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Ronda (Jacqueline) Armitage (1943-) Biography - Personal, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights

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Born 1943, in Kaikoura, New Zealand; moved to England, 1974; Education: Attended University of Auckland, 1963, 1969, and Massey University, 1965; Hamilton Teacher's College, certificate of teaching, 1963, diploma of teaching, 1969.

Career

School teacher in Duvauchelles, New Zealand, 1964-66, London, England, 1966, and Auckland, New Zealand, 1968-69; Dorothy Butler, Ltd., Auckland, advisor on children's books, 1970-71; Lewes Priory Comprehensive School, Sussex, England, assistant librarian, 1976-77; East Sussex County Council, East Sussex, England, member of teaching staff, 1978—. Family therapist at local family center.

Honors Awards

Esther Glen Award, New Zealand Library Association, 1978, for The Lighthouse Keeper's Lunch.

Writings

FOR CHILDREN; ILLUSTRATED BY HUSBAND, DAVID ARMITAGE

The Lighthouse Keeper's Lunch (also see below), Deutsch (London, England), 1977.

The Trouble with Mr. Harris, Deutsch (London, England), 1978.

Don't Forget Matilda!, Deutsch (London, England), 1979.

The Bossing of Josie, Deutsch (London, England), 1980, published as The Birthday Spell, Scholastic, Inc. (New York, NY), 1981.

Ice Creams for Rosie, Deutsch (London, England), 1981.

One Moonlit Night, Deutsch (London, England), 1983.

Grandma Goes Shopping, Deutsch (London, England), 1984.

The Lighthouse Keeper's Catastrophe, Deutsch (London, England), 1986.

The Lighthouse Keeper's Rescue, Deutsch (London, England), 1989.

Watch the Baby, Daisy, Deutsch (London, England), 1991.

When Dad Did the Washing, Puffin (Harmondsworth, England), 1992.

Looking after Chocolates, Deutsch (London, England), 1992.

A Quarrel of Koalas, Deutsch (London, England), 1992, published as Harry Hates Shopping!, Scholastic, Inc. (New York, NY), 1992.

The Lighthouse Keeper's Picnic (also see below), Deutsch (London, England), 1993.

The Lighthouse Keeper's Cat (also see below), Deutsch (London, England), 1995.

The Lighthouse Keeper's Favourite Stories (includes The Lighthouse Keeper's Lunch, The Lighthouse Keeper's Picnic, and The Lighthouse Keeper's Cat), Scholastic Press (London, England), 1999.

Queen of the Night, Scholastic Press (London, England), 1999.

The Lighthouse Keeper's Breakfast, Scholastic Press (London, England), 2000.

The Lighthouse Keeper's Tea, Scholastic Press (London, England), 2001.

The Lighthouse Keeper's Christmas, Scholastic Press (London, England), 2002.

OTHER

Let's Talk about Drinking, Deutsch (London, England), 1982.

New Zealand, photographs by Chris Fairclough, Deutsch (London, England), 1983, Bookwright Press (New York, NY), 1988.

Family Violence, Raintree Steck-Vaughn (Austin, TX), 2000.

Violence in Society: The Impact on Our Lives, Raintree (Chicago, IL), 2004.

Contributor to periodicals.

Sidelights

Comprising one half of the husband-and-wife team of David and Ronda Armitage, Ronda Armitage uses her talent for language to spin the stories her artist husband brings to life with his illustrations. "In an age when so much in this genre seems calculated to impress sophisticated adults," commented Water McVitty of the couple's work in Twentieth-Century Children's Writers, "it is refreshing to encounter books that are so clearly intended for young children and that keep this focus always in mind." Noting Ronda Armitage's "simple" prose style, McVitty added that such simplicity should not be confused with lack of substance. "Her style is distinguished by fluid, literate sentences that, rather than condescend, happily include words like 'brusque' or 'irascible' when these are ones that best suit their context. While being entertaining and child-centered," the critic added, "her stories still manage to enrich and delight."

