Lois Lowry's Blog
And again from Dawn (thanks, Dawn, for clarifying):
It was the "what if..." comment that caused me to think about THE GIVER. You had made the statement at a conference once that I attended when you were telling us your motivation for writing the novel. "What if..." there wasn't such a difference in the "have" and "have nots"? What if there was no such thing as poverty? What if we could do away with illness,disease, grief, and all the misfortune and ugliness in the world? What if Utopia was actually possible? Jonas shows us that it is not. Even within the safety and protection of his utopian community, he was willing to sacrifice it all for the freedom to choose and live life as he had learned it should be lived. I wonder, would the ones living in the 5.03 million dollar house give up their "utopia" in order to save someone as Jonas did and escape to "Elsewhere"?
...and here, from a theater director in Pennsylvania who will soon do a performance of THE GIVER, an excerpt from his program notes:
....Listening does not seem like a brave act. There are no medals given for empathy. It appears to take no courage to be curious when someone begins a sentence with “I remember…” Yet these things can take us to some unpredictable, even scary, places....
After I wrote my last post, in which I was musing about the rich guy asleep in his house across the street, a few yards away from the homelss guy sleeping in the park... I got a response from Dawn, who writes:
"What if.... Oh no, I must stop thinking that way; and Mark Twain already WROTE that book."
As did you! :)
I was thinking of THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER, in which the two trade places for a while. Dawn says I already wrote that book, too...Hmmmm. I am trying to think what book she might mean....
A couple of weeks ago I commented on the New York Times article profiling Gregory Maguire, overall a fine piece, but I thought something he purportedly said had been taken out of context or misquoted. Yesterday I talked to Gregory and he confirmed that indeed it had been misrepresented. No surprise to me because I knew he would not have said something that sounded demeaning to the field of children's literature.
I told him about the time...this was probably 25 years ago...when I was interviewed for an article in a newspaper somewhere. The journalist asked my opinion of the work of Judy Blume. I scrunched up my face and jokingly said, "Judy Who? Never heard of her.." Laughing, of course, because at the time hers was the best-known name in the field. But the published article said, to my embarrassment, "When asked about popular YA author Judy Blume, Lowry professed never to have heard the name."
One of my favorite letters from kids, incidentally, during that time, was one that said, "In my class we all have to write a letter to an author. We had to draw straws to see who would get Judy Blume. I did not win so I am writing to you."
This morning there is a homeless person sleeping in a park across the street, a sure and sad sign that spring has come. Curled up in an a raggedy sleeping bag, this person is probably 20 yards from a house that is listed on Zillow.com at 5.03 million. Inside that house, someone is sleeping as well. The distance between the two people is so small, and so huge. What if.... Oh no, I must stop thinking that way; I have enuogh work in front of me already. And Mark Twain already WROTE that book.
As I've explained in the past, I don't post replies on this blog. I decided on that policy after I discovered that it was very easy for the casual reader to obtain the email address of those who responded. Many of those are kids, and I didn't want to make them accessible to strangers.
But I do receive the replies, and read them with great interest. Thank you to the surprising number of you who have written to express support of the 6th grade teacher whose Holocaust project was described here.
As one respondant said: It takes a caring teacher to give an idea a try.
PAPER CLIPS is the name of a documentary film. This is the description that Netflix gives for it: Whitwell Middle School in rural Tennessee is the setting for this documentary about an extraordinary experiment in Holocaust education. Struggling to grasp the concept of 6 million Holocaust victims, the students decide to collect 6 million paper clips to better understand the enormity of the calamity. The film details how the students met Holocaust survivors from around the world and how the experience transformed them and their community.
I mention it because it was the inspiration for the teacher who emailed me recently, and whose email I posted here, telling me of the project he'd designed for his 6th graders. Paper clips are a pretty prosaic object and he chose something similarly, ah, pedestrian: shoe laces. Six million shoelaces. It could have been jelly beans, I suppose, or erasers: any small object that kids could collect that would show them, in the aggregate, the magnitude of 6 million, a concept that is hard for all of us to grasp.
http://www.hbook.com/blog/2007/03/six-million-what.html is the address of Roger Sutton's blog, which he kindly sent to me to let me know that he had commented acidly on the mindlessness of such a project. And a number of his blog-readers have responded with their comments, most of them simliarly critical.
