Jennifer Armstrong

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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 clear 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.more


Once Upon a Banana

Once Upon a Banana
Illustrated by David Small
Available in hardcover from Simon & Schuster
Official press release
Q & A

Kirkus said, "In a tour de force of visual sequencing captioned only by a set of rhyming street and shop signs, Small sets up a hilarious chain of events along a busy city street. The action starts on the front endpapers as a street performer's monkey snatches a banana from a fruit stand and tosses the peel onto the sidewalk. This sets off an escalating ruckus the moves around the block (and is actually mapped out on the rear endpapers), involving pedestrians, a painter atop a ladder, cars and trucks, dogs (lots of dogs), much flying through the air and a hurtling carriage with a delighted baby on board (for part of the way, anyway). more


Jennifer answers some questions about The American Story:

Did you always like history?
A Yes, I always did. I grew up in an old house, and I was curious about the "olden days." I read lots of historical fiction when I was growing up, and loved going to the historic sites where I could see and learn about how people lived in previous centuries -- Sturbridge Village, for example, or Mystic Seaport.

How did you get the idea for The American Story?
One of my editors suggested the project to me, and I was instantly thrilled with the idea. You could say I had prepared for this book for my entire career.

How did you decide what to include and what to leave out?
It was hard to keep the list to only 100 stories!? Lots of well-known stories didn't make the cut, and a lot of very obscure ones did. With more than 400 years to cover I tried to keep the stories well distributed in time, well distributed in theme, and well distributed by geographical region. I tried to cover all sorts of topics, from exploration and science to arts and sports and civil rights. It was a real challenge.

What are the story arcs in the back of the book for?
Those are for anyone who wants to see how stories connect over time to make patterns. I think it's really interesting to see how one event in history might have a ripple effect 100 years later, or how you notice the events that were happening more or less at the same time. These lists of connected stories are my way of saying "Hey, remember the story from page 23? This one is connected to it -- see if you can figure out how they are related." Or "If you think this story was interesting read the one on page 284!"

Do you have a favorite story?
This isn't necessarily my favorite story from American history but it is my favorite story in this book, because of how I wrote it -- the story about Charles Lindbergh on page 243. Sometimes authors fall in love with their own words, and this is an example of that. I really like how I told this story!

How long did it take you to write this book?
A long time!? Maybe three years or so, but I don't remember exactly. I know I turned in the last story in 2001, and had to keep making revisions as recently as 2005, so you could say it took about 7 years to write. By the way, the reason I had to keep revising was that two historical events actually changed in the last couple of years. First, the Boston Red Sox actually won the World Series. Originally my story about the Curse of the Bambino said that they never won -- but while the illustrator was at work on all the art for this book (it took a long time!) the Sox actually broke the curse. Then, the ultra-top-secret identity of the Watergate scandal informant, Deep Throat, was revealed after I had written that "nobody ever found out who he was." So I had to change that while the illustrator was at work on the art, too.

How did you do the research for this book?
I'd say that for every story I wrote, I read at least three books. I also read big history books that talked about major themes in American history, or about significant figures. I used the Internet a lot, although I always made sure I could verify my facts. You can't always trust what you find on the Web. Of course, you can't always trust what you read in books, either, but if you can find at least three or four sources with the same information, you can be pretty sure it's accurate.

Are you going to write a sequel?
Holy cow!? Another 100 stories? Ask me in a few years, after I have caught my breath!


Jennifer answers some questions about Once Upon a Banana:

How did you write Once Upon a Banana? There are only 51 words in this book! How can a story only have 51 words?
It must seem funny that there would be an author for a book with almost no words in it, and where all the words that are in it are part of the illustration. I wouldn't be at all surprised if people assume David Small created the book from start to finish. I started out trying to write a simple easy-to-read book, much like my book The Snowball. Just as with that book, I had a simple text but had to explain what would be happening in the illustrations so that the text actually made sense. This is an unusual way to write a picture book, where the author usually doesn't tell the illustrator what to do. In the case of Once Upon a Banana, I first made the list of rhyming signs. Then I had to figure out what the story was that would connect them all so that it wouldn't just be a random list of signs. So on the manuscript there are instructions in parentheses next to each line. When David got this book to illustrate, he used his imagination to add characters (like the monkey and the juggler, the motorcycle thugs, the waiter and the restaurant patron, etc.) He told me it was really difficult figuring out how to make it all work -- he said it was like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle without knowing what the picture was. But he did a FANTASTIC job, in my opinion.

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