It is a lovely time here at the farm, with snow on the ground and dogs and grandchildren and gifts and food. Toys and books and cookies and football. May 2010 bring good things to the world.
Lois Lowry's Blog
Here, I hope without violating her privacy, is my recent correspondence with a young girl. This is not at all the same as a simple "Your books suck" kind of letter that can be ignored. But I find myself wondering what my legitimate role is. I never want to get pulled into a political or religious discussion, though some readers seem to invite me to. I steer clear of that. And I don't want to intrude at all on family situations. In this case, I think I've said all I want to say. But I also think I would have been remiss not to grapple at all with the issues raised. I just hope this child is reasonably comfortable with my answers. And it would be great if she showed the emails to her mother. But I suppose that is asking too much.
On Sat, Dec 5, 2009 at 6:47 AM, XXXX wrote:
I do not think that this is a kids book I has stuff kids shoud not read about in it !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Thanks to all of you who sent comments to my post yesterday which quoted an email I had received from am 8th-grade boy. Let me just say once again that I get a huge amount of mail and 99% of it is intelligent, thoughtful and supportive.
And some is a little amusing, like the email I got recently from a young girl that said only: "i dont think kids should read this book it has bad stuff in it." I wrote back and explained that I had written 35 books and don't know which one she was referring to. (Actually, I assumed it was "The Giver' since that is the one that draws the most objection). But no. She replied that was 'anastasia has the answers, that is the one with bad stuff." I replied again, asking what she meant by "bad stuff," that I couldn't recall anything at all that might be offensive in that book; and she replied that "it talks about sex, you should read it again." Mystified, I did so, and found two references to "sex." One is when Anastasia suggests to her 8th-grade English teacher that he teach "Gone with the Wind" instead of "Johnny Tremain" and he replies that he thinks it inappropriate. She counters that it has no explicit sex in it, but he stands firm. Later in the book, an 8th-grade friend of hers paints her toenails and says that she thinks they look sexy.
So I replied once again to my correspondent that I had, on her advice, re-read the book. I told her the two places I had found where "sex" was mentioned, that I didn't think they fell into the category of "bad stuff" and that I would be happy to have my young grandchildren read the book. No response from her yet.
As for the boy who wrote yesterday's email, I just replied to him briefly that I was sorry he hadn't liked the book, that perhaps he was not mature enough yet to understand it well. (I said the same thing to another boy a few years ago, in an email, and he replied, "F___ you, lady, I'm very mature, I'm 17" His reply qualifies, in my opinion, as a good example of Quod Erat Demonstrandum)
Actually, I think the little girl was the more intriguing correspondent, because she felt strongly about something in the book, and tried hard to convince me. Perhaps that's why I replied to her at greater length. The boy? He was just annoyed that he'd been assigned a book to read, and he was being a smartass, and probably showed his friends, with some pride, the rude letter he'd written. It's an age a which disrespect is somehow a badge of honor, and the immediacy and anonymity of email makes it so easy....
Perhaps posting this is just masochism on my part---or misery seeking company---but this is an email I have just received from a kid. I get many, many others that are intelligent and respectful (whether they like or dislike a book) but it is hard to know how to reply to one like this. Of course it is tempting to send a reply that is as insulting and asinine as his email. But that's a lamebrain, unconstructive thing to do. I guess the best thing is to do nothing, maybe send a polite response, and hope he grows up eventually. And learns to spell, if nothing else.
my dear lois lowery,
Snow Spreads Across Region An enormous storm piled on New York and New England after crippling the nation’s capital and mid-Atlantic.
And it is true. Of course it happens every year, so we should be very blasé about it, but nonetheless the first storm is always kind of exciting, even though this one has screwed up my plans to drive to New Hampshire today to see my daughter. Later this afternoon I will make it to a neighborhood party, though---no driving involved.
This is the opening of a chapter in "The Silent Boy":
Snow! When I woke, I could feel the silence of it. There was frost on my window, and the room was cold. It had been cold when I went to bed, but now it was a different kind of cold, a quiet kind....
It is bitter, bitter cold in the Northeast, and my indomitable son just sent me a photo from his iPhone---he is skiing at Sunday River, where the temperature is in single digits, or even below zero. I emailed him back to PUT THOSE GLOVES ON! You never get over being a Mom.
Sunday River is 20 minutes from my house in Maine, where I hope the furnace is churning away. Nothing worse than frozen, burst pipes! We've been there, done that.
