The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview w/ Sarah Albee and Review of Troublemakers in Trousers

I am so excited to interview the amazing nonfiction author Sarah Albee and provide you with a review of her amazing newest nonfiction middle grade novel.

Sarah Albee is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 100 books for kids, ranging from preschool through middle grade. Recent nonfiction titles have been Junior Library Guild, Bank Street College of Education Best Books, and Notable Social Studies Trade Books selections, as well as winners of Eureka! Nonfiction Children’s Book Awards. She especially loves writing about topics where history and science connect.


Sarah is the author of over 100 books, including Fairy Tale Science (2021), Accidental Archaeologists: True Stories of Unexpected Discoveries (2020), Jane Goodall: A Champion of Chimpanzees (I Can Read Level 2), illustrated by Gustavo Mazali (2020), North America: A Fold-out Graphic History (2019), Dog Days of History: The Incredible Story of Our Best Friends (2018), Poison: Deadly Deeds, Perilous Professions, and Murderous Medicines (2017), Why'd They Wear That?: Fashion as the Mirror of History (2015), Bugged: How Insects Changed History (2014), and Poop Happened!: A History of the World from the Bottom Up (2010).

[For general information about Sarah, see our earlier interview (here).]


Her newest book, Troublemakers in Trousers: Women and What They Wore to Get Things Done released yesterday.


​​Welcome back Sarah,


Thanks Maria!


What was the inspiration for Troublemakers in Trousers: Women and What They Wore to Get Things Done?

I have a book with National Geographic called Why’d They Wear That? and in researching that book I became fascinated by the challenges so many women faced for most of history, negotiating the world in long skirts. Of course, in certain cultures and periods of history men have worn (and still wear) long dress-like garments as well, but where that happens it tends to make practical sense for them to do so (such as living in hot climates). Women’s fashions, very broadly speaking, have historically rarely been practical. I also had the chance to write about a lot of women I’ve long admired. As criteria for inclusion in the book, they just had to have been known to wear pants at some point in their lives. For instance, Harriet Tubman didn’t typically wear pants—but she certainly did when necessary to get things done.


Thanks for sharing the criteria to get into the book. It is a wonderfully diverse and eclectic grouping of strong minded women. What was the toughest part of your research and/or writing for Troublemakers in Trousers? Did you learn something during the researching or writing that will help you with future books?


Every time I set out to research/write a book I nurture a hope that it will go smoothly and efficiently. I mean, I’ve written a lot of books. I should have this down. Sigh. [😊 - If you do, let us know the trick!]


In reality, each time I work on a new book it feels like I’ve never written a book before. Every book presents its own unique challenges. I faced the usual issues of keeping my research notes organized, acquainting myself with events/periods of history I thought I sort of knew but turned out not to, and figuring out the parts of each story that would be most appealing to kids. For this one in particular, the challenge was narrowing down the list of incredible women. I wanted to include them all.


As for what I learned—I learned a ton of new information about history and about the world, and it all got filed away in my brain database. With luck I’ll be able to call upon it for subsequent books!


Oh, I hope you can write a Troublemakers II. It is interesting how much history can get warped. So we know titles can be tricky. How many tries did it take to arrive at this fun title?


Oh my. This one was definitely a journey. My editor and I were calling it by several different titles along the way, and it came very (very) close to being called Scandalous! but someone at Charlesbridge chimed in that they didn’t love that one, as it sounded a bit pearl-clutchy. Just before the book went to print, Troublemakers in Trousers kind of hit me in a flash, and my editor really liked the title, so that’s what we went with. (I like it too!)


It is pure inspiration and so fun to say! How long did it take from the idea spark to publication for Troublemakers in Trousers?


About five years? But things moved quickly once Charlesbridge acquired the book, and I think the writing/rewriting/revising/illustration process took about two years. And then boom. The supply-chain issues arose. So publication got delayed several times. I know many writers/illustrators out there can commiserate!


It was definitely a weird couple of years. But you and the Troublemakers made it! What's something you want your readers to know about Troublemakers in Trousers?


The book is meant to spark readers’ interest in a particular person or time period. I hope readers will be inspired to learn more!


