|Author Lois Lowry listening to a question from a Bowdoin student.|
My son introduced me to Lois Lowry. He'd read The Giver for sixth grade English and thought I would like it. I loved it. Lowry's dystopian novel reminded me of George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm, but The Giver felt darker because it's a children's book. The evil overlords weren't faceless bureaucrats or talking pigs but trusted parents and teachers. A boy who learns the truth must fix a world ruined by his beloved elders. This 1994 Newbury Medal winner defines the Millennial generation. It's a perfectly crafted novel with ageless appeal. The Giver was also one of the books that motivated me to write young adult fiction.
Bowdoin College two days ago, Lowry shared her inspiration for The Giver. Her father was suffering from dementia and failed to recognize a photo of his deceased daughter. Lowry had to remind him about what happened to Helen over and over again. She became his memory keeper and a book was born. In The Giver a dystopian society has chosen to forget the evils of the world. Only the Giver remembers everything, and in his old age, he must pass all those memories onto his young disciple. The truth nearly breaks Jonas, a 12-year-old boy who must act as a man.
Although best known for The Giver, Lowry has written over forty children's books. Her first novel, A Summer to Die (1977) was inspired by the death of her sister. Her favorite is Autumn Street (1980), an homage to her grandparents' cook whose child was murdered. Number the Stars, set in Denmark during World War II, won her first Newbury Medal in 1990. She has also written lighter, humorous books for young readers. According to Lowry, the theme that unites all her work is reconciliation.
|The author at age three getting a reading lesson from her six-year-old sister Helen.|
Lowry's personal story was interesting too. Born on Hawaii Island in 1937, Lowry moved to New York City right before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Her father was General MacArthur's dentist so the family relocated to Japan during the Occupation. In Washington D.C., her dad cared for the Nixon family teeth. Back in New York City, Lowry won a national poetry competition, which earned her a writing scholarship to Brown. When the poetry book was published, Lowry was horrified to learn that her high school teacher had rewritten her poem. Like many women in the 1950s, Lowry dropped out of college to get married. She later completed her education while raising four kids in Maine. Her first book was published when she was forty. Lowry now has a graduate degree, several honorary degrees (including one from Brown), two Newbury Medals, and four grandchildren. At age seventy-eight she is still writing new books.
|Questions for Lois Lowry from the audience at Bowdoin College.|
Lowry writes children's books because "kids are changed by what they read." She shared some reader emails and answered the questions of the enthralled Bowdoin students in the audience. Her responses were heartfelt and often hilarious. I'd gone to Lowry's talk with young adult author Maria Padian, and what surprised us the most was how funny Lois Lowry was in person. Lowry shared family photos, news clippings and book covers. A photographer myself, I was impressed to learn that the iconic cover photo of The Giver was one of hers. I remember the challenges of SLR cameras and darkroom photography before Photoshop. She is clearly a woman of multiple talents. I left Lowry's talk feeling inspired.
|Simpson's Point in Brunswick, Maine at sunset.|