Jennifer Armstrong

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Somewhere in the Middle Books

The American Story: 100 True Tales from American History

The American Story: 100 True Tales from American History
Illustrated by Roger Roth
Available in hardcover from Random House
Official press release

Q & A

Kirkus said, "Armstrong approaches history as a storyteller, and each of these stories is a gem of cler and concise writing. Readers are encouratged to find patterns and themes in the tales, and the section called "Story Arcs" serves as a guide. "Black History and Civil Rights." for example, includes accounts of Thoreau, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Thurgood Marshall and Rosa Parks. Intended more as a "patchwork quilt of history" than a comprehensive or traditional time line, the volume ranges far and wide, with witch trials and monkey trials, hoaxes and curses, whale attacks, balloon rescues, Lizzie Borden and Pac-Man. The abundant full-color art is lively and essential to the great visual appeal of the volume. The superb bibliography contains a big mix of histories for children and adults. Young history buffs will enjoy dipping into this fine collection, and parents and teachers will find it an invaluable resource."


Chin Yu Min and the Ginger Cat

Chin Yu Min and the Ginger Cat
Illustrated by Mary GrandPre'
Available in paperback from
Random House

School Library Journal said, "Grade 3-4 -- Chin Yu Min, a haughty and frivolous rich woman in a fictitious Old China, must mend her ways when her husband dies and her money runs out. She meets a ginger cat who fishes so well with his tail that she recoups some of her fortunes from selling his catches. When he disappears, Chin Yu Min is so distraught that she humbles herself enough to ask her neighbors for help; when the cat is found, she invites them to dinner. Despite a rather abrupt volte-face, this is an amusing story that is told with gusto in mellifluous prose."


Audubon:  Painter of birds in the Wild Frontier

Audubon: Painter of Birds in the Wild Frontier
Illustrated by Jos. A. Smith
Available in hardcover from Abrams

Kirkus Reviews said, "(Picture book/biography. 5-9) The son of a wealthy planter in the West Indies, naturalist and frontiersman John James Audubon devoted himself to difficult journeys through American forests, swamps, mountains, and plains in search of plants and animals unknown to science. Rather than telling the story of Audubon's whole life, Armstrong (co-author, The Kiln, p. 379, etc.) limits her perspective to Audubon's adventures from 1804 to 1812: the New Madrid earthquake, when "the world rattled and rumbled"; 160 flocks of passenger pigeons taking hours to storm overhead; an immense flock of trumpeter swans in battle with wolves; sharing the inside of a giant sycamore tree with 9,000 swirling swifts; and a chance encounter with Daniel Boone (though this may not have happened). Armstrong and Smith make a great team in this immensely likable biographical profile. The watercolor art, embellished with pencil, watercolor pencil, and pen and ink, is dramatic and a perfect complement to the vivid prose, as is the artwork by Audubon himself. Though the ending seems abrupt, long and interesting notes from both author and artist offer further information and guide readers to additional resources. The text, based on Audubon's personal diaries, is supplemented by research in the resources cited. Smith (Elwood and the Witch, 2000, etc.) offers interesting insights about the artwork, including a fascinating tidbit about Audubon's ability to paint two-handed, as portrayed early in the volume. An excellent example of what picture-book biography can be."


Spirit of Endurance

Spirit of Endurance
Illustrated by William Maugham
Available in hardcover from
Random House

