Thursday, October 11, 2012

An Evening with Lois Lowry

Yes, for real, I finally got to meet my favorite author Lois Lowry. This post is going to be kind of long because I'm so excited to write down everything I learned from her and to share it will all of you. I was hanging on every word. My wonderful local library hosted Ms. Lowry as a speaker and then had a book signing. I invited my lovely mom to attend this event with me because she is reading Number the Stars with her elementary school reading group.
The most unflattering picture of both of us but the best one I got.
Ms. Lowry spoke for about 45 minutes, had a short question and answer portion, and then signed books. My mom took wonderful notes while she was speaking which I will now summarize with the help of my awesome memory. Everything may not be exact so don't quote me without further research, but I'll try to be fairly accurate.
Lois Lowry while speaking. Unfortunately it was a night of unflattering photos. Anyone want to get me a new camera?
On October 3rd Son, the final book in The Giver quartet, was released. The purpose of Ms. Lowry's visit was to promote that final book and give us some insight as to how all of the books came about. The most common question she gets from readers is "How did you come up with the idea for The Giver?" It came about when she asked herself what she always asks herself before writing a story, "What if..." Ms. Lowry had been vising her aging and forgetful father in a nursing home in Virginia. She and her brother had given their father a photo album with pictures from throughout his life to help him remember things, including his favorite car, a Chrysler 300 that cost $3000, the same amount as her first year of tuition at Brown. While looking through the album he saw a photo of Lois' sister Helen with Lois. He remembered who Helen was but wondered what happened to her. Lois had to tell him that her sister had died. When he heard this news the grief and loss was as if it were the first time he heard about it. A few moments later he came across another photo of Lois and her sister as teenagers and again wondered what happened to Helen. Ms. Lowry repeated that her sister had died. Again, her father reacted as if it were the first time he had heard the news and was grief stricken. While she was driving back to the airport to go home to Boston she asked herself "What if there were a place where you could control memory? Where you could obliterate any frightening or sad memories?" And the basis for The Giver was created.

The character came to her as a twelve year old boy named Jonas. Whenever she thinks of a character they have a name when they come to her. She doesn't have to look up names in the phone book; her characters are born in her imagination with a name. The book had to take place in the future where a perfected community was possible. In the first few pages of Ms. Lowry's books she lets the reader know what the book is about and introduces a problem. She usually starts a book knowing the beginning and vaguely knowing the end but she makes up the middle without an outline because she likes surprises along the way.

Ms. Lowry hadn't planned on writing any sequels. The Giver was to be a stand alone book with an optimistic ending. But kids didn't like the ambiguity of the end. They wanted a concrete answer about Jonas' fate instead of imagining it for themselves (she then blamed TV for the loss of imagination).

The second book Gathering Blue also started with some "What if..." questions. What if a community didn't have the technology to make things better? What if they regressed and didn't have any technology, not even electricity? It is set in the same time period as The Giver but the community is totally opposite. Gathering Blue gave Lois Lowry a chance to let everyone know that Jonas was alive and well, even though it doesn't come right out and say it.

Ms. Lowry always liked the character of Matt in Gathering Blue. The third book Messenger becomes his story as a teenager.

Once people were satisfied with Jonas' well being, they wanted to know what happened to the baby Gabe. And so Son was written. Although it answers questions about Gabe it focuses on his mother's journey to find him. Ms. Lowry told a true story about a family whose four year old son went missing while camping in Maine. No trace of him was ever found. The loss of a child and never knowing what happened prompted Lowry to write Son from Gabe's mother's perspective. The working title of this book was actually Birth Mother but was changed to Son before publication, partially because Ms. Lowry didn't think any boys would read a book called Birth Mother (she was probably right).

So that's the story of The Giver quartet. Here are a few other interesting things I learned while she was speaking:
  • Only 5 authors, including Lois Lowry, have won the Newberry Award twice.
  • Autumn Sky  and A Summer To Die are autobiographical. 
  • It is easier for her to write a girl character.
  • Her son died in a military aircraft crash.
  • She started as a photo journalist.
  • The cover of Number the Stars is a photograph she took when she did portraits of children.
  • The sled at the end of The Giver is supposed to have a fantasy and magic about it.
  • Her favorite character in all of her books is Matt.
  • Only the natural objects in The Giver have color, an apple, flowers, the girls hair, his eyes. Man-made objects didn't need color.
  • The Giver can be read as a religious allegory, or not, depending on what you bring to the story. 
My all time favorite thing that she said while speaking was, "You're reading a different book than the one I wrote." She elaborated by saying that everyone brings different parts of their own lives to a story and they will have different insights because of it. I hope I will remember that when I'm an English teacher and that I will help my students have close relationships with the literature they read.

So after all the talking was the book signing. We had to wait for about an hour before it was our turn. I was so excited to be so close to such a literary master.
I'm almost there with my armful of books!

Oh! It's her! She's signing my books! It was a thrilling moment.
I can imagine she was super tired by this point. I was so appreciative of her time.

My mom got even more books signed, again, for me.
I am now the proud and grateful owner of The Giver, Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son "For Emily, Lois Lowry."

Please remember that what I have said in this post is based on my memory and my mom's notes. Please verify any information before you claim it as fact. If you'd like to read more about Lois Lowry, you can visit her website here.

Who is your favorite author, favorite book, and why?

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