Lois Lowry's Blog
Someone named Matthew submitted a comment to one of my earlier posts and I have had to delete it because it contained his email address, and of course I would not publish personal information of that sort. But this is a reminder to Matthew and others that I cannot answer questions on the blog. If you need a question answered, email me through the website. It is easy to do.
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....
Granted, I have not yet seen the show itself (and probably never will) but I have now seen enough promotional stuff to know for certain that I am offended by a coming TV show called "Armed and Famous" in which "celebrities"....like La Toya Jackson (go figure).... undergo a little training and then put on uniforms and apparently are given guns...and go out and are filmed while they are being, or pretending to be, cops.
The ads for this show, showing scenes from it, make it look as if there is a lot of merriment involved, and much squealing with amusement when the people (victims? perps?) who are stopped by these frauds suddenly realize that their apprender is actually - ta DA! - a CELEBRITY.
I'm trying to figure out why I find this so offensive. Would I be equally outraged if it were Celebrity Dentists? Celebrity Kindergarten Teachers?
Yes, I think I would. I think my outrage has to do with the fact that normal, hard-working, dedicated people invest a lot of time becoming qualified in their jobs...and then working, often underpaid, and caring about the work that they do. And certainly that is true of law enforcment people. My brother's son, Erik, has a college degree in Criminal Justice and he is a police officer. I have a daughter who is currently finishing a master's degree in Criminal Justice and I have observed first-hand the kind of study and research she has done in that field.
And now La Toya Jackson - and several other has-been, little-talent "celebrities" are allowed to strap on guns and pretend to be a police...for purposes of cheap entertainmment?...
And where was I, on New Years Eve at midnight? Sound asleep. I must be getting old. But I had gotten up that morning at 6 AM, as usual, with the dog, packed up my stuff, tidied up the Maine houese and done all the leave-taking rituals (turn off the water pump, open up all the under-the counter cabinet doors so that heat will get to the pipes, clean out the fridge, turn on the alarm system, etc. etc.), then drove to Massachusetts, stopping in New Hampshire for lunch with my daughter who lives there. And back at home - by 9 PM, was ready for bed.
I got a lot done in Maine, even with time off for Christmas with family. I came close to finishing the first draft of a new book..and DID finish it back here; and all 178 manuscript pages are now stacked on the dining room table. I'll let it settle a bit, re-read it and tweak it, and then off it will go to the editor.
I also have written a batch of thank-you notes, paid a batch of bills, and sneaked off to a movie: NOTES ON A SCANDAL, one of the choices this month of my women's movie group...we'll meet in late January to talk about it, and I may well go a second time before then. There are always things you miss, first time. Seeing it again, when you are not thinking about how it will turn out..what will happen...THEN is when you notice the film-making details and nuance. I found this one a brilliantly written and filmed movie, but very distressing...portraying, as it does, people making such self-desctructive choices that you want to call out to them: No! DON'T!"
It occurs to me that at two previous movie-group meetings, discussion was vigorous for the same reason..because of the bad choices characters made (and why they did): THE DOOR IN THE FLOOR, and LITTLE CHILDREN. It always all boils down to disappointment, loneliness, heartbreak, grief. And then to watch the characters...in movie, or book...plunge themselves further into tragedy (and maybe extricate themselves? you keep hoping, anyway) And in each of these three movies (it now occurs to me) ...the damage done to children by adults. THAT'S the heartbreaker.
Not in my new manuscript, though. This one is a light-heated book, no soul-searching. Sometimes it is a nice break just to romp through the pages of a book: writing, or reading.
It is cold in Maine this morning. After weeks of unseasonably warm weather...and no snow, though there is a storm predicted next week, FINALLY....this morning when I walked the dog at 6 AM it was COLD! He loves it, of course, being a breed from the mountains of Tibet. He grabbed and chewed at frozen leaves, crunching them like potato chips. Me, I just plodded along thinking hurry up hurry up and wishing I had brought my gloves.
