Lois Lowry Interview Transcript
Lois Lowry was a guest in Scholastic's Online Reading Club. With the guidance of thought questions, students and teachers discussed her books The Giver and Number the Stars. Then Lois Lowry herself joined in the conversation. Lowry is the Newbery-winning author of several children’s books, including Find a Stranger, Say Goodbye; A Summer to Die; and Gathering Blue.
Let's Talk with Lois Lowry About The Giver
What did the community gain by not having memory? What did they lose?
- Student Response: The community gained nothing and lost everything!
- Lois Lowry: Depends on how you look at things. They certainly gained safety, security, comfort. No war, no crime no poverty, no pollution... those are good things. What did they lose, though, in exchange? Maybe their very humanity.
The society in the book has many rules. What do you think is the purpose of rules? When are rules good? When are they bad?
- Student Response: The purpose of the rules is to keep the society running smoothly. This way the people don't have to worry about making the wrong decisions. If they did, it could cause pain or cause conflict in the society. The story shows that in ways it is good not to have to make these decisions, but it also takes away good things such as freedom. Rules are necessary, but when there are too many, then you cannot truly live your own life.
- Lois Lowry: The rules in this case (The Giver) had several purposes. One, to keep the society running smoothly, to keep people safe and comfortable and happy. Also: the keep them ignorant of the things they were missing.
More Questions about The Giver
Student Question: Dear Lois Lowry, My name is Melissa. My class just finished the book The Giver (aka Great Book). But we have to do a project and ask you questions: Did Jonas marry anyone in his later life? Did Jonas go to college? Did Jonas ever return to the community? Did Jonas get a job? Did Jonas buy a house? Please answer these questions as soon as possible. Thanks a lot and good job on both Number the Stars and The Giver. I read both. Melissa
Lois Lowry: You will meet Jonas again very soon in a book called Messenger to be published in April. I don’t want to ruin the book for you by answering your questions too specifically. But it is about 7 years after the end of The Giver. So Jonas is a young man. He has a particular role, or job, in the place where he lives. He lives in his own house. Not married... But... oh, that’s all I’m going to tell you.
Student Question: My teachers argue over the ending of The Giver! How does it really end?
Lois Lowry: It ends with Jonas and Gabriel going downhill in a sled toward a house with welcoming lights. Ho ho ho. Aren’t I a mean author, not to be more specific? I like it when you argue. It makes you think.
Student Question: One of the most important aspects of The Giver is the ambiguity of its ending. Now, by writing a sequel focusing on Jonas more so than his brief appearance in Gathering Blue, doesn't that take away the joy of arguing and discussing “what really happens” at the end of The Giver?
Lois Lowry: It will, for some readers. But it didn’t for me, because it allowed me to tell MY version of “what happened.” Actually, the new book, Messenger, will very likely leave readers thinking about what might happen next as well. A good book always does that, I think: leaves you satisfied on one hand... answers a lot of questions... but also starts you asking new ones.
Questions about Number the Stars
Student Question: What kind of research did you have to do to write Number the Stars?
Lois Lowry: I did a lot of research in libraries, about the history of WW II and Denmark’s role in it. But the most important thing I did was to go to Denmark and to talk to people who had actually participated in the rescue of the Jews. It was important, too, to walk around Copenhagen and feel what the city is like (and imagine what it had been like then) and to go up the coast, through the farmland and the fishing villages.
Questions for Lois Lowry
It says on the Scholastic site that you took the photos on the covers for Number the Stars and The Giver. Who are the people in the photos? What did they think when you told them they were going to be on the books?
The girl on the jacket of Number the Stars is a Swedish girl named Anna Caterina Johnson. (She prefers being called Ann.) I photographed her when she was 10... She is now married with three children! The man on The Giver was a painter named Carl NelsonÃ… he has now died. I also did the girl on the jacket of Gathering Blue, a high school girl named Erica Layton; and an upcoming book, Messenger, has a teenaged boy, Jesse Logan, whom I photographed. I think they all (with the exception of Carl Nelson, who is dead) get a kick out of being on a book cover!
I am a 6th Grade English teacher. I have read The Giver and a few of my advanced students have read Number The Stars. We have decided to choose Lois Lowry for our class Author Study. I was wondering, of all of her books, which would be the best one to start with?
Oh my. If you are doing an Author Study on me, I think you should start by reading my memoir called Looking Back. It will tell the kids (and show them, through photos) a lot about my growing-up years, and also they will be able to see how things that really happened to me found their way, later, into my books.
