|Born: 1937 in Honolulu, Hawaii
Source Database: U*X*L Junior DISCovering AuthorsBIOGRAPHICAL ESSAY
Lois Lowry was born in 1937 in Honolulu, Hawaii. At the time of her birth, Lowry's father, a career army officer, was stationed at Schofield Barracks near Pearl Harbor. The family separated with the onset of World War II, and Lowry spent the duration of the war with her mother's family in the Amish Country of Pennsylvania. Her grandmother wasn't especially fond of children, but her grandfather adored her, and Lowry escaped the absolute trauma of war under the shelter of his affection. Much later, Lowry's wartime experience inspired her fourth novel, Autumn Street. As an author, Lowry has often translated her life into fiction for the purpose of helping others who may have suffered under similar circumstances. She once commented that she gauges her success as a writer by her ability to "help adolescents answer their own questions about life, identity and human relationships."
Lowry's books have dealt with topics ranging from the death of a sibling and the Nazi occupation of Denmark, to the humorous antics of the rebellious Anastasia Krupnik. In her first novel, A Summer to Die, Lowry portrays an adolescent's struggle with her older sister's illness and eventual death. When the Chalmer family moves to the country for the summer, 13-year-old Meg and 15-year-old Molly are forced to share a room. Already jealous of her older sister, Meg becomes increasingly argumentative and resentful when her sister's recurring nosebleeds become the focus of her parents' attention. As her sister's condition deteriorates, Meg realizes that Molly is slowly dying from leukemia. For friendship, she turns to old Will Banks, a neighbor who encourages her interest in photography, and Ben and Maria, a hippie couple who invite Meg to take pictures at the birth of their child.
A Summer to Die was well received by critics. The "story captures the mysteries of living and dying without manipulating the reader's emotions, providing understanding and a comforting sense of completion," observed Linda R. Silver in School Library Journal. Tragically, Lowry's sympathy for Meg and Molly was drawn from life. Her older sister, Helen, died of cancer when Lowry was twenty-five. "Very little of [A Summer to Die] was factual," she once commented, "except the emotions." The author added: "When my mother read the book she recognized the characters as my sister and me. She knew that the circumstances in the book were very different, but the characters had great veracity for her."
Following her successful debut as a novelist, Lowry continued to explore challenging adolescent topics. For example, she documented an adopted child's search for her biological mother in Find a Stranger, Say Goodbye. Although neither Lowry nor any of her children are adopted, she felt that the subject was important enough to be dealt with at length. She explained: "Maybe it's because of having watched my own kids go through the torture of becoming adults,... that I think those kinds of issues are important and it's important to deal with them in a sensitive and compassionate way."
Memories of her childhood, as well as her experiences as a parent, have led Lowry to her most popular character: Anastasia Krupnik, the spunky, rebellious, and irreverent adolescent who stars in a series of books that began in 1979. "Until I was about twelve I thought my parents were terrific, wise, wonderful, beautiful, loving, and well-dressed," the author confessed. "By age twelve and a half they turned into stupid boring people with whom I did not want to be seen in public.... That happens to all kids, and to the kids in my books as well." In the first book of the series, Anastasia Krupnik, the ten-year-old heroine faces numerous comic crises, including a crush on a boy who is continually dribbling an imaginary basketball and the coming arrival of a baby sibling. With the passing of each crisis Anastasia gains new insight into herself; by the book's close she is prepared to move on to a new level of maturity. "Anastasia's feelings and discoveries should be familiar to anyone who has ever been ten," noted Brad Owens in Christian Science Monitor, "and author Lois Lowry has a sensitive way of taking problems seriously without ever being shallow or leaning too far over into despair."
The broad audience appeal of the first Anastasia book prompted Lowry to write another novel featuring her diminutive heroine. "I have the feeling she's going to go on forever--or until I get sick of her, which hasn't happened yet. I'm still very fond of her and her whole family," Lowry remarked. Subsequent titles include Anastasia Again! and Anastasia at Your Service, in which a twelve-year-old Anastasia finds a summer job serving as a maid to a rich, elderly woman, who turns out to be a classmate's grandmother. Anastasia must contrive to spare herself the embarrassment of working for the family of a well-to-do peer. "Despite differences the girls become friends; and with the help of Anastasia's precocious brother Sam, they generate a plot that is rich, inviting, and very funny," noted Barbara Elleman in a Booklist review.Anastasia, Absolutely, appearing in 1996, focuses on a thirteen-year-old Anastasia encountering self-doubt in both her eighth-grade Values class and a real life situation. The homework for her values class troubles the adolescent Anastasia; she worries that she doesn't have the right responses to hypothetical scenarios such as what she would do if she saw someone shoplifting, or if she could give one of her own kidneys to save a sibling's life. Outside of the classroom she encounters a different dilemma: out one morning to mail a letter and walk the dog, she inadvertently deposits the bag containing the dog droppings into the mailbox instead of the letter. Anastasia is concerned that her actions constitute a federal offense, and agonizes over what she should do. In the end, she emerges as a hero when it is discovered that the "package" she placed in the mailbox was responsible for neutralizing a bomb that had been placed there. Michael Cart, writing in the New York Times, felt that the plot of this Anastasia book was "pretty pale" compared to the earlier books, but noted that the strength of the book lies in its humor as well as in the creation of Anastasia's "believably flourishing functional family."