It is a good time, though, to think about about what I'm working on...that early morning very-quiet time when I know I will shortly be sitting down at my desk. The book I am currently writing has reached the point where many different situations are happening and it is time to start pulling them together. So (thinking as I walk): How will I get the boy out of Switzerland? At what point will the Commander remember the note with the name in it?
Continuity, pacing, and consistency are important aspects of fiction-writing. Each event must be well-grounded in the previous events, must flow logically from them; each character must act according to the personality the author has created. The boy, for example...the one who must flee Switzerland shortly... is somewhat fragile and timid, yet determined. So he must behave accordingly, and I have to get him out of the Alps in a way consistent with that.
As for the Commander: he is forgetful and distracted, and he has probably tucked that note away someplace as a souvenir. What is the likelihood of his re-reading it, recognizing the name, etc.? I have to find a logical reason for that note to re-surface.
All of that sounds somewhat profound, as if written by John Le Carré, but it is actually a romp of a book, light-hearted and silly. Fun to write....
If you click to enlarge, and look carefully, you can see Mt. Washington, with snow on it, behind the bare trees at the foot of our property in Maine. But no snow anywhere else...kind of sad, for a New England Christmas, which one would like to have Norman Rockwellesque.
Still, there are all the food and gifts and relatives..and in our case, DOGS...that one looks forward to at holiday time. My son and his family brought their two golden retrievers, Tillie and Dash, up to the farm, and our Alfie loved having his cousins to play with, though there were the not unexpected fights over toys. MY rawhide bone! No, MINE!
I am currently reading the book titled SNOW by Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish author. My kindergarten grandson, Rhys, picked it up, and commented, "I see you're reading a book called Snow."
"Good for you, Rhys, you're reading!" I told him....
Well, I am back in Maine, me and Alfie. Martin will come up Friday and then my son Ben and his wife and kids on Saturday. But it is nice to have a little solitude and to get some work done.
However this morning's work what not the kind I anticipated.
I had had the usual onslaught of field-mice-coming-indoors when Fall began. It always happens in the country, especally in an old house (this one dates to 1768) which is not as tightly buttoned up (bad metaphor) as newer ones. So last month the exterminator came and did his magic. And then I went away.
Here are a couple of photos taken this morning: Alfie looking at the half-emptied pantry, the broom, the dust-buster (great for mouse droppings); and then the array on the table, waiting to be examined and sorted and mostly thrown away. The exterminator..having been called...came back while I was still sorting and cleaning. I told him about the prunes, thinking he'd be amazed, or else amused. But no. He said they use prunes as bait, often! Great. Little did I know that I was populating my pantry with mouse attractant. Like setting out a freshly-killed impala to ward off lions....
This morning two "comments' came in that I have deleted. I need to remind you again that I can't answer school related questons on the blog. if you have a question, send it through email; easy to do from my website. Thanks.
OKay, click on this image in order to enlarge and see it better. It's a photo of my 13-year-old granddaughter, made up of tiny photos of me and her grandfather. The actualy photo is 16"x20" and framed, and it is on its way to Germany for Christmas. The website for gettting this done is www.photowow.com .. and now I am guilty of....what do they call it in movies, when a character holds a highly-visible can of Pepsi? Product Placement.
But it is very cool product.
I get a lot of email every day. Mostly from kids, a lot of it like the email from a young person who recently wanted me to list "all the similes and metaphors" in one of my books.
But at the same time, I receive a lot of thought-provoking, sometimes very moving, email from readers of all ages. Today's mail brought a letter from a grandmother in Texas who feels THE GIVER is too disturbing a book for her grandson and who was distressed because it was required reading in his class. She was not in favor of censorship, I might add...just the fact that it was required of a boy who she felt was not ready for it.
