“Literature can change the lives of children.”
- Lois Lowry
You’re not going to believe it.
Lois Lowry originally had no plans to write for children. The author who is writing her 40th children’s book (she writes about 1 per year) attended Brown University and planned to write, “The Great American Novel”.
After two years, Lowry dropped out of Brown, got married, and had 4 children. She returned to school later and wrote in her spare time. Lowry attended the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference in the early 1970s.
She skipped the children’s book workshop.
Later, Lois wrote a letter to a writer friend, sharing a childhood memory that was triggered by scent. Her friend encouraged her to turn it into a story.
She did. It was published in "Redbook".
(This next part never happens to mere mortals.)
An editor at Houghton Mifflin had read her Redbook story and contacted her, asking her if she could write a children’s book. She decided to try.
A Summer to Die was published in 1977.
It received awards in 1978.
The story was about the death of her sister. She received letters from girls who had lost someone or worried about losing someone. They saw Lois Lowry as a kindred spirit.
By the time her 1st book was published, she was divorced, living in a one-bedroom apartment. She had to decide whether to continue to write children’s books or pursue that Great American Novel. She had to support herself.
Back then, it became about making a living. Now it’s not just about making a living. She became aware of how books can change children and how these children change her.
Lois Lowry said adults are never transformed by a book the way children are.
Lois Lowry, I have to respectfully disagree. I attended the program just to meet you. I was first on line to get (many) books signed. Because I didn’t to gush and ramble (and there was a line behind me), I didn’t tell you how your book changed me.
When my daughter was 1, and I was working as an assistant in the 7th-grade, I picked up The Giver, which was required reading for the students. It was my first YA book since I was a teen. In fact, when I was a teen, I hardly read YA, moving from middle grade to adult novels. I wish there had been more books like The Giver. Soon after, I’d discover Harry Potter by reading the books to my child. And after that, I’d meet an author who sparked me to write the books I’d been burning to put on paper. But it was The Giver that had changed my perspective on what children’s literature could be.
The Giver is still one of my favorite all-time books.
Lois Lowry, you can transform adults too.
P.S. By the way, The Giver came out in 1993, many years before dystopian took off. Kathryn Lasky credited you for writing the first dystopian novel. I agree. Of all the dystopian I’ve read, yours is still the best.