Author's Notes

Number the Stars Author's Note

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

The Importance of Caring

From the time I was eight or nine, I wanted to be a writer. Writing was what I liked best in school; it was what I did best in school.

I was a solitary child, born the middle of three, who lived in the world of books and my own imagination. There are some children, and I was this kind of child, who are introverts and love to read — who prefer to curl up with a book than to hang out with friends or play at the ball field. Children like that begin to develop a feeling for language and for story. And that was true for me — that's how I became a writer.

I also moved a lot as a child. My father was a career military officer — an army dentist — so I lived all over the world. I was born in Hawaii, then moved to New York, and lived during World War II in my mother's hometown of Carlisle, Pennsylvania. From ages 11 to 13 my family resided in Tokyo, Japan, where I learned about cultural differences and what it feels like to be an outsider. From there we returned to New York City, and then I went to college in Rhode Island. Even after marrying, I continued the frequent relocations of military life, since my husband was a naval officer. My early exposure to different places and cultures continues to influence my writing. Everything a writer experiences as a young person goes into the later writing in some form.

Today I live and write in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in a house dominated by a very shaggy Tibetan terrier named Bandit. My hobbies include gardening, knitting, and photography. (In fact, my own photos appear on the covers of my books Number the Stars and The Giver.)

The idea for Number the Stars came from the remarkable and wonderful history of Denmark during the Nazi occupation, as told to me by my Danish friend Annelise, who was a child there at the time. It is set in a different culture and era from our own, but it tells of the role that we humans play in the lives of our fellow beings.

The Giver takes place against the background of yet another very different culture and time. It speaks to the same concern as Number the Stars and all of my works in a way: the vital need for humans to be aware of their interdependence. The inspirations for this book were complex and came from a variety of sources, including people I have met, places I have lived, and conversations I have shared. Also, through witnessing my own father's loss of memory, I have realized how important memory is.

I think it is my own children, all of them grown now, who have caused me to expand my view. One of my sons was a fighter pilot in the United States Air Force; as a mother during the Gulf War, I realized the need to find a way to end conflict. One of my daughters has become disabled as a result of the disease of the central nervous system; through her, I have a new and passionate awareness of the importance of human connections that go beyond physical differences.

And I have grandchildren now. For them, I feel a greater urgency to do what I can to convey the knowledge that we live intertwined on this planet and that our future as human beings depends upon our caring more, and doing more, for one another.

  • Subjects:
    Achievement and Success, Creativity and Imagination, Understanding Self and Others
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