Lowry's fiction resumed a serious tone with the publication of Rabble Starkey. The twelve-year-old female protagonist Parable Ann ("Rabble") was born when her mother was fourteen. She and her mother now live with the Bigelow family while Mrs. Bigelow is hospitalized for mental illness. The care of Mrs. Bigelow's infant son, Gunther, falls primarily on the shoulders of Rabble and the Bigelow's daughter Veronica. "Their adventures meld into a warm and often surprising chronicle of small-town life," asserted a Publishers Weekly reviewer. "Secure in the Bigelow household, Rabble hopes for a better future." The Children's Book Committee of Bank Street College found the book equally appealing, awarding Rabble Starkey its Child Study Award in 1987.
In 1990 Lowry was awarded the Newbery Medal for her distinguished contribution to children's literature with Number the Stars. Based on a factual account, the story is set against the backdrop of Nazi-occupied Denmark. Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen and her family are drawn into the resistance movement, shuttling Jews from Denmark into neutral Sweden. (During the Second World War this type of heroism insured the survival of nearly all of Denmark's Jews.) Newbery Committee Chair Caroline Ward was quoted by School Library Journal: "Lowry creates suspense and tension without wavering from the viewpoint of Annemarie, a child who shows the true meaning of courage."
Lowry received the prestigious Newbery Medal a second time for her 1993 novel, The Giver. In the book, Lowry creates a futuristic utopian world where birth, death, work, emotions, the weather, and every other facet of life is strictly controlled in order to create a safe and comfortable atmosphere of "Sameness." The protagonist of the story is Jonas, a model participant in the community, who looks forward to turning twelve--the age at which children are given their life's vocation. Unexpectedly, Jonas is tapped to become the new Receiver, the prestigious and powerful person who holds all the memories of the community. In his lessons with the old Receiver, whom Jonas calls the Giver, Jonas begins absorbing the memories, emotions, and knowledge that the community has given up in favor of peacefulness. Jonas finds the new knowledge discomforting, as Ilene Cooper summarizes in Booklist: "At first, the Giver offers benign memories--of snow, sunshine, and color, things that existed before the community went to Sameness--and the boy grieves for what has been lost. But soon Jonas receives memories of pain and death, and then he is torn." Upon learning that the sickly children and old people who are "Released" from the community are actually killed, Jonas takes his foster brother, Gabriel, who is slated to be "Released," and attempts to escape the community. An ambiguous ending leaves readers to decide if the boys have safely reached "Elsewhere," have been intercepted by their community's security forces, or have died from hunger and exposure. Some reviewers felt that readers would be unsatisfied with the ambiguous ending, but Lowry, in her Newbery Medal acceptance speech, maintained that there is no single "right" ending to the novel. "There's a right one for each of us, and it depends on our own beliefs, on our own hopes.... Most of the young readers who have written to me have perceived the magic of the circular journey. The truth that we go out and come back, and that what we come back to is changed, and so are we." The overall work was hailed by Horn Book contributor Ann A. Flowers as "a fascinating, thoughtful science-fiction novel." Karen Ray, in a New York Times Book Review appraisal, found The Giver to be "powerful and provocative."
With so many accomplishments in the field of children's literature to her credit, Lowry reflected on her career: "I remember the feeling of excitement that I had, the first time that I realized each letter had a sound and the sounds went together to make words, and the words became sentences and the sentences became stories.... Now, when I write, I draw a great deal from my own past. There is a satisfying sense of continuity, for me, in the realization that my own experiences, fictionalized, touch young readers in subtle and very personal ways."PERSONAL INFORMATION
Family: Born March 20, 1937, in Honolulu, HI; daughter of Robert E. (a dentist) and Katharine (Landis) Hammersberg; married Donald Grey Lowry (an attorney), June 11, 1956 (divorced, 1977); children: Alix, Grey (deceased), Kristin, Benjamin. Education: Attended Brown University, 1954-56; University of Southern Maine, B.A., 1972, also graduate study. Religion: Episcopalian. Addresses: Agent: c/o Wendy Schmalz, Harold Ober Associates, 40 East 49th St., New York, NY 10017.CAREER
Free-lance writer and photographer, 1972--.