Troublemakers in Trousers
Sarah Albee, author
Sarah Albee is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 100 books for kids, including Accidental Archaeologists: True Stories of Unexpected Discoveries. Prior to being a full-time writer, Sarah worked at Children’s Television Workshop (producers of Sesame Street) for nine years. She played basketball in college, and then a year of semi-professional women’s basketball in Cairo, Egypt. She lives in Connecticut.
Read more about Sarah.
Kaja Kajfež, illustrator
Kaja Kajfež developed her love of drawing as a child, and she earned a degree in multimedia, design, and application at University North in Croatia. She focuses on illustration, lettering, and surface pattern design. She loves exploring different historical periods, looking through old picture books, and spending time with her dog.
Read more about Kaja.
- A New York Public Library Best Book of 2022
School Library Journal
It wasn’t until 2013 that France finally repealed a law against women wearing pants. The prolific Albee explores the impact of social mores in which women had to break the law, confounding social order to achieve their goals—in pants. With such an engaging premise, the stories of 20 women are detailed, from Queen Hatshepsut to Marcenia “Toni” Stone, the first woman to play major-league baseball. Women disguised themselves as men for many reasons: fighting for freedom, supporting their families, and creating art. Well-chosen insets broaden the historical context that triggered their choices. Fascinating facts like “silk wouldn’t tear if an arrow pierced the body, making it easier to yank the arrow out” informed Mongol soldier Khutulun’s fashion choices. Readers learn of the hostility toward women and discover the lengths they went to—such as walking 150 miles to enlist in the Union army, as Deborah Sampson did. Kajfez’s colorful, full-page portraits open chapters in a carefully detailed, cartoon style that counters the primary source images. Illustrations, photos, maps, and carefully selected visuals authenticate the subjects, although captions are occasionally too brief. The strength of these short biographies is the subjects themselves; a diverse, international, and exceptional group.
VERDICT: Albee delivers in-depth portraits enticing enough to inspire further study; for all middle grade nonfiction collections
Twenty capsule biographies of historical women who wore trousers or men’s clothing.
The women portrayed in these short, illustrated narratives wore traditionally male clothing for different reasons. Harriet Tubman found skirts to be a hinderance when helping enslaved people escape; Vesta Tilley was an English-born drag performer during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of the women disguised themselves as men so they could work in professions forbidden to women, while Ellen Craft disguised herself to escape slavery. The pharaoh Hatshepsut portrayed herself as male because that’s what pharaohs were, and if Frida Kahlo were alive today, “we might describe her as gender fluid.” Historical photographs and paintings add interest, although with descriptions pushed to endnotes, their often intriguing context is hard to find. A contemporary, slangy voice wavers between forced and quite funny, and the sidebars that pepper the collection (on everything from smallpox to the gender spectrum to “How To Start Up a Model T”) are informative and mostly rather interesting. About half of the subjects are White, though Black, Native American, Mongolian, and Indian women are covered as well. Almost all are from the 18th and 19th centuries in the United States or Western Europe. The final biography (of Marguerite Johnson, streetcar conductor) has such a satisfying reveal that it brings thematic closure to the whole collection.
Colorful, fun, relatable tastes of history that may tempt readers into further research. (author’s note, notes, bibliography, image credits, index).
Page count: 176
7 1/2 x 9