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As an author who writes about sports and women’s history, I have a soft spot for underdogs. Indeed, most of the people I write about were underdogs who triumphed, defying expectations and social mores to make their mark in the world. Annie Oakley first came to fame by defeating her future husband in a shooting exhibition she was expected to lose. The women of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) staked their claim to the American pastime despite an initially skeptical public. Nellie Bly, the subject of one of my next books, broke into New York’s old boy newspaper network despite editors who came right out and told her they wouldn’t trust a woman to cover anything but society events.
Underdogs make good stories, especially when the readers are kids, who often feel disenfranchised themselves. If they can see their struggles reflected in those of the people in my books, the past suddenly seems relevant, and reading about history isn’t a turnoff. And the points of identification don’t have to be obvious. While girls have embraced the female baseball players of the AAGPBL, I often find that boys are more animated and ask more questions when I give talks about the league. Boys who play sports relate to the women as athletes, and love the opportunity to measure their own experiences against those of the Chicks, Peaches, and Daisies.
Fortunately for both authors and readers, history is full of victorious underdogs whose lives and deeds are ripe for examination. Patriots fans can even take heart that in 1781, the ragtag Revolutionary War soldiers who inspired the name of their modern-day football team came away with a clutch victory against the giants of