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Who is this book for?

Posted by Lois Lowry
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on Saturday, 13 January 2007 in Uncategorized

This is a question I am asked often, in emails from parents or teachers, and they are referring to the age of the reader. Should our school use this book in fifth grade, or is it better saved till seventh? Can I give this to my 10-year-old grandson for his birthday? I can answer that to some degree (THE GIVER, for example, is better saved till seventh; and save it, why don't you, till his 12th birthday) but in truth, kids are so individual...people are so individual...that no single answer serves everyone.

And it is not something I think about as I write.

Many, many years ago, 1975 I think it was, I published a short story in Redbook magazine. (That magazine was very different then; I don't think it even publishes fiction any more). It was a story for adults, but it was about a child; it was told through the perceptions of a nine-year-old.

Not long ago a publisher contacted me and said they would like to have that story beautifully illustrated and publish it as a picture book. A picture book? I thought. PIcture books are, by and large, for kids. This was a story for adults. At least I wrote it for adults. But I went back and re-read the story. In my mind, for the first time, I could see it with maybe water color illustrations. I could see the little girl (of course I could; she was me) and for the first time I could see that the story did in fact have something to say to a larger audience, one that included young people. Not four year olds. Not six year olds. But young girls, the age that the girl in the story is...the age that I was, in the story. And so I gave them permisison to give it a try.

But I was not thinking of them as the readers, when I wrote the story more than 30 years ago.

I rarely think much about the reader, at least not during the writing. I use words, often, that a kid doesn't know; my newest manuscript, the one that I just sent off to the editor, has "obsequious" in it, and "diabolical," and lots of other multi-syllable words that the average 10-year-old is not familiar with. If they enjoy the story, they will absorb the words, understand them because of context, and maybe their vocabularies will flourish.

If I thought, while writing, "uh-oh; this word is too hard for a fourth grader" I would become paralyzed. I would start dumbing down the work.

(But if course I have not heard back yet from the editor, who is not at all obsequious. Nor is he diabolical. But he is forthright and pragmatic, and he could say: This will never sell.)

But today I am not wringing my hands over any of that. I am wringing my hands over the New England Patriots, who are playing the San Diego Chargers this afternoon. Oh dear oh dear.

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