Sunday, October 2, 2011

Lois Lowry and Literature

Me and Lois Lowry at the SCBWI “Overcoming Challenges” Program,

“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.


  1. This is a gorgeous blog post. I really hope Lois Lowry reads it.

  2. Oooooh, so jealous you met her! I teach "The Giver" every year.

  3. What a great tribute! I can't believe how young she still is...Lois Lowry feels like such an institution!

  4. She sounds absolutely amazing! I am so sorry but this is my first introduction to such an amazing woman and author! Shame on me!! This is why I love blogworld so much - I get to learn so many new things!! Yay! Thanks Theresa!!! Take care

  5. What an amazing story! Thanks for sharing your experience with her!

  6. Wow, that is SOME story... I'm so jealous too that you got to meet her! I love The Giver, and I completely agree with you that books can change adults just as much as children.

    I hope everything is going well! :)

  7. Sounds pretty cool to meet someone so influential in your life. I have students every year read The Giver by choice, some for the second or third time. Great book.

  8. I think Lois Lowry realized her dream of writing the great American novel in The Giver. She just did it through a different genre than the usual adult fare. Wonderful post, Theresa! Thank you for sharing Lowry's story, I wonder if she's written a memoir?

  9. Thanks, Theresa, for alerting me to your blog post and for explaining GoodReads!!

    THE GIVER may have been the first...or one of the first...dystopian novels for young people. But it was preceded by many for adults, like BRAVE NEW WORLD, 1984, and THE HANDMAID'S TALE.. I think the question of what the world may be like in the future (and how many ways we can screw it up!) will always fascinate both writers and readers.

  10. You wrote it up so beautifully with more details than I remembered. Impressive blog and you've inspired me to read The Giver. Thanks, Theresa.

  11. What a story! I now must track down The Giver and read it.

  12. It's an amazing experience to meet a writer who's an inspiration and a major influence.

    I also agree that books can transform both adults and children.

  13. Wow! What an amazing picture and opportunity. And she commented on your post. She is truly an inspiration.

  14. Strangely, I've never read The Giver. I've put it on my list of "must reads." I did, however, read the Beth Revis book, Across the Universe, you recommended. It was good, not great, but the reversible cover was marketing genius!

  15. @ Rebecca, thank you. You gave me a good idea. After reading your comment, I e-mailed her through her website and she's commented on my blog post.

    @ Joan, I feel lucky for getting the opportunity to hear her speak and meet her.

    @ Miss K, she is an institution!

    @ Old Kitty, you should read The Giver, Number the Stars, or Gossamer.

    @ Anne, thanks. Glad you liked it!

    @ WritingNut, I think adults are harder to transform, but it happens. I was changed much more often from books as a child.

    @ Brent, it is one of those books you can read over and over. My son read it for the first time this summer.

    @ Karen, you are so right. I should've put that in my post. The Giver is the great american novel for YA.

    I wonder if she's written a memoir. I found one from 2000 and it's for YA:

    @ Lois Lowry, I hope you like Goodreads. You can even create an author's page.

    It's true The Giver wasn't the first dystopian, but it was the first YA one, which helped transform the genre. Once it caught on, dystopian exploded. Especially in these troubled times, people wonder more than ever what our future will hold.

    @ Carol, thank you. I took notes, so the blog practically wrote itself. Yes, read The Giver.

    @ Julie, yes, read it. Let me know what you think.

    @ Medeia, it is amazing to meet someone whom you admire.

    I love writing for children. I hope to get to impact their lives as readers of my book in the future.

    @ Miranda, it's been a good weekend! Yes, she's an inspiration.

  16. What an amazing post about an amazing writer!

  17. I just want to point out that Lois Lowrey went to Brown which is an Ivy League school. And I realize she dropped out but still...Ivy Leagues know what's up as far as "greatness" goes. In other words...I'm not surprised at all that this book is one of the best you have ever read. I could go on and on about how one of the keys to success in this country is attending an Ivy League school but I don't think I have to. Just look at the people who run our country and nod yes.

  18. Theresa, thanks for sharing this info about Lois. I'm glad you had a good experience. :)

  19. That's so incredible that you got to meet her, especially considering what you told us about reading The Giver! How awesome to have that picture of you and her for constant inspiration. Loved this post :)

  20. Thanks for sharing your story. As a child, one of my favourite books was A Summer to Die. I read it over and over.

  21. That's so awesome you got to meet her. I loved The Giver. I read it as a book on tape.

  22. A wonderful post, Theresa! Still envious that you've met Lois Lowry in person - I only live a few hours north of you guys! Will definitely try to make it down to the next event.