I would suggest Number the Stars as great place to start. The kids really relate to the friendship between Annemarie and Ellen and they usually have a lot to say about the injustices they face. The suspense really keeps the class going as you read too! —7th Grade Reading Teacher in Arkansas
You know, now it occurs to me that Looking Back is better saved until after the group has read some of my books, because then they will be better able to see the connection between me and the fiction. Number the Stars is a good idea; boys as well as girls like it, and as you just pointed out, it is suspenseful... a lot of cliffhangers! I’m interested to hear what ones others might suggest as well.
When you wrote The Giver, did you already know you were going to write Gathering Blue later? Or did the idea come to you after finishing The Giver?
No, I did not plan on a sequel, or a companion book, to The Giver. But sometimes I become so interested in a subject (in this case, in thinking about what or world might be like in the future) that I want to investigate it some more. That’s how Gathering Blue came about. (And by the way, did you notice that Jonas appears very briefly at the end of it?)
The Anastasia Krupnik books are pretty different from The Giver and Number the Stars. What kind of book do you like writing best?
Yes, they are very different from each other, and also different from a book called Stay! Keeper’s Story, which is about a dog, not a human! And different still from one called The Silent Boy, which is set in the early 1900’s. I like writing all kinds of books. It keeps me from becoming bored. I’ve just finished writing one — it doesn’t even have a title yet — in which there is a beautiful princess, and a villainous prince who wears back silk underwear and has terrible dandruff. You can see that I like to laugh.
I heard that your first book is A Summer to Die. Why did you start with that one? I mean, why do you think the first book you wrote ended up being this one? And is it your favorite because it's your first book?
No, it isn’t my favorite because it’s my first any more than my first child is my favorite! (I love all my kids, I’ll hasten to add.) I chose the topic when I wrote my first book because it was a set of circumstances that had happened to me: the death of a much-loved sibling. I had told the story of my sister’s death, to myself, for many many years... going over it again and again in my head, the whys and the what-ifs. To write it down for others was a very satisfying thing to do.
I read that your book The Giver is censored in some places. How did you feel when you heard that for the first time? Do you keep any of the reasons for censorship in mind while writing new books?
I was astonished to hear it for the first time. “Flabbergasted” is an old-fashioned word my mother used to use... and I was flabbergasted. I think The Giver is such a moral book, so filled with important truths, that I couldn’t believe anyone would want to surpress it, to keep it from kids.
Now, of course, I’m used to it, sadly. But I still don’t understand it, although it is clear now that those who bring objections are often reading things out of context (for example, often they say that the book recommends abortion or euthanasia, and of course neither is true). Sometimes they haven’t read the entire book and so aren’t ”getting it.”
No, I don’t for one second think about the possibility of censorship when I am writing a new book. I know I am a person who cares about kids and who cares about truth and I am guided by my own instincts, and trust them.
Do you associate yourself with Kira in Gathering Blue because you are both artists? Would you say that the character is a lot like you?
The main characters, or protagonists, in all my books are very much like me, I think. Doesn’t matter if it is a boy or a girl...(or, in the case of one book, a dog !)... because they are always curious, introspective, and creative. To me those are the most interesting book characters. I create them and then place challenges in front of them. As you said, Kira is an artist. But Rabble, in Rabble Starkey (one of my favorites of my books), is fascinated with words. Meg, in A Summer to Die, is learning to be a photographer. Anastasia Krupnik is always trying creative things. Each of them has a bit of me in them. Jonas? He is looking for truth. That’s what artists do. That’s what I do, as a writer.
A lot of your books are about the future. Do you like reading sci fi? Who are your favorite sci fi authors?
Only two (now three, if I count the one being published in April) are about the future. That’s out of 31 books. So I would say that MOST of my books are contemporary realistic fiction... a couple, maybe three, fall into the “historic fiction” category. Science fiction is not a favorite genre of mine, though I have greatly enjoyed some of the work of Ursula LeGuin. I haven’t read much science fiction so I don’t know other sci-fi authors.
What inspires you to write books? Specifically The Giver?
I write books because I have always been fascinated by stories and language, and because I love thinking about what makes people tick. Writing a story... The Giver or any other... is simply an exploration of the nature of behavior: why people do what they do, how it affects others, how we change and grow, and what decisions we make along the way. Added to that, I love the process of finding the right rhythm of words, and then putting it all together, finally, to make a book.