Armstrong, Alan 1939–
Armstrong, Alan 1939–
(Alan W. Armstrong)
Born December 15, 1939, in the United States; married; wife's name Martha (a painter). Education: Graduated from Haverford College, 1961; Princeton University, M.P.A., 1963; Yale University, J.D., 1966.
Writer, editor, attorney. Practiced environmental law. Partner in a small publishing company.
Newbery Honor Award, 2006, for Whittington.
Off in Zora: A Modern-Day Tale of a Traveling Bookseller, American Bookseller Association, 1997.
Regards, Rodeo: The Mariner Dog of Cassis, illustrated by Martha Armstrong, J.N. Townsend (Exeter, NH), 1999.
(Editor and author of introduction, as Alan W. Armstrong) "Forget Not Mee & My Garden …": Selected Letters, 1725-1768 of Peter Collinson, F.R.S., American Philosophical Society (Philadelphia, PA), 2002.
Whittington, illustrated by S.D. Schindler, Random House (New York, NY), 2005.
Raleigh's Page, illustrated by Tim Jessell, Random House (New York, NY), 2007.
Alan Armstrong grew up around books and worked in a friend's bookstore beginning at age eight. As an adult, he has continued in the bookseller's trade and has also become a writer, with several children's books to his credit. Armstrong's novel Whittington retells the English folktale "Dick Whittington and His Cat," by transporting the story across the Atlantic Ocean to the author's native New England.
In Armstrong's version of the story, Whittington is a prowling tomcat who lives in New England. One day, he happens upon a barn and is taken in by the barn's owner, Bernie, who habitually adopts stray animals. While getting to know his new animal family, Whittington explains that he is the namesake of Dick Whittington, a distinguished merchant who came into his own with the help of his friends and through old-fashioned hard work. During the fourteenth century, the businessperson Dick Whittington overcame numerous hardships and eventually became mayor of London, England, before leaving much of his fortune to charity. Telling the man's story during a long, harsh New England winter, the tomcat Whittington wins over his new animal friends and also manages to inspire Bernie's dyslexic grandson, Ben, to take the classes that will help him overcome his difficulties with reading.
Noting that Whittington combines fantasy with history, Beth Wright wrote in a review for School Library Journal that the book "reads aloud beautifully, and the extended happy ending will leave everyone smiling in delight." A Kirkus Reviews critic called Armstrong's novel "a lovely paean to the power of story and the words that carry it along," while Ann O'Malley, a contributor to Booklist, wrote that "the story works beautifully, both as historical fiction about medieval street life and commerce and as a witty, engaging tale of barnyard camaraderie and survival." Comparing the book to E.B. White's childhood classic Charlotte's Web, BookPage contributor Deborah Hopkinson noted that Whittington "is full of homey wisdom and quirky characters, both human and animal."
Armstrong again ventures into historical fiction intended for younger readers with his 2007 Raleigh's Page, set in the late sixteenth century and featuring Andrew, the books's eleven-year-old protagonist whose life is changed by going into service for Sir Walter Raleigh. Growing up in Plymouth, England, young Andrew is destined to be a carpenter but has dreams of adventures in the New World. Then his father manages to place him as a page in the household of the famous Raleigh in London. At first, Andrew feels out of place in his new cosmopolitan surroundings, but he soon adapts. He learns not only court etiquette but also the arts of intrigue as Raleigh attempts to persuade Queen Elizabeth I of the importance of the discovery and settlement of the New World. He makes secretive trips to France and later sails to the New World in the company of the astronomer and mathematician Thomas Harriot. Arriving in Virginia, Andrew is amazed and somewhat overwhelmed by the richness of life around him, and his adventures among the Native Americans utterly change him. He develops a friendship with one Native American youth, Sky, who teaches Andrew about a different way of life. Provisions are in short supply, and the military leader of the expedition is far more interested in finding gold than he is in establishing a colony. Andrew subsequently becomes caught up in a battle with the indigenous people. He returns to England wiser for his experiences and eager to go back to the New World. Kim Dare, in a review for School Library Journal, praised "Armstrong's meticulous research," which helps to "bring to life the people who shaped our nation's earliest history." Likewise, a Kirkus Reviews critic lauded Armstrong's "monumental research" that is "woven effortlessly into the account of Andrew's coming-of-age." The same critic dubbed Raleigh's Page an "absorbing historical adventure from an emerging master." Horn Book magazine reviewer Susan Dove Lempke was somewhat less enthusiastic about the title, stating that the young protagonist was "rather unbelievably multitalented." However, Lempke went on to note that Andrew "is realistically depicted in his responses to his exciting life." Higher praise came from Booklist contributor Carolyn Phelan, who called the novel "a richly detailed historical narrative." A CelebrityCafe.com reviewer called Raleigh's Page "a tour de force that blends meticulous historical research with rich imagination."
In a Kidsread.com interview, Armstrong had the following advice for young writers: "Make notes when a surprise comes by. Every story starts with two or three words—catch them! Keep a journal. Be susceptible. If a book comes to your hand unbidden, look in it."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 15, 2005, Anne O'Malley, review of Whittington, p. 1672; August 1, 2007, Carolyn Phelan, review of Raleigh's Page, p. 77.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, September, 2005, Timnah Card, review of Whittington, p. 5.
Horn Book, July-August, 2005, Joanna Rudge Long, review of Whittington, p. 463; November-December, 2007, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Raleigh's Page, p. 673.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2005, review of Whittington, p. 729; September 1, 2007, review of Raleigh's Page.
School Library Journal, August, 2005, Beth Wright, review of Whittington, p. 121; November 1, 2007, Kim Dare, review of Raleigh's Page, p. 116.
Voice of Youth Advocates, June, 2005, Lisa Doucet, review of Whittington, p. 141.
Blogcritics.org, http://blogcritics.org/ (July 8, 2007), Gina Ruiz, review of Raleigh's Page.
BookLoons, http://www.bookloons.com/ (August 28, 2008), Kerrily Sapet, review of Raleigh's Page.
CelebrityCafe.com, http://www.thecelebritycafe.com/ (August 28, 2008), review of Raleigh's Page.
KidsReads.com, http://www.kidsreads.com/ (June 6, 2006), author interview; (August 28, 2008), Chris Shanley-Dillman, review of Raleigh's Page.