Publishers Weekly said, "Ages 8-10. This distillation of Armstrong's Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World into picture book format masterfully foreshortens the key events of Ernest Shackleton's ill-fated expedition aboard the Endurance to Antarctica. Trapped in pack ice in January 1915, Shackleton and his crew survived for nearly a year in the frozen polar wasteland, then traveled 100 miles by open lifeboat to an uninhabited islet. Shackleton and a handpicked team sailed a further 800 miles "across the stormiest ocean in the world, facing 100-foot waves, bitter temperatures, and hurricane-force winds," then trekked across the uncharted mountains and glaciers of South Georgia Island to a whaling station. After several attempts, Shackleton took a Chilean steamer back to the islet and saved every member of his crew. Although the opening is a bit abrupt, Armstrong's account of these astonishing feats of fortitude ripples with drama. Only those who have read her longer version of the events will miss the copious quotes that capture the voices of the men and the colorful anecdotes (e.g., Hussey's banjo serenades) she brings so vividly to life in Shipwreck. The book's oversize format hints at the scope of Shackleton's larger-than-life adventure and provides a generous frame for an ample supply of maps, original photographs (including the famous shot of the ice-bound Endurance, her hull and rigging covered with a ghostly white frost) and Maughan's panoramic, wide-view paintings. The paintings cannot rival the intrinsic fascination of the photographs, but they are atmospheric and imposingly scaled. Their imaginations stirred, many readers will want to tackle her earlier volume for more of the story."


Magnus at the Fire

Magnus at the Fire
Illustrated by Owen Smith
Available in hardcover from
Simon & Schuster

Kirkus Reviews said, "(Picture book. 7-9) Shrugging off attempts to replace him with a motorized truck, an old fire horse breaks through fences whenever he hears the bell, and not only beats the newfangled engine to fires repeatedly, to the annoyance of the Captain, but comes through in the clutch when the machine breaks down. Armstrong tells this dramatic historical tale in suitably rousing fashion-"He followed the smell of smoke, galloping down Long Alley and over another two fences, his mane and tail flaring out behind him like flames..." Smith uses WPA mural-style figures and colors to illustrate it, placing burly firefighters around a monumentally muscled grey, all in heroic poses and viewed from low angles for a larger-than-life look. Even glimpsed in final, well-earned retirement far from the city, where the only flames come from autumn bonfires, Magnus cuts an awesome figure. Children, horse lovers or no, will long remember him. (afterword)."


A Three-Minute Speech:  Lincoln's Remarks at Gettysburg

A Three-Minute Speech: Lincoln's Remarks at Gettysburg
Illustrated by Albert Lorenz
Available in paperback from
Aladdin/Simon & Schuster

Children's Literature said, "Ages 8 to 12. After briefly discussing the role of freedom and colonial expansion in United States history, Armstrong delves into the issue of slavery in this country in the mid-1800s. For the North, the Civil War was as much, if not more, about preserving the Union as freeing the slaves. This, of course, reflected President Lincoln's opinion. Short examinations of Lincoln's life and evolving views and of the course of the Civil War lead the reader to Lincoln's journey to Gettysburg to dedicate the cemetery there. His thoughtful, powerful three-minute speech followed a two-hour oration; yet in his brief remarks he dedicated more than a cemetery, he dedicated the entire war. An epilogue explains why there are some discrepancies in versions of the exact text. Armstrong's conversational tone, the relatively large font, and Lorenz's informative, black-and-white drawings combine to make an interesting, readable introduction to this famous speech."


Black-Eyed Susan

Black-Eyed Susan
Available in paperback from Random House

Publishers Weekly said, "Ages 8-12. Ten-year-old Susie revels in the natural beauty of the vast prairie surrounding her family's sodhouse in the Dakota Territory, but her mother-depressed and homesick for her native Ohio-refuses to go outdoors. In Armstrong's (King Crow; Steal Away) characteristically lyrical language, Susie ponders her mother's "lonesomeness": "Perhaps it had been growing like a seed, and was blooming at last with a pale flower and a sad perfume. All I knew was that Ma never laughed anymore, hardly spoke, seldom smiled." On a trip to town with her father, Susie futilely combs the mercantile for "something cheerful" for her mother. Ma brightens up a bit that evening, when a warm, merry family of Montana-bound homesteaders from Iceland spends the night, giving a canary as a gift. And in the dramatic concluding scene, Susie convinces the woman to come out on the roof of their home to greet the rising sun."