The Armitages' picture-book partnership got its start in New Zealand, where Ronda was born and raised. Married in 1966, the couple moved to England eight years later, Ronda working as a primary school teacher and then moved into family counseling, while David exhibited his work as an abstract expressionist painter and illustrated several books. Their first picture-book collaboration, The Lighthouse Keeper's Lunch, was published in 1977 and received praise from several critics. Despite the fact that they no longer lived in their native country, New Zealand also honored the Armitages' accomplishments; The Lighthouse Keeper's Lunch earned the New Zealand Library Association's Esther Glen award for the year's most distinguished contribution to that country's children's literature.

The Lighthouse Keeper's Lunch finds lighthouse keeper Mr. Grinling and his cat, Hamish, in a quandary. A series of delicious lunches packed by Mrs. Grinling and cabled over the water separating the Grinling cottage from the island lighthouse have found their way into the stomachs of a group of wily seagulls rather than to the hungry inhabitants of the lighthouse. With growling tummies and growing frustration at not being able to outsmart the clever birds—who have by now set up a permanent roost at the lighthouse due to the daily arrival of delicious food—Mr. Grinling and his long-tailed companion are eventually saved from starving when Mrs. Grinling packs a series of meals so awful that the gulls quickly lose interest and depart in search of more edible fare.

The Lighthouse Keeper's Lunch, which "boasts Ronda's light touch in the telling," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, has been followed by several more stories featuring Mr. Grinling and Hamish. In The Lighthouse Keeper's Catastrophe Hamish decides to handle lunch for himself when Mr. Grinling's catch from a morning spent fishing is left within paw's reach. Unfortunately, while trying to keep the hungry cat from eating his fish, the lighthouse keeper locks himself out of the lighthouse, an event that starts a chain of humorous mishaps. Graham Nutbrown had praise for The Lighthouse Keeper's Catastrophe in School Librarian, particularly noting "the unusual viewpoints" incorporated into David Armitage's illustrations. The book's artwork was also praised by a Publishers Weekly critic, who cited "the sun-filled watercolors of beaches and atmospheric depictions of storm-tossed seas" as adding to the book's appeal. Other tales featuring the irascible Hamish and his ocean-dwelling owner include The Lighthouse Keeper's Picnic, The Lighthouse Keeper's Rescue, and The Lighthouse Keeper's Christmas, the last of which finds the couple planning to spend their final Christmas Eve at the lighthouse before Mr. Grinling retires. Three of the most popular "Lighthouse Keeper" stories have also been bound together as The Lighthouse Keeper's Favourite Stories.

The Armitages' sense of fun has extended to numerous other picture books for young children, all with text by Ronda and illustrations by David. According to Ronda in an online interview for The Word Pool, a children's book can take from a few days to several years to plan out the text, while illustrations take much longer. Stories come "from anywhere and everywhere," she added. "From listening with 'story' ears and looking with 'story' eyes. Sometimes I remember to jot these ideas down." In their picture book The Bossing of Josie, a young girl who is always told what to do by older members of her family imagines that a witch costume she receives for her birthday will give her special powers. She casts a practice spell on her stubborn little brother and he winds up missing for part of the day, resulting in a frantic search and Josie's growing tolerance for being bossed by her elders. "There is a splendid relish and humour in this entirely satisfying glimpse of family life," according to Margery Fisher in Growing Point, while Mary B. Nickerson opined in School Library Journal that David Armitage's "deep drenched water-colors" give The Bossing of Josie "a mild sense of mysteriousness" to Ronda's tale.

The warm humor of family life finds its way throughout the Armitages' work for young children. In When Dad Did the Washing, events unfold in a way many young children can relate to: Dad man-handles the housework and ends up causing more mess than he cleans up.

