Lois Lowry's Blog


Start of School

Posted by Lois Lowry
Lois Lowry
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on Monday, 07 September 2009 in Uncategorized

A friend of mine who teaches at Harvard's Graduate School of Education asked me this morning if I had any first-day-of-school photos, and I sent her this one, which she will incorporate into her Power Point presentation for 60+ new graduate students tomorrow, at her first lecture.

School 1943 copy

What she will be illustrating, with this photo of me and my sister in 1942, and whatever very wise words she uses to accompany it, is the sense of anticipation and eager expectation with which children approach the beginning of their education...not just kindergarten, which I was starting the day of this photo, but each year, anew, the beginning of another opportunity.

I used this same photo on the website TeachingBooks.net recently, with this accompanying brief essay:

We’re starting school. First day. My sister and me: we are eight and five; second grade and kindergarten.

I’m the younger sister. And the photograph, taken in 1942, is black and white.  Amazingly, though, I remember the color of everything: our matching jackets (navy blue), my skirt (royal blue), Helen’s dress (blue and red plaid), and our shoes, dark brown and freshly polished.

Why the little purses? (Mine was red)  I suppose they took the place of today’s backpacks and contained our treasured pencils and erasers.

What I remember most (because the memory was reinforced each September) is the feeling of anticipation. Everything was new, exciting, yet to be discovered.  I felt that way each fall for years: all the way through graduate school. There would be bullies and unfair teachers and, eventually, the binomial theorem to face. But what you felt, each fall, was the beauty of the clean lined paper, the smell of the brand new pencils, the unpeeled crayons with pointed tips, the perfect placement of your desk.

And I still feel that way each time I begin writing a book. There is something about the vast empty space, waiting: the sense of possibility, and the mystery of it.

Interestingly, book characters seem to feel the same way, at least in books by me:

Annemarie runs down a street, laughing, with her best friend, on an ordinary day.

Jonas rides his bicycle along a path in his well-ordered community.

Matty grumbles good-naturedly as he helps to prepare dinner.

It never takes long before things begin to be complicated, of course. It was true for me as a schoolgirl; by October my notebook was disorganized and I didnt really understand long division, and three girls had formed a club that excluded me. But I would soldier on (so would Annemarie, Jonas, and Matty—along with me, the writer) to the destination, hard going though it would be at times.

And eventually the time would come again: the next start.  The new lunchbox, the brand new shoes of September.

Or the fresh Page 1, Chapter One and the feeling of anticipation once more. It never diminishes.


It's that time of year again.

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Jessica Leader Monday, 29 November 1999

A long-time lover of your work, both as a child and an adult, I only just found my way to your blog and am loving it. I especially love how you sound like--well--your books. (I know. How else would you sound? But still.) I could really see Anastasia saying grouchily about Paul McCartney, "Well. He *looks* 72." I'm so glad you're doing daily writing for public eyes and look forward to reading more.

Ellen Booraem Monday, 29 November 1999

I skateboarded in Massachusetts around 1960, although all I did was stand on it and slalom downhill. I wasn't nearly as proficient or daring as kids are today.
After a certain point dyed hair really does make a person look older. Brings out the wrinkles somehow...

pussreboots Monday, 29 November 1999

I haven't read the book yet but it's near the top of my TBR pile. Growing up in San Diego, skateboards were definitely part of my childhood. I can remember us racing down the middle of the street taking advantage of the speed the hills provided.

Ojimenez Monday, 29 November 1999

It's interesting that information is available, literally, at our fingertips, thanks to the web and computers.
Tonight I was re-reading the book
WHY READ? by Mark Edmundson while keeping company with my old cat Gracie and came across a passage that I'd like to offer here because, simply put, it speaks about the pitfalls of our age of instant, limitless information:
"Many educated Americans seem persuaded that the computer is the most significant invention in human history.
A professor teaching Blake's poem "The Chimney Sweeper " is likely to charge his students to compile with using the computer as much information about the poem as possible...Instead of spending class time wondering what the poem means, and what application it has to present-day experience.
...The result is to suspend reflection about the differences among wisdom, knowledge, and information. Thus the possibility presents itself that there really is no more wisdom, no more knowledge, only information. "

Roger Sutton Monday, 29 November 1999

Yeah, we had skateboards in suburban Boston in the late 1960s. Mostly home-made out of wood and somebody's old roller skates. Now we can BOTH feel old.

Nick Glass Monday, 29 November 1999

Hi Lois,
I grew up in NYC in the '70s. In '79 I was 14, and loved my orange skateboard. My brother had a blue one (which I for some reason still have).
I even recall the trip with my Dad to get the skateboard. (Maybe I was 12 when I got it??)
For what it is worth, this native New Yorker found the setting of When You Reach Me to be authenticate to my heart, soul, and recollections.
Best! -- Nick

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