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Young Adult Nonfiction History

Call Me Bill

by (artist) Lynette Richards

introduction by Emily Burton

Conundrum Press
Initial publish date
Sep 2022
History, Social Topics, LGBTQ+
Recommended Age
12 to 16
Recommended Grade
7 to 11
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2022
    List Price

Classroom Resources

Where to buy it


A gorgeously illustrated historical graphic novel based on a real person who, defying gender expectations, left home in search of adventure and a more authentic life.

It was April 1, 1873. In the middle of the night, Sarah Jane spotted flares off the coast of her island home. She woke her father, who quickly gathered their neighbours. Over the next several hours, rescuers pulled 429 traumatized survivors out of the wreckage of the SS Atlantic, a White Star Line passenger steamship. But 535 people didn't survive, including Bill, a sailor.

However, this story isn't about death'Äîit's about living. Swapping out their dress for a pair of pants, Bill had run away from New Jersey in search of adventure, anonymity, and a place in the world. When they were hired to work on a cargo steamer, everything seemed to fall into place'Äîbut it didn't take long for Bill to realize they were really just searching for a place where they could be themselves.

Over four years of heavy research, debut graphic novelist Lynette Richards painstakingly gathered details of this story from a range of historic newspapers from all over the world. By taking a creative nonfiction approach to storytelling, Richards was able to speak to the courage that readers will recognize as necessary for self-discovery.

In Call Me Bill, Richards shares the remarkable life story of a tenacious adventurer who took huge risks to live an authentic life that others would have had difficulty imagining. Set against the backdrop of the worst maritime disaster before the Titanic, this story is an exploration of identity and radical imagination that echoes across generations.

About the authors

Lynette has been cartooning her whole life. She chose stained glass as her professional medium because it was both a trade and an art. She was fully aware, too, that stained glass windows have used sequential narration for over 1000 years, and are essentially, early graphic novels! As a Craft Nova Scotia Master Artisan, Lynette is proud to have been selected to create large public art installations for the first Pride Library in Canada (UWO London ON), and the ArQuives (formerly the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives in Toronto). Lynette lives and works in Terence Bay, Nova Scotia, where she owns and operates Rose Window Stained Glass and serves on the Board of Directors of the SS Atlantic Heritage Park and Society.

Lynette Richards' profile page

Emily Burton has a PhD in Canadian History (Dalhousie University, 2016) that included a Gilder Lehrman Fellowship with the New York Historical Society. She contributed to the Canadian component of the International Exhibition: Hello Sailor! Gay Life on the Ocean Wave for the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, and has also collaborated with the S.S. Atlantic Interpretation Center in Terence Bay. She has worked as an Oral Historian at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 since 2014.

Emily Burton's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"Richards's writing is engaging and never preachy, making points about gender expression and identity that fit naturally within the adventure. Armstrong identifies as Bill when wearing "pantaloons," but otherwise still goes by their birth name of Maggie. It is easy to see Armstrong as an inspiring model for teenagers that don't want to conform to gender roles - Maggie/Bill is the type of person who will fight bullies but also muse poetically about nature, and still have time to chat kindly with children onboard the ship." --Quill & Quire, Starred Review

"Richards's thorough research--drawn from local records, community history, and historical and modern publications, which feature as excerpts throughout--help explore what Billy's life might have been like in the late 19th century; while the excerpts focus primarily on Billy's gender identity, Richards portrays Billy as a person with a complex and rich life who just wanted to be accepted as he was."--Publishers Weekly