  23. WOW! You are so lucky to meet such a wonderfully talented author. I love her books, especially The Giver. That story stayed with me as a child, and when I read it again as an adult, I got a whole new experience out of it. Anyway, I'm happy that you had such a fantastic experience, Theresa. :D

  24. Yes! I think The Giver is my favourite book to read aloud to classes. There is SO much in there to discuss and to think and to feel. It's an amazing story.

    I'm so thrilled Ms L commented on your post! I'm enjoying vicarious shivers with you!!!! :)

  25. Amen, Amen, Theresa! I so agree that children's books CAN change lives, no matter what age you are. And that's because of the special quality of children's literature and the fact that they can be better than adult books in so many meaningful and subtle ways. (No offense meant to some of the truly powerful, Adult Novels out there, but it is a different breed.):-)

  26. what a glowing tribute and fantastic story!
    it doesnt happen that way any more...

  27. Oh how I loved reading this story! I especially liked that she never had plans to write a book and she wound up writing one of my FAVES. Thanks for sharing. I'm so jealous that you got to meet her!

  28. @ Judy, you need to move The Giver higher on your list! Of the recent dystopians, Across the Universe was one of the better ones. There are a lot of mediocre ones out there.

    @ Kelly, thank you!

    @ Michael, all I can do is try. I'll keep writing, and try not to compare myself to others. The more I write, the better I'll get, and the more likely I'll get a manuscript published.

    @ Karen, thank you.

    @ Jess, it's wonderful to meet writers whom you admire. Even better when it's someone who has produced this body of work. I think it's wonderful that authors are more accessible than ever.

    @ Sophia, you're making me blush.

    @ Andrea, I don't think I read that one. I'm going to have to read it now.

    @ Natalie, I should listen to the audiobook with my daughter when she's a little older.

    @ Deniz, that would be wonderful! I hope you can make the next one.

    @ Shelley, the best books give you something new when you reread them. I've read several of her books. While there are others I liked, The Giver is my favorite.

    @ Jemi, I'm sure it is an excellent read aloud.

    I was pretty happy when she commented on my blog. She also sent me an e-mail (in response to mine) to let me know she'd commented.

    @ Kimberley, I couldn't agree more. Children's books, good ones, touch on something about when a character is developing, has vulnerabilities adults have gotten over. It makes us, even if we're older, see things from that perspective.

    It's probably not a coincidence that Too Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite adult books.

    @ Tara, it certainly doesn't. Too bad! I have two published short stories, yet my phone is silent.

    @ ER King, when I knew Lois Lowry was on the panel, I had to go. Nothing like getting the opportunity to meet a pillar in the industry.

  29. So jealous you got to meet Lois Lowry! THE Lois Lowry! I love her books, especially The Giver. Imagine that she almost didn't write for children. Thanks for the story. I didn't know any of this and it's so interesting to learn.

  30. This post is awesome and I'm jealous.

    I haven't read The Giver but I own it. I'm going to start asap. Like you, I went from kids books to adult, save for a few Sweet Valleys and Babysitter's Clubs. I'm too old to have had The Giver as required reading! How did that happen?

  31. I heard Lois Lowry speak at the SCBWI Midwinter Conference in NYC last January. She is inspiring!

  32. How wonderful for you to meet the authour of a book that changed your life. What a treat.

  33. I haven't read the Giver, but I guess it has to be a great book for it to make a difference in your life. Not many books can do that.

  34. Lois Lowry has long been one of my favorite authors, so this post especially resonated with me. At least once a year I sit down and re-read The Giver. I'm glad I own a hardback version, otherwise I would have worn it out by now! How beautiful to have met her.

  35. What an awesome experience! I'm a tad jealous. I love The Giver too and I was very saddened to see it on ALA's banned/challenged book list.

  36. Everyone's story is different. It's nice to hear all the different ways people find success.

  37. @ Susanna, it was great meeting THE Lois Lowry. I can't imagine what she would've written if she'd not stumbled into children's books.

    @ Lora, I know I was too old for it to be required reading. Let me know what you think of The Giver when you read it.

    @ Vicki, I'm sure she was inspiring. I think 3 people on this panel got me teary. Authors are excellent at that.

    @ LR, way cool.

    @ Ann, it was very cool. I have a list of several authors I'd love to meet. Now I can cross her off the list!

    @ J.L. Campbell, it's true that not many books can change your life. I treasure the ones that have made an impact on me... and the authors.

