as “his” enslaved manservant. In their disguises, they embarked on a harrowing journey on trains, steamboats, and stagecoaches all the way from the Deep South to Philadelphia, evading capture and gaining their freedom.

Why I connect with her: I mean, who wouldn’t admire this woman’s derring-do? But also, as a junior varsity-level sewer, I love that she was an amazing seamstress and that she sewed many components of their (successful and convincing) disguise.

5. This 18th-century Troublemaker, a self-taught, illiterate herbalist, embarked on a voyage in the disguise of a manservant to the Royal Botanist (who was actually her upper-class, much-older, professionally-incompetent boyfriend. Ew). After many misadventures, she became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe.

Why I connect with her: I’m a JV-level gardener, but I know enough about plants to appreciate people who know a lot about plants. Also, well, everything else about her.

Answers:

  1. Lilian Bland
  2. Toni Stone
  3. Deborah Sampson
  4. Ellen Craft
  5. Jeanne Baret

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sarah Albee is the New York Times bestselling author of history and science books for kids. Her latest title is called Troublemakers in Trousers: Women and What They Wore to Get Things Done. Other recent titles include Fairy Tale Science; Accidental Archaeologists; North America: A Foldout Graphic HistoryWhy’d They Wear That?; Dog Days of History; Poison; and numerousbiographies for young readers. She lives in Connecticut with her family. Visit her at http://www.sarahalbeebooks.com

Picture credits:

Lilian Bland, Deborah Sampson, Ellen Craft, Jeanne Baret: Public Domain.

Toni Stone: Courtesy of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.