Pipes willing, weather willing, we will head up there for Christmas.
On January 10, 1919, it was 4 below zero in Maine, and there had been 10 inches of snow the day before. I only know this because of research for a book set there at that time. Imagine how much worse it was to be that cold, that snowy, in those days when heating was so much more iffy, and there were no snow blowers.
The NCTE convention was several weeks ago, and I know I have mentioned it before, but while I was later in Germany one of the teachers who had attended, and who had a book signed and a photo taken, emailed me the photograph. I intended to post it---and told her I would---but I was traveling, with my laptop, and when I got home and returned to my regular computer, the photograph remained with my traveling stuff. So, like sunglasses and folding umbrellas, it lay forgotten in some luggage until now.
And now here it is, me and Michelle Hudson from Louisiana. Nothing at all unusual about this photo, but it represents so well the many, many teachers who travel long distances (often, I think, at their own expense) and bring such enthusiasm with them --- for books --- that it is very heartening for authors. We love being reminded of what happens to the books when they leave our hands, and to talk to the teachers who use them in classrooms, who care so much about individual children,
Thank you, Michelle, and every other teacher like you, for all that you do.
I received an email announcing that The Junior Library Guild has chosen my upcoming book, The Birthday Ball, as one of their Spring 2010 selections. They asked me to write a short essay abut the origin of the book for inclusion in their catalogue. A tough task because the book is a light-hearted romp set in a palace and populated by various royal characters, plus chambermaids and kitchen staff, and preparations for the upcoming 16th birthday of the princess. No deep inner meanings, no meaningful theme, just pure fun---and nothing wrong with that but it is hard to write an essay about it.
Then I remembered my own granddaughter's 6th birthday, for which I gave her royal garb: a fake ermine cape, a fake diamond tiara, the whole princesssy outfit. I looked through old photos for that ten-years-ago event, and found this one, which I included in my essay (though I don't know if they'll have room to print it in their catalogue).
Instead of writing about the origins of the book, I simply wrote about how young girls---at least this young girl of my acquaintance---identify with princesses and their milieu. In the book, Princess Patricia Priscilla is bored with her luxurious life and longs to be a peasant. My little granddaughter, at six, would have traded her peasant life for a palace, I'm sure.
Of course she is now 16 (see previous post!), the age of the princess in the book, and her priorities have changed a bit!
This is the curtain design for the play "God of Carnage" which Martin and I saw Saturday night in New York. Busy weekend there. Dinner with friends Friday night, then an appearance at the 92nd Street Y early Saturday afternoon, then Chinese food with some lovely kids whose moms brought them all the way in from Long Island to have a little time with me; then the theater; then brunch Sunday with another friend, then the LimoLiner back home.
In the meantime, my grandsons, back in Maine were enjoying a) a Christmas concert with the 6th grade orchestra (here is percussionist Grey, age 11)
This is from a reader who should have clicked on "E-mail me" on my homepage, instead of posting this as a blog response. Those who email me get replies. Blog responses don't. I keep trying to remind kids of that but my reminders don't seem to have any effect.
December 8, 2009 Dear Mrs. Lowry: Hi, My name is Ilan, I’m 14 years old, and I’m writing to you from Mexico City. I want you to know what my opinion is about your book “The Giver”. When I started reading it, I had a lot of questions that with time the book answered. Questions such as: What is release? Do they have technology? Do you decide who you marry? Do they get bored doing their assignments? How was garbage disposed of? Do they manufacture or produce things? Who is the father of the babies? You only talk about mothers (I don’t have the answer to this one.) Why do they need a Giver? What kind of society is it? (I don’t have the answer to this one either.) The beginning of the book was very interesting but as I turned each page it became less interesting because I felt it was boring. Now let’s talk seriously. I didn’t really like the book, I hated it. It was boring all the way through. There were parts that were very complicated like why did the community do all this stuff. The book made me feel angry because the book´s critics are good critics and everything they said was a lie. The opinions had to be this way: “No simplicity and no directness from you” Booklist, Starred “A poorly, not provocative novel” Kirkus Reviews, Starred “Boring with a terrible ending” School Library Journal, Starred. “Lowry, not a good writer” Publisher Weekly, Starred “Not a good presentation” The Horn Book Magazine, Starred. “A boring novel” The New York Times. “A book without meaning” Ilan in Mexico (“ME”) “Not boring” Miss Lupita (my English teacher) “Not appropriate for young children (17+)” Miss Lupita “Not appropriate for anybody” Ilan “Kids don’t believe in that, it is an utopian not credible society” Miss Lupita “I didn’t think it defended freedom” Ilan “It is a book that should not be read in schools” Ilan “I think you have a lot of imagination, you could have instilled more effort into the story” Ilan In conclusion, Mrs. Lowry, please excuse how straight forward I was with my opinion about your book. I like to read books that are interesting, that make me not want to leave it, I only finished it because my English teacher told me to. I would like to hear from you. Thank you very much. Ilan
Ashley Bryan is an old and dear friend of mine and like too many of my friends I don't see him often enough. But he was here last night.