I definitely got intrigued by a number of women I had never heard of and even learned things about women I thought I knew. With the beginning of each biography section illustrated, did anything surprise or amaze you when you first saw Kaja Kajfez’s illustrations? Do you have an illustration, photograph, or spread in the book you particularly liked?

Text © Sarah Albee, 2022. Image © Kaja Kajfez, 2022.


I actually gasped when the finished art came in. It’s just so dazzling. And I was also thrilled when my editor told me we could also include historical images in the book. I think the combination works beautifully—Kaja’s illustrations open each chapter, and the historical photos/art will help kids appreciate that these women were actual, real-life people.

Text © Sarah Albee, 2022. Image © Kaja Kajfez, 2022.

Photo © Marie-Lan Nguyen/British Museum/Wikimedia Commons


It's just totally stunning. What was the most interesting thing you learned about why a woman chose to wear trousers even though against the law, customs, or both?


I learned a lot of interesting things. Here’s one: Until a two-hundred-year-old law was revoked in 2013, women in Paris could be arrested for wearing pants in public.


Wow - that is so sad it took so long to change it! Are there any upcoming projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?


I have several picture books in the pipeline at the moment. A couple have yet to be announced, but one that has been is (probably) going to be called The Painter and the President: Gilbert Stuart’s Brush with George Washington. It’s about the strained relationship between George Washington and the It-boy portrait painter of the 18th century, Gilbert Stuart. They did not get along, although each knew the other was their ticket to posterity.


That sounds intriguing! Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

My whole family loves the Adirondacks, and we have spent many happy days climbing mountains there. I feel a little disloyal saying so, as I come from Vermont, and grew up in the Green Mountains, but . . . the Adirondacks are just magical. But I also love big-city parks, like Central Park in NYC and Rock Creek Park in DC.


Thank you, Sarah for stopping by for this interview. I always enjoy talking with you.


Thanks so much for the fun conversation!


To find out more about Sarah Albee, or contact her:

Website: www.sarahalbeebooks.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sarah.albee

Twitter: https://twitter.com/sarahalbee

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sarahjalbee/


*Sarah is excited to be returning to in-person school visits, and is booking schools now for the spring of 2023. Contact her via her website at www.sarahalbeebooks.com.*


Review of Troublemakers in Trousers:

Women and What They Wore to Get Things Done


I connected immediately with each of these women, not because I was forbidden or frowned upon for wearing pants, but because each and every one of them had to fight prejudice, crazy ideas, and numerous other barriers to do what they were drawn (destined) to do. When I moved my senior year of high school, our school had a drafting class and, although I was toying with going to law school, the gigantic grin on my grandpa's face when he thought someone might follow in his footsteps made me sign up. It was fun and I almost gave up the idea of law school - until my drafting teacher told me, "you draw pretty good, for a girl." This book contains adventure, new discoveries in history and archeology, and some pretty amazing women.

Troublemakers in Trousers: Women and What They Wore to Get Things Done


Author: Sarah Albee


Illustrator: Kaja Kajfez


Publisher: Charlesbridge (2022)


Ages: 9-12


Nonfiction


Themes:

Independence, adventure, history, trailblazers, strong women, and societal norms.


Synopsis:

Meet twenty-one women throughout history who broke fashion and norms to do something groundbreaking in this unique middle-grade collection that celebrates trailblazers and troublemakers.


Girls and women have historically been denied access to work, been blocked from the arts, refused the opportunity to lead and fight, and much more, simply because of their gender. From Hatshepsut to Joan of Arc to Frida Kahlo, Troublemakers in Trousers highlights twenty-one women who, for different reasons, wore men’s clothing, pretended to be men, and broke the rules in order to do something they wanted—or needed—to do.

The perfect modern-day introduction to women throughout history who broke boundaries and pushed the limits set by society.