I'm fond of Roger, whom I've known for a good many years...(I would tell you the number of years but you would have to go out and collect M&Ms or - better - malt balls - in order to perceive the magnitude). But I don't really agree with him or his intellectualizing readers on this one. I don't think the teacher's project is mindless or silly or lazy. It may not WORK for all kids. Some of them will look back and wonder, in years to come, "What did we tie all those stupid shoelaces together for?" But heck, nothing works for all students. I myself look back and haven't a clue why I memorized the binomial theorem in 1954.
But there will be others on whom it makes a huge impact. And if you rent and watch the film...which I recommend...you will be quite convinced that there is a large group of former children in Tennessee who will not ever forget six million paper cliips and what it taught them....
One of the best things about the commuity of children's authors is the quality of the friendships I have made, over the years, with wonderful people who do what I do, love what I love.
Yesterday, in one of those coincidences that no longer surprise me. I heard from two friends of many years.
Lois Duncan and I have shared some uncanny coincidences over the years, and neither of us has forgotten the time we both spoke at the same conference—both of us more or less the same age, with many things, (including lawyer ex-husbands) in common, the same color hair, and on that particular day, wearing almost identical yellow dresses, so that as we sat together on a panel, no one knew to which Lois questions were being addressed. We would receive each other's fan mail from time to time. When, in 1989, I received a puzzling letter of condolence from the California Booksellers, I realized with distress what the mistake might be. When I called Lois, she told me that her eighteen year old daughter, Kaitlyn, had been murdered.
Six years later, in 1995, it was she who called me after my son, Grey, had been killed in a plane crash.
Yesterday I received in the mail a book from Lois Duncan. Over many years she had chronicled her own life in poetry and now she has published it as a unique kind of autobiography called "Seasons of the Heart." (She points out in a note to me that if you look for it on Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com, you should accompany your search with her name, because there are a number of other books with the same title.)...
This mornign I received an email from a 6th grade teacher whose letter I will quote:
During our reading of your book, Number the Stars, we also researched
the causes and effects of the Holocaust, watched a very powerful
documentary called, "Paper Clips", and perhaps you'll recall that we
decided to take on a project of our own. Since October we have been
collecting shoelaces, measuring them, and tying them together with the
goal of collecting 6,000,000 centimeters of laces to represent the
6,000,000 Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. We have collected over
5,000,000 centimeters so far (that's just a little over 30 miles of
laces) and hope to meet our goal by mid April. Our plan it to build
large shoes that we will wrap the laces around and then have displayed
at the Minnesota State Fair in August. I've attached a couple of
photographs of the project for you to see of some of our progress. Our
goal is that this monument will honor the victims of that horrible
event, and will serve as a statement to the world that intolerance,
prejudice, racism, and hatred have no place in our world if we are to
have any chance of living in peace with one another.
I just wanted to share this project with you because I thought you might
mention it in your travels and conversations with others who might like
to send shoelaces to us. We are at:
It is always such a pleasure to hear of and from imaginative teachers like Doug Greener in Maple Grove who do more than just assign a book, and whose students will always remember what they have learned in his class....
This is a picture of the fan mail that arrived today, forwarded from the publisher. It is sometimes a little overwhelming, as you can imagine, though always lovely to read the kind words from readers. Each of those large manila envelopes is from a classroom, and usually there are between 10-30 letters in such a batch; fortunately the teachers who send then realize that one letter in reply is all I can manage, and in fact it wll often be a standardized letter addressing whichever book the kids have read.
If only through some magic I could sit here and write a personal letter to each reader, as I did years ago when the letters dribbled in maybe 2-3 a week. I loved the intinacy of that correspondence. Not long ago I received an email from a woman whose daughter is now reading my books; she asked if by any chance I remembered her; she had wrtten several letters to me years ago, when she was 10 and 11. And I did! I remembered details about her and the letters we had written each other.
But there is no way I can do that now. This mountain of letters will get replies but I won't remember the individual kids, and that is such a loss.
I said a few posts back that I would update readers about THE GIVER movie. It has been a long, long haul with that project...years. Literally years. This past week, the time expired, and the producers who held the rights had not been able to get the necessary funding to proceed. The end. Or so it would seem. But two days later, Warner Brothers stepped in and snapped it up. So now it is very active once again, but in different hands, and we can all - that includes me - watch with interest to see if anything emerges....
I've just returned from spending several days in Florida with friends who were celebrating a significant anniversary. Orlando is not my favorite place and I would happily never go there except that my among-my-favorite friends Joyce and Bill live there...so what can one do?! It was lovely seeing them and seeing how happily their friends came from all over to help them celebrate.