Earlier in the day I had had a class of students from Simmons here---eleven of them---and they were just leaving when Ashley arrived. So there were hasty introductions while people were putting on boots, taking off coats, etc, all of them in the front hall. I wandered off to the kitchen to tend the oven because Ashley and two other friends had come for dinner.
But next thing I knew, I could hear Ashley reciting a poem in his vibrant voice. An audience-participation poem. And eleven girls from Simmons, who had never met this man before in their lives, were shouting out the responses. That's Ashley for you---whipping up enthusiasm and participation, from total strangers, in literally seconds.
I hope the students went off into the cold night warmed by poetry and by an encounter with Ashley.
I have just been notified that my recent book is listed among "Top 10 Children's Books" in a list created by (or for) Time Magazine:
I am certainly in good company (including that of several friends) on that list. But throwing the whole enterprise into a dubious perspective is the awareness of what OTHER Top 10 lists Time is publishing:
for example: "Top 10 Scandals," which includes David Letterman and Tiger Woods; "Top 10 Untruths", which includes Balloon Boy; "Top Songs," of which the first is "My Life Would Suck Without You" by Kelly Clarkson; "Top 10 Fleeting Celebrities" (Susan Boyle; Octomom); and "Top 10 Feuds: (Gosselin vs. Gosselin).
You get the picture....
I know someone who has an umbrella that says "Merde. Il pleut"on it, and I wish I had one just like it. Today, in Paris, il pleut, but it is only a fine drizzle, and not cold, so it was not unpleasant walking. We spent the morning at the Musée Rodin, which we have been to in the past, but right now they have a special exhibition showing the relationship between Rodin and Matisse, which was quite interesting, once we mastered the audio and got it to talk to us in English, not French.
The gardens surrounding that museum are lovely, and right now, in almost December, still filled with late roses.
We had lunch at a nearby café and found ourselves seated elbow-to-elbow with a pleasant elderly couple who spoke no English but the wife wanted to converse, maybe because when she ordered the quiche and a glass of Sancerre, I duplicated her order---in fact, just told the waiter "La meme chose" ---the equivalent of the wonderful line in "When Harry Met Sally": "I'll have what she's having." So while the men concentrated on their lunch, pointedly ignoring the women, (maybe even rolling les yeux), she told me (in French) that they have a daughter in Phoenix, and I was able to reply brilliantly in French that it is very hot in Phoenix in summer, and she agreed, Oui Oui; then I was able to get across that we live in Boston, where it is very cold in winter, and she pretended to be fascinated by the weather report and the fact that I learned how to say the four seasons in high school French class.
We did not progress to world events, or even to what it might be like in spring in Baltimore....
This is the quite small (36 room) hotel where Martin and I are spending three days before going on to Germany. We've been in Paris before, even once rented a flat here, but this time decided to stay in a part of the city that we don't know well, and so ended up here in the 15th arrondissement, on a quiet side street very near the Eiffel Tower. And since we didn't come this time to sight-see, mostly we have just been taking walks, scoping out the neighborhood, and are impressed with the parks and gardens everywhere. It would be a nice area to live in. Late this afternoon we watched parents waiting outside a primary school, for their kiddies to be let out: some moms actually carrying loaves of bread, and the little ones all in toggle coats---as if they had all been cast in a Truffaut film like "L'Argent du Poche" which portrayed French children so beautifully.
At noon today we found a brasserie and had moules --- mussels --- enough to feed an army; we couldn't finish....