Queen of the Night is geared for young listeners who have a fear of the dark. Like them, Tatty Brown cannot go to sleep at night because of all the scary things she imagines are lurking outside. A story told by Tatty's mother makes the young girl more comfortable with the darkness; in the tale Tatty travels with the queen and learns to understand and appreciate nighttime sounds.

Another young child is lucky enough to have more lives than a cat in the Armitages' Watch the Baby, Daisy, as Dad takes Mom's directive to "watch the baby" literally: he watches disasters in the making but does nothing to prevent them. Noting that the story serves as an excellent way to alert readers to the dangers to young children that lurk around the house, a Junior Bookshelf critic also praised the illustrations in Watch the Baby, Daisy as "striking" and "full of color and movement."

David Armitage's illustrations are also central to Grandma Goes Shopping, as a young-at-heart grandma indulges in a wild shopping spree "rendered in bold wash and ink with … a plentiful allowance of humour," according to Growing Point critic Fisher. The flip-side of shopping serves as the focus of A Quarrel of Koalas—published in the United States as Harry Hates Shopping!—as a mother koala turns the tables on her bored and unruly youngsters during an arduous but necessary excursion to the mall by finding ways to embarrass them into obedience.

"To me the fascination of creating a picture book lies in making something that will work in several different ways," Ronda Armitage once told Something about the Author (SATA). "I need to enjoy writing it, but, equally, the story needs to work in terms of the young child's experience. Unlike books for older children, picture books are for reading aloud, so the story must flow smoothly and each sentence needs to be rhythmic. This form of writing is perhaps more akin to poetry than to prose in the sense that each word has to play its part—after all, there aren't very many of them. And then there is that other vital ingredient—that other half—the illustrations." Perhaps the most important ingredient in the Armitages' success, however, has been their enthusiasm for their craft. As Ronda explained in The Word Pool interview, she continues to write for children "because I found my own childhood both painful and exciting. Because childhood experiences are so vivid. Because I still enjoy being with children and being childlike sometimes and because I love picture books."

Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Twentieth-Century Children's Writers, fourth edition, St. James Press, 1995, pp. 32-33.

PERIODICALS

Australian Book Review, February-March, 2000, Margaret Dunkle, review of Queen of the Night.

Booklist, July 15, 1979, p. 1623; October 1, 1979, p. 234; February 1, 1989, p. 935.

Books for Keeps, September, 1988, p. 8; November, 1991, p. 7; November, 1992, p. 15.

Books for Your Children, autumn-winter, 1993, p. 9.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, December, 1981, p. 62.

Growing Point, July, 1980, Margery Fisher, review of The Bossing of Josie, p. 3733; November, 1984, Margery Fisher, review of Grandma Goes Shopping, p. 4345.

Guardian (Manchester, England), November 23, 2002, Julia Eccleshare, review of The Lighthouse Keeper's Christmas.

Junior Bookshelf, October, 1977, pp. 272-273; December, 1978, p. 292; December, 1980, p. 279; February, 1982, p. 13; June, 1990, p. 125; April, 1992, review of Watch the Baby, Daisy, p. 53; October, 1992, p. 187; April, 1995, p. 64; April, 1996, p. 56.

Magpies, May, 1991, p. 29.

New York Times Book Review, September 2, 1984, p. 12.

Publishers Weekly, April 9, 1979, review of The Lighthouse Keeper's Lunch, p. 110; December 26, 1986, review of The Lighthouse Keeper's Catastrophe, p. 56.

School Librarian, December, 1986, Graham Nutbrown, review of The Lighthouse Keeper's Catastrophe, p. 331; May, 1993, p. 53.

School Library Journal, October, 1979, p. 132; January, 1981, Mary B. Nickerson, review of The Bossing of Josie, p. 46; February, 1982, pp. 63-64; May, 1984, pp. 61-62; February, 1989, p. 83.

ONLINE

Word Pool, http://www.wordpool.co.uk/ (July 20, 2004), "Ronda Armitage."*

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