Unconnected to Joyce and Bill's anniversary was the national cheerleading competition beng held at the Convention Center next to our hotel. And of course the hotel was filled with shrieking, giggling young girls in their cheerleading outfits...slathered with make-up and with glittery eyelids...which, to be honest, I found kind of repellent. Young girls are so gorgeous in their real skin that it seems a shame to paint over it. (But I am sounding like my mother, now).
And today I am back home and, sigh, have to get to my taxes. I've put it off long enough. Moment of truth. I am moving all the STUFF onto the dining room table and no one will be able to eat there until the tax info is finished and mailed to my accountant.
Bush twin to publish book
Washington - Jenna Bush, the daughter of US President George W Bush, is entering the publishing world with a book for teens that focuses on a teenage single mother in Panama living with HIV.
The 25-year-old, who along with her twin sister Barbara once provided fodder for tabloids because of her collegiate partying and underage drinking, told the daily USA Today that she hoped the book would get "kids thinking and involved".
The president's daughter said Ana's Story: A Journey of Hope, which is due out this fall, was inspired by her work as an unpaid intern since September for Unicef in Central America.
"I'm aware that not all kids can pick up and fly to Panama, I'm very lucky," she was quoted as saying....
This is just a reminder that I can't answer questions, etc., on the blog. To Kirsti, who wants to do an interview for school: email me through the website, not the blog. At the top of the first page of the website, under my name, is a place that says "E-mail me"...Click on that.
To Marci, to Abby, Camille, Dawn Susan, Shaunika, Kelly, and others....thank you for your messages and kind words.
To Viki, who wonders abut "The Giver" movie....I'll post more information about that very soon..
And now I must go tend my kitchen. The appliances, all of them 12 years old...dating from the time I remodeled the kitchen...made a suicide pact, apparently. Today the Sub-Zero refrigerator decided to terminate its existence, and there is now water all over the floor. I expect the stove and dishwasher are making their own evil prepartions.
I am just back from a brief visit to the West Coast, starting early Friday morning on a Delta flight at 7 AM which began with the announcement, "Sorry, folks, they forgot to load water onto the plane and so there will be no coffee" ... shortly thereafter followed by, "Sorry folks, but the video doesn't work so there will be no movie" Luckily I had a book to read and wouldn't have watched the movie anyway, but I DID miss the coffee!
That was the flight to Salt Lake City. Leaving SLC, headed to Bellingham, Washington, our flight began...or failed to begin...with the announcement, "Sorry, folks,. but we can't take off because we are too heavy." Rather than removing passengers, they removed luggage. Me, I only had carry-on so wasn't affected, but there were those aboard who gnashed their teeth as they saw their bags being taken back to the terminal.
Well, travel has become a pain in the neck, no question; and I'm sorry that we all, myself included, feel compelled to tell our tales of woe, a little like the wedding guest in Coleridge's poem.
Anyway: Bellingham, Washington was the setting (Western Washington University) for a wonderful day-long conference with an enthusiastic audience of more than 500 registrants; four speakers: David Weisner, Candace Fleming, Pat Mora, and me; and a phenomenal cast of organizers, headed by Nancy Johnson. I think the thing I always enjoy most at conferences is the chance to meet and be with colleagues. All of us work alone, as one has to...but then from time to time to schmooze and gossip is a real treat.
Great food, great scenery, great people. And an uneventful trip home. I put on my headphones and listened to a book called "Final Exam: A Surgeon's Reflections on Mortality" by Pauline Chen. The plane movie was working but it was "Night at the Museum." Did I want to watch "A Night at the Museum"? A friend of mine has a lovely descriptive phrase. She says: "I'd rather stick a pencil in my eye."...
I am writing this on a Tuesday. On Saturday night I had dinner with Martin and my three children...grown-ups now, not at all children anymore...and one daughter-in-law (the other daughter-in-law, alas, too far away, in Germany) to celebrate (three weeks early, because of everyone's schedules) my 70th birthday. I had asked them for PLEASE NO GIFTS and they graciously consented, but they brought poems and memories. And of course memories are the greatest gifts of all.
Here is a memory, from my older daughter:
When I was four, I asked to go outside in the night, in the dark, with no expectation of being allowed. But Mom said Yes, to my shock. I went out into the side yard, outside of the kitchen porch, into the night, alone, for the first time in my life. There was a light, but it was dark in the sky and a mild summer night, and I stayed out there by myself in my summer shorts and top, and crouched in the driveway, ectstatic, overwhelmed wih joy and surprise that my mom had said "OK" when I asked to go outside, AT NIGHT.