In the same batch of mail was a letter from a 19-year-old who told me what a profound difference THE GIVER had made in his life. He wrote, speaking of a time in his own childhood:
I was given
your book and for the first time in my life I was intrigued by what I had
before my eyes. I won’t go into the subtleties of what you’ve written, as
you know it far better than I could hope to describe. But the importance
lies in how effectively my imagination was captured, not just by the words
you wrote, but the ideas and thoughts you spun. I was happy, I was angry, I
was saddened, but most of all I was scared. You thoroughly and
single-handedly demonstrated the power of thinking, and the ideas which
control the movement of a society through time. Maybe I didn’t fully
understand it at the time, but after your book I consumed every other with
the same ferociousness.
I wasn’t just after stories, I was after ideas, and the thoughts that
I am a list-maker. Always have been. When I wrote the first Anastasia book, ANASTASIA KRUPNIK, back in 1978, I created a child who made lisst in her private notebook. She could have been me at the same age. "Things I Love." "Interesting Words." "Favorite Foods." Typical lists from me at 10.
Now, of course, my lists are different. The one staring at me from my desk this morning says: Wrap Xmas gifts. Address Xmas cards. Buy dogfood. Prepare Power Point for Loudon County (that's Virginia, where I'll be later this week). Make doctor's appointment. Change sheets in guest room.
And none of that mentions that I have 24 people coming for dinner tonight. Potluck, so not a lot of cooking to do...but still.
So what am I doing? Sitting at the computer messing around, adding a post to the blog. Not even on the list. But it is 6:30 AM. Plenty of time for the other stuff.
Here's the thing about tonight. Over the past 1-2 years, several houses in our neighborhood have changed hands, and new people have moved in. It's a neighborhood of very busy people, all - or most -of them headed off to work each day. I know there's an architect, a pediatrician, a toxicologist, a Harvard professor, and others...some I haven't met, others I greet in passing but don't know anything about them. So I decided that before winter closes in and we are all snowbound, it would be fun to get together. I sent out invitations. As people RSVP-ed, some of them mentioned things about themselves. "I'm a poet," said one. Wow! A poet practically across the street! And someone else: a photographer! What fun to learn all this....
This is a very special picture and I hope you'll click on it to enlarge it so you can get something...(though it won't be enough)...of an idea of how lovely this is. It is a piece of jewelry - silver, gold, and pearls - designed especially for me, titled "Reading and Dreaming," and handcrafted by Mary Anne Spavins Owen of WINGED CAMEL METALWORKS in Colton, NY; it was delivered to me today by Susan Bloom, Professor Emeritus at Simmons College, as a thank you gift way out of proportion to the very small favor I had done.
Thank you, Susan. Thank you, Winged Camel!
This is Luke, my granddaughter's 3-year-old beagle, which has a beagle personality and stubborness but the face of ..what? a devout monk, maybe; or a melancholy scholar. That's me, trying to eat my pommes frites while pretending that there is not a mournful, starving (hah) critter at my elbow.
I am home now, after a long day of flying: Luxembourg to Zurich; Zurich to Boston. I read an excellent novel (THE NIGHT WATCH by Sarah Waters) on the plane. Had hoped to work more on a baby blanket that I'm knittiing for a friend's coming baby...and even went out and got wooden needles since Airport Security wouldn't have liked the metal ones I was using. But in my squished Economy seat the needles were too long to use without poking my neighbors so I had to give up on it.
Just for kicks, before we left, I called Swiss International to ask what it would cost to upgrade to business class. Hey, it never hurts to ask! But the answer was $6500. THAT hurt. And so I had to abandon my knitting....eight hours on that plane; it would have killed some time in a productive way. As an alternative, when I wasn't reading, I watched "The Last Samurai" on my little back-of-the-seat TV. Knitting would have been a more noble enterprise, I think....
Still in Germany, where my granddaughter and I are continuing to goof off, although she is now being mature and repsoinsible and has gone off for her violin lesson. But earlier today we were creating album covers for when we are famous rock stars. Here (photo) is mine. Hers (also attached) is more glamorous. And as for the singing career: this afternoon after school she sang me a brief selection of what they are working on in music class, and it was a selection from a Mozart opera. So Britney needn't be trembling in fear of being replaced.