Opening Lines:

Buckle up. You’re about to embark on a series of adventures with some of the

bravest real-life characters you’ll ever meet. The lives of these twenty-one

women were filled with adventure and peril and heroic courage. Some were

queens. Some were pirates. Some were soldiers, or athletes, or outlaws. And

although they lived at different times and in different places, there’s one common

thread that binds them. Each woman, at some point in her life, for one reason

or another, put on breeches, armor, knickerbockers, a uniform, bloomers,

pantaloons, buckskin pants, a three-piece suit, or trousers. And doing that

was a “fashion don’t” in most parts of the world, for most of history. In fact,

before the twentieth century, so-called cross-dressing—women wearing

men’s clothes or men wearing women’s clothes—was actually against the law.


What I LOVED about this book:

First off, its great premise - twenty-one women who defied society's norms regarding clothing and activities to follow their dreams or to save their families or community. A few I expected - Deborah Sampson (impersonated a soldier to fight in the Revolutionary War), Joan of Arc (another warrior), and Anne Bonny and Mary Reed (pirates). They are pretty well known. But even with these three women, Sarah Albee's deep research uncovered interesting facts and facets of these women that I had not known.


Did you know Princess Khutulun, a great-great-grand-daughter Genghis Khan, is the greatest wrestler of all time; beating every man she ever wrestled? That when Lilian Bland flew across Ireland, she became the first woman "anywhere to design, build, and fly her own motor-powered aircraft." Or that Marcenia "Toni" Stone was the first woman to play in a men's professional baseball league - and the only batter to hit a ball thrown by "the great pitcher Satchel Paige" during an exhibition game.


Secondly, the conversational text immediately captures the reader. It feels more like she's letting us in on secrets than passing along information. Sarah Albee's honesty about the facts we all thought we knew, the ones that have been recently discovered, and the important ones still unknown beautifully juxtaposes her commentary, quips, and asides making this a wonderfully entertaining and excellent educational book for middle grade readers. Whether they are looking for a fun read or a starting point for a history or biographical research project, they will enjoy this book.


Organized chronologically, each woman is introduced with a gorgeously colorful, large portrait. And Kaja Kajfez masterfully carries elements within each portrait through the chapter, visual tying the chapters together.

Text © Sarah Albee, 2022. Image © Kaja Kajfez, 2022.


Within each biography, photographs or other images show either the woman or something about her society (note the "hobble skirt." below).

Text © Sarah Albee, 2022. Image © Kaja Kajfez, 2022.


Additionally, each entry contains sidebars with fascinating facts such as historical rumors, men's attire at the time, important backstory or medical information, or practical thoughts on how the women accomplished their disguises.

Text © Sarah Albee, 2022. Image © Kaja Kajfez, 2022.


Beginning each chapter with the circumstances triggering or requiring each woman to don trousers, the narrative uses titled sections to break up the text and weaves in facts about their childhood, life, and accomplishments. I found it an engaging read and hard to put down.


I also love the span of history (ancient Egypt to modern U.S.), as well as the global diversity (Amazonian, Indian Rani, Apache, Irish, and Mexican) of the women and their professions (soldiers, artists, pirates, wrestler, authors, spy, pilot/engineer, actor, athlete, and poet). It's amazing how different each of these women were in there goals, rationales, and ultimate successes and yet how much they had in common in finding the strength and determination to resist the status quo when it was wrong and fight for the right to be accepted, respected, and independent.


The author's note explores her own childhood brush against society's expectations and norms and the outdated (crazy) rational for limiting women's participation in sports. Chapter notes, an extensive bibliography, image credits, and an index round out the back matter and provide students with a great starting point for further research. This is a spectaular book for looking at changes in beliefs, fashion, and societal values through the lense of adventuring, determined women who followed their dreams and got things done.


Resources:

- what do you think caused the shift sometime after 1918 with the colors of pink and blue? (See the introduction section What Exactly Are “Boy Clothes” and “Girl Clothes”?) where pink was strong & blue was dainty. Why?

- imagine what might be the next clothing scandal? Write a rule about it or draw an image about it.

- pick a piece of clothing (socks, tie, shorts,...), or maybe hair styles, and try to track it as far back as you can. How has it changed in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years? How far back can you trace it? What did you use to trace it? What challenges did you run into?

- where do we need troublemakers now?

Decorative scroll design
Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

Decorative scroll design

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