I don't remember that moment, really. The summer that she was four, I had two younger children already and was pregnant with my fourth. So there was much on my mind and many distractions. But I am quite sure I would have watched her from the window and marveled at her courage and independence...as in fact I have done all her life.
The next day, after the birthday partty, the kids all went off their separate ways: two to Maine, one to New Hampshire; and my older daughter to the airport to fly home to San Francisco. But she called in the evening to say that her plane had been cancelled, she was in an airport hotel and they would fly her first class the next day...today....
At age 57 I am about to graduate from library school, with a license to be a school librarian. For a current assignment, I must write something about "Number the Stars" and thus I found your website and your blog. I have read your comments regarding censorship of books for children because of isolated words or complex ideas. For my paper on Number the Stars, I have chosen the words, "Can't we just walk, like civilized people?" some of the first words spoken by Ellen. I connect "civilization" or "civilized" with freedom--the freedom to read thoughts that make us think. The freedom to put in libraries books that will expand the minds of our children, our future. I am also reminded of words spoken by the president of Spain in 2005 when the Spanish parlement passed a law permitting gay marriage, adoption by gay couples and equal rights. The president's words were in response to criticism from the Catholic right. He said that gay people were not "the other"; they are our brothers, sisters, etc. By passing this law, he explained, this is the way we treat people in civilized society, in a democracy. We live in a civilized society. Standing up for books that use impolite words or that present complex ideas, that look at painful situations, this is how we act in a civilized society.
Thank you for your books, for stretching the minds of our children.
Thank you for becoming a librarian, Gail. The world needs more of you!
Hi. I've just finished "The Giver", could you please tell me if there is a movie?, my first language is Spanish, and when I read a book in English I like to find out if there is a movie. thank you....
This from a reader:
I think I can pretty well confirm for you that "The Giver" has not been challenged in Canada, either in schools or public libraries. I'm no expert but I have tracked a lot of challenges over the past few years. I find the American conservative idea that somehow their children need to be "protected" from certain ideas and books hard to swallow. I work part time at the Pelham Public Library where I came up with the idea of having a "banned book club." Fearing calls, my boss cautioned me to call it "Freedom to Read." I am also a divinity student heading into ministry in the church. You may find my support (and my encouragement) of the right to assess materials without censorship a little strange. However, people do not grow without being confronted with many ideas. As we censor ideas that we don't like for other people, we also remove the opportunity for them to judge and discern on their own.
Of course the whole issue is in the front of the news again because of this year's Newbery winner, which I have not read so I don't feel qualified to comment, really. But I do have an email today from a retired teacher who reminds me that he wrote me back in 1986, when he was teaching fourth grade, about the use of a "bad word" in the first Anastasia book. (He didn't have a problem with it, read in context.) Of course the controversial word in today's news is not an expletive but a body part...a word my own grandsons, now 6 nd 8, have known and used since they first began pointing to their own parts as toddlers and being told what each part was called, from "nose" on down to "toes" and everthing in between. So it's a litle hard to see what all the outrage is about. But I must read the book.
I am in Maine, where 16 inches of snow fell last Wednesday, and where tonight the wind chill is predicted to be 13 below zero. On the day of New England's snowstorm, I was headed by bus to New York and the trip, ordinarily 4 hours, took over 6. But at least I got there, missing one meeting because of my late arrival but able to make my other commitments in the next couple of days. Ordinarily I love being in Manhattan; I lived in New York as a teenager, went to high school there, and just roaming the city is always a pleasure for me. But not when it is bitter cold, with ice and slush everywhere!
I am writing this in a hotel room in New York. With a storm descending on New England last night and this morning, I almost cancelled my trip here...and in fact cancelled my 5 PM meeting here....then when, in the AM, it didn't appear to be too awful, decided to come ahead, by bus. (recommendation, incidentally: the wonderful Limo-liner which goes between Boston and New York, a real luxury bus, with lunch served by an attendant, internet access, comfortable leather seats). What is ordinarily a 4-hour ride took six because the driver was cautious and safe...so I arrived too late to make the 5 PM meeting anyway. But I can keep my appointments tomorrow and Friday, and use my theater ticket tomorrow night.
This posting from Blog reader Kelsey:
The Giver remains one of my favorite books. I first read it in a children's lit class about ten years ago. I am eyeing the boxed set to send to a family friend out in Nebraska. She is about to turn twelve and I think she is approaching an age where the trilogy will give her a lot to think about. Over the summer I used the book in a banned books presentation during a course on school library project development. I think some of the messages are so relevant to issues our country struggles with today. What kinds of personal freedoms are we willing to sacrifice to allow our government to keep us safe?