I came scarily close to missing my flight to Philadelphia yesterday morning. The plane was scheduled to leave at 7:15 and so I had booked my car service (this is the one hugely extravagant thing in my life. I use a car service to and from the airport) to pick me up at 6 AM. Which it did, of course--they are always on time, unlike taxis, and always know what route to take (unlike taxis. These are the reasons why I use the car service, these plus the fact that I don't have to listen to the drivers' political views, or sit white-knuckled as they speed)
So. My driver dropped me at the airport at 6:20, and because I had forgotten to do so from my own computer, i had to get my US Airways boarding pass from a kiosk, and then it was 6:25. And that's when I discovered the line at security. MILES long. I had not anticipated the number of families headed, the Saturday before Thanksgiving, to the Caribbean. Gulp. Having no other options that I could think of, I got in the line, which was interminable and apparently unmoving. I stood there, inching forward, until it was 6:40---my plane was to start boarding at 6:45---and there were still zillions of people, most with strollers and golf clubs, ahead of me.
Then I thought of a possible solution---scary because it meant giving up my place in line, and by now there were a hundred people, at least, behind me. But I thought I remembered that from the US Airways Shuttle to NY or DC , at the other end of the terminal, you could in fact get to the regular gates by a back route. So I scurried there, and indeed there were few people n the security line, because people aren't making business trips at 7 on a Saturday morning. Whew. I made my way through, and indeed found my way around to the regular gates, and got to my plane, which was, by then, half boarded, in time.
And now I am in Philadelphia. Last weekend at a hotel in Connecticut, I did what I always automatically do in a hotel room, which is to look at the little map of emergency exits on the back of the door. Last weekend was the first time I have actually been called upon to groggily remember that information, when I had to leave the hotel at 2 AM as the fire engines pulled up.
Here, I wonder why bother studying the map! I am on the 29th floor. It does make for a great view of the city:...
Just an update, since I had mentioned on the blog that my son Ben had been selected to play for the New England team at the over-30 Baseball World Championship series held last week in Florida.
Here's Ben. The New England team lost in the semi-final round so they did not emerge as the champions, but Ben, who played second base and shortstop, said it was all wonderful fun---well, here's his actual description:
I got back from the Fall Classic in West Palm last night and wanted to let you know what a great experience it was. The New England team, made up of 15 guys from Maine, NH and Mass (and called “The Maine Diamond Dogs”) lost in the semi-finals, 3-1, to a team from New Jersey. Along the way, we beat the Puerto Rican team in the 6000 seat main stadium, which was the highlight of the trip. I also got the chance to play next to John Collins, an old friend from Colby, which was great. Our team finished with 3 wins and 2 losses. I batted cleanup and hit .333 for the tournament, playing shortstop and second base. No, no home runs. I also got a chance to play against Dante Bichette, a former major league all-star who holds most of the all-time records for the Colorado Rockies and finished his career in Boston. Fun stuff, for sure.
His two sons tend to use the very descriptive word "funnest." I think it might apply to Ben's baseball week....
Here is Alfie, in his hunting-season garb, so that his white-tipped tail wagging in the underbrush won't be mistaken for that of a deer.
Here's Susan Goodman a few minutes ago, snagging some of the last apples for yet one more dessert.
and here is Alfie again, munching on leftovers....
First, before explaining the odd title to this post; here is the photo of the Literature to Life Award given to me last week in NYC by the American Place Theatre:
As you can see, it is quite lovely, engraved with a passage from THE GIVER. i went on after that occasion from New York to Chicago, for the opening of the play GOSSAMER, which has received absolutely wonderful reviews. From the photo on my previous post, you can see why: the staging and design was quite magical.
Following Chicago, I went to Albany---more about that trip in another post---and then to the annual Children's Book Fair at the University of Connecticut. There was a very nice dinner, and a chance to meet the other authors and illustrators, plus the staff of the Dodd Center there -- a fine collection of children's literature original materials---and also those hard-workers who run the book fair each year, quite an undertaking.
We visitors all stayed in the Nathan Hale Inn, where at 2:15 AM the fire alarm went off. That was the time and place where, in a misty drizzle, one could observe some of the finest people in the field, in their pajamas. In my haste to leave my room I left my iPhone behind and so could not take pictures. But illustrator Diane DeGroat did, and threatened to post them on Facebook. I fear they won't be terribly revelatory because it was the traditional dark and rainy night---the only lights from two large fire engines. Eventually we were allowed to return to our rooms; no explanation of what the firefighters found or fought. Could a children's book author perhaps have been SMOKING! Yikes!...