    @ Michelle, now that I have a signed copy of The Giver, I won't open it. I'll keep reading my dog-eared copy!

    You reread it every year. WoW! I think I'm going to pick it up again.

    @ Shari, just another book on the banned books list. The best ones are on there.

    @ Liz, I like hearing different author's paths to success too.

  38. The Giver is one of my all-time favorites, too. Congrats on getting to meet your inspiration (and for her comment on your post!)!

  39. I haven't read the Giver. Now I really want to. I agree with you that adults can also be transformed by a book.

  40. It's very cool that Lois Lowry commented on your blog, T. :D It's also very cool that you alerted her to GoodReads (nice work!). If you can believe it, I've never read The Giver, but I keep hearing about it... must pick it up now.

    You're right. Any book can change anyone, I think. Who knew? :o) <3

  41. I don't think I've read anything by her! I guess that will have to change, huh?! p.s. your blog works fine in firefox now!! yay!

  42. How exciting that you got to meet Lois Lowry! Thanks for sharing her story with us, I had no idea that she never intended to write for children. I'm so glad she changed her mind!

  43. Theresa, I love this post! I love the way you shared her story, so beautifully written. Lois Lowry is one of my favorites. So jealous you got to meet her. :-)

  44. What a great story of how her book changed you. I'm like you - I wouldn't have said anything, either, although I would have liked to.

  45. What an awesome, amazing story! How cool that you got to meet her!! :)

  46. OMG! I love lois Lowry! And I didn't know these things about her. thanks for sharing this post.
    BTW, Come drop by my blog to claim your AWARD!


  47. @ Meredith, I was very happy she commented. It was thanks to Rebecca's comment. She said she hoped Lois Lowry would get to read it. I remembered she said people e-mailed her through her website. I found her e-mail link and sent her a note. She responded on the blog pretty quickly. I appreciate authors who make time like that.

    @ Lynda, you should read it. It's rarer to be transformed by a book. I might think about books deeply, but I don't know if they shape who I am like they did when I was younger. At the same time, I wouldn't be a writer were it not for a couple of books I read as an adult.

    @ LTM, on the panel, authors were talking about social networking. Goodreads came up, and she said she hadn't heard of it. Nobody explained it at the time. I figured while I was linking my blog to her in the e-mail, I could tell her about it. Maybe she'll be on there soon and we can friend her.

    @ Samantha, I hope you get to read one of her books soon.

    YaY, Firefox and my blog are friends again. Thanks for letting me know.

    @ Susan, I'm so glad she changed her mind too. The holes there would be in literature that we wouldn't have even known about.

    @ Shannon, thank you. I hope you get to meet her someday too. She was a great speaker.

    @ Talli, I almost did, but then the words didn't come out. Now she knows from my post. I find things so much easier to write than to say. I wonder why that is...

    @ Susan, I felt like a way cooler person on Saturday and Sunday than I had on Friday!

    @ Nutschell, thank you. I'm on my way!

  48. Wow, you are so lucky to have met her! I loved the Anastasia Krupnik series and Number the Stars when I was in elementary school (and still like to go back and re-read them).

  49. I saw her speak this year too---brought me to tears (the entire room, actually). I'll never forget it! <<33

  50. What a great post and totally interesting. For some people it is just in the cards. For the rest of us, it's perseverance! :)

  51. Very exciting that you got to meet Lois. Her story goes to show that sometimes it takes someone else to see something in us that we don't see. She has a great story.

    Tossing It Out

  52. Great recap of a great workshop. I wish I'd had the forethought to bring a camera, like you did!

  53. I'm so intrigued and want to read The Giver and the other ones you've recommended! Thanks for recommending more good books to read...and introducing great authors :)

  54. What a beautiful post. Now I want to read The Giver--and write books that transform lives.

  55. @ caseykay1, I haven't read the Anastasia Krupnik series. Maybe I'll check it out.

    @ Christina, those conference talks almost always make me cry. I think authors feel like they can share a piece of themselves when they're with other authors.

    Now I wish I went to the NYC conference.

    @ Margo, I'm definitely in the perseverance category.

    @ Arlee, well put. That editor at Houghton Mifflin must've know she could connect with children from that one article.

    @ Kristine, if you look above, I've begun a page of pictures of me with authors. I was a little starstruck last weekend.

    It was great to see you there.

    @ Len, when I find a great book, I want to share it with everyone. Visit and you can fill up a suitcase with books to borrow!

    @ Missed Periods, thank you. Yes, read The Giver.

    I can't imagine what it feels like to know your books have transformed lives.