I'm glad she mentioned the boxed set of the Giver trilogy, because it does make a terrific gift and also (not many poeple know this!) contains a folder poster of three maps of the three communities. I drew the maps, and had to re-read the books carefully in order to do so. Even so, young readers...very meticulous..might find mistakes. Feel free to let me know! But I won't be able to make any corrections.
Because of the weather there are probably going to be a lot of theater seats empty tonight. I agve some thought to prowling around and seeing if I could get a last-minute ticket. But the prowling is not good; the sidewalks are slushy and it's cold. So I think I'll have some supper at the hotel and then hole up with a book, maybe even get some work done....
This is a copy of THE GIVER with the Margaret Edwards Award seal on it, sent to me by someone at the Young Adult Library Services Association, the group that gives the award.
This copy of THE GIVER is one of the ones with a different look from the better-known photo of the bearded man. Some time back, the paperback publisher, Random House, did this separate version when they became aware that the book was attracting an adult audience. This version has no mention of YA, or Newbery Medal. I like the painting, the very evocative hands-and-snowflake, though I am more fond of the bearded man, since he was an actual man whom I knew and was fond of, and I took the photo.
To reply to some of you who have sent in posts:
Viki asks if the leatherbounbd volumes will be available for sale. No, they are one-of-a-kind, which is why it was such a special gift. But THE GIVER and the two subsequent related books are available in a boxed set pubished by Random House; and in the boxed set is included a set of maps (drawn by me) of the three communities....
OKay, I said I'd photograph the wonderful gift I've just received from the people at Random House. And here it is, though I found it very difficult to photograph. It is the "Giver" trilogy..the three books..beauifully leatherbound. If you click on the photos to enlarge them maybe you can get a teeny glimpse of the gold-tipped pages and the beautiul endpapers.
It was Random House, incidentally, that recently published the three books in a boxed set which includes the maps I drew of the three communities.
Looking at these, stroking the leather, reminds me of my grandfather. He was a banker, and I don't know, really, how literary he was, but he was of the age and culture that valued books; in his house was a room called "the library" which had a wall of bookcases. Those books were bound in beautifully colored leather like this, and I can recall the feel of them, and the smell...and the times when, very young - 4 or 5 - I sat on his lap while he read to me from Kipling or Longfellow. He always wore a suit with a vest and tie; I cannot recall ever seeing my grandfather in a sports shirt. Somehow that made it seem very important, the act of handling those books, of smelling that leather, of hearing those words...as if it were something one would naturally dress up for.
Surely it was summer, sometimes, when he read to me; but in my memory there is always a fire in the fireplace. And the 7 PM news has just ended, broadcast from a tall radio in the corner. War news. This would have been 1942, 1943. My father was over there, in that war. But my mother, in the memory, is seated at the desk, writing a letter. My grandmother, so tiny that her feet were resting on a small needlepointed footstool, is working on some kind of fragile embroidery. Very soon someone will take me up a long staircase with two landings, to my bedroom. But now, first, my grandfather will lift me into his lap, open the leatherbound book, and begin to read aloud. In the High and Far-Off Times the Elephant, O Best Beloved, had no trunk. He had only a blackish, bulgy nose, as big as a boot, that he could wriggle about from side to side; but he couldn't pick up things with it......
The Margaret A. Edwards Award, established in 1988, honors an author, as well as a specific body of his or her work, that have been popular over a period of time. The annual award is administered by YALSA and sponsored by School Library Journal magazine. It recognizes an author's work in helping adolescents become aware of themselves and addressing questions about their role and importance in relationships, society, and in the world.
When the ALA announcements were made last Monday about the children's book awards, my name was announced as the winner, for the book THE GIVER, of the Margaret Edwards Award. The award came into existence in the 1980's but was re-named, in 1990, for Margaret Edwards, who was, back in the 1930s I believe, the librarian who first paid real attention to books that would matter in the lives of adolescents.
I was somewhat distracted, immediately after the announcement, by the sudden death of one of my closest friends. But now as life settles and continues, I do want to mention how gratifying it is to have been chosen for this honor. Many friends and acquaintances have sent congratulatory notes, and there have been bouquets of flowers..and a box of chocolates!...from several publishers...plus an amazing gift that I won't attempt to describe but will, when I get a chance, photograph, just so you can get a glimpse.
In the meantime, here is a glimpse of Margaret Edwards herself, who looks like someone I wish i had known.