Dear Mr. President Series, Theodore Roosevelt: Letters from a Young Coal Miner

Dear Mr. President Series --
Theodore Roosevelt: Letters from a Young Coal Miner

Available in hardcover from
Winslow Press

Booklist said, "Gr. 3-6. This is the first in the Dear Mr. President series, which uses fictionalized letters between an imaginary child and a U.S. president to profile a chief executive and highlight important events of the time. Theodore Roosevelt corresponds with a 13-year-old Pennsylvania coal miner, Frank Kovacs, who participated in the Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902. Kovacs reveals much about the hardships of mining life for the workers and their families as well as the reasons for the strike. Roosevelt's letters emphasize his interactions with his own children and his feelings about the strike and its effects on the country. As always, Armstrong's research is solid and her prose strong, particularly as she contrasts Roosevelt's well-written, candid letters with Frank's naive, less-polished ones. The textbook format is a great departure for a fiction series. The book features numerous captioned documentary photos and political cartoons, an extensive bibliography, a time line, biographical information, an index, and a 20-page appendix. There are also links to the publisher's Web site where children can find a more complete discussion of selected topics. Classes studying the period are probably the best market for the title, though browsers who get past the format will enjoy the story, and teachers and students alike will find the book very clear about where the fact and fiction diverge."


Dear Mr. President Series, Thomas Jefferson: Letters from a Philadelphia Bookworm

Dear Mr. President Series --
Thomas Jefferson: Letters from a Philadelphia Bookworm

Available in hardcover from
Winslow Press

School Library Journal said, "Gr 5-7-In fictionalized letters between President Jefferson and 12-year-old Amelia Hornsby, events, personalities, and the essence of the early 1800s come alive. Amelia lives in Philadelphia with Doctor and Mrs. Benjamin Rush and begins a correspondence with the president about the Lewis and Clark expedition, the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, and the death of Jefferson's daughter. Well educated, the child takes an active and lively interest in the current events and political affairs that envelop Philadelphia and feels that it is her duty to express her opinions to the president. Well researched, the book has extensive photographs, maps, primary-source material, time lines, and a biographical profile of our third president. Armstrong has captured the man's personality, touching on his many interests, including botany, farming, engineering, and philosophy as well as his devotion to his family. Amelia is portrayed as a strong, intelligent girl who proves to be the perfect correspondent for the statesman. Children can explore the subjects further on the publisher's Web site or by checking out some of the books in the list for further reading."


The Century for Young People

The Century for Young People
By Peter Jennings & Todd Brewster
Adapted by Jennifer Armstrong
Available in hardcover from
Random House

Publishers Weekly said, "Ages 8-up. With Armstrong's (In My Hands) help, news veterans Jennings and Brewster here smoothly adapt their bestselling tome for adults, The Century, for a younger audience. They offer young Americans a unique look at the past 100 years, via not only archival material but through the eyes of the people who lived through it. The volume combines the authors' affecting storytelling style with an exceedingly appealing design to draw readers into the major events that have shaped our nation (and often the world) in the 20th century. A clear chronology emerges in 12 concise chapters that explore events from the Wright Brothers' early flights to the world's devastating wars, to racial strife and the AIDS epidemic. Each chapter contains illuminating accounts in the words of ordinary people living in extraordinary times. Victor Reuther, a 1930s labor union organizer Ernest Michel, an Auschwitz survivor; and Inez Jessie Baskin, who sat at the front of a bus with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the end of the 1955 Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott, are examples of the myriad personalities that give voice to familiar textbook facts. Although the title implies a global approach to the century, many of the world events are limited to the situations that acted as catalysts to drive people to the U.S. from their native countries (e.g., the Russian Revolution, the chaos leading to WWI) or that affected America directly (such as the Vietnam War). What's most noteworthy here is the sense of immediacy the authors' approach offers: the reading experience is akin to peeking at hundreds of fascinating family trees and may well encourage youngsters to inquire about their own relatives' experiences. A bounty of excellent photographs (especially those taken at the turn of the century) accompanied by ample, detailed captions rounds out this essential addition to the family library."


Look in the library for these out of print titles: Hugh Can Do, That Terrible Baby, The Whittler's Tale, Pierre's Dream, King Crow, Wan Hu Is In the Stars, Pockets, Lila the Brave, Foolish Gretel, Patrick Doyle is Full of Blarney.

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