This evening she has agreed to read the early chapters of my current book-in-progress.
One more day here and then I head back to Cambridge, and next week to NYC and Washington...
It is damp and gray in Germany, typical November weather, and here (see photo) is what my granddaughter and I have been doing...using my computer to make ourselves as weird-loking as possible. Who would have guessed that this praying mantis is actually a beautiful seventh grade girl? And what kind of bad grandma (or Oma, as I am called in her language) would teach a kid to play an addictive game like Cubis Gold, knowing that her mom has strict rules about the amount of time she spends on the computer?
And bad movies, as well. Last night she and I watched "Poseidon."
Nadine is taking English in her German school, required here though she has spoken it fluently since she learned to talk. Her description of the English lessons...taught in what she calls "Brit English"...is wonderfully funny because she can imitate accents so well, and sounds just like Helen Mirren.
Nice to see her bedroom stacked high with books. I was able to bring her a new German translation of my own "Messenger" and Phyllis Naylor has recently sent some German editions of her "Alice" series. But there are loads of good German kids' books as well...of course Cornelia Funke, though she has moved to the USA now, was originally from Germany.
Here are just a few of the things i am thankful for:
1. That while Alfie had to wait in line at the kennel, because so many dogs were checking in for the holiday, and he was surrounded by labs, retrievers, schnauzers, a Newf, and a couple of poodles..... he wagged his tail at all of them.
2. That we are boarding a plane this afternoon for Zurich, and therefore I don't have to cook a turkey.
3. That tomorrow morning we go from Zurich to Luxembourg and will be greeted by my daughter-in-law and granddaughter, two of my favorite people in this world.
4. That my Maine caretaker phoned yesterday to say that the exterminator DID show up to deal with the mice....
I am currently in a hotel in Siera Vista, Arizona, preparing to check out and head to Tucson to catch a flight back home. A lovely visit here, and 1300 kids in a big auditorium yesterday...all of them attentive and quiet for an hour! Amazing!....and I have been with good people surrounded by gorgeous scenery and breathing dry, crisp air. Altogether a great combination and I thank the town of Sierra Vista for choosing "The Giver" as their "One Book, One Community" read this year.
As I usually do, I have my laptop with me (very irritating that expensive hotels usually charge something like $10 a day to hook into the internet, and here a little Fairfield Inn gives me access at no charge. Waldorf Astoria: consider this a scolding) and this morning, killing a little time, I took a look at Roger Sutton's blog, which you can access through the Horn Book website. I like the Horn Book and I like Roger, who is smart and funny and irreverent and also knows more than most people about children's literature.
This morning I was startled to see a book of mine mentioned, and since his blog is public access I assume there is no problem with my quoting this post here:
Betty did advance a question that I thought might be of interest here. "Have you noticed," she asked, "that most of the book debate this year has been about allegory?" and went on to mention The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Gossamer, and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. It's true that each of these titles has inspired strong reactions; also true that what's often being debated is "the lesson" of each story, both its nature and effectiveness. All stories have lessons, of course, but these three seem particularly fixed upon "the representation of abstract ideas or principles by characters, figures, or events in narrative, dramatic, or pictorial form," my digital AHD's definition of allegory....
Someone asked if I would at least tell what age level or grade level the new book will be for. You know, that is not something I think at all about when I'm writing something. Publishers and reviewers grapple with that—publishers so that they can direct their marketing efforts; reviewers so that they can recommend or NOT recommend—and I suppose librarians and teachers as well, in order to purchase or not purchase, assign or not assign—but I never give it a thought.
However, having been asked, I re-read what I have written so far, (well, in truth I do this every morning: re-read; make small changes; re-think) and looked at it from the perspective of what-age-is-this-for.
I would say 8 to 80.
Maybe 90, if the sense of humor has remained intact..