Lois Lowry's Blog
I have been off on a series of engagements...first, the Zolotow Lecture at the University of Wisconsin (and that, as the previous ones have been, will be available by webcast (google Zolotow Lecture and you'll get to it); then to New York for a fascinating conference co-sponsored by the Yale Child Study Center and the Anna Freud Centre in London. The title of the daylong event was "Fear and Fiction"..and a subtitle that I don't have in front of me, having to do with literature and the inner life of the child. Nine authors, each speaking abut a particular book he/she had written; and six child analysts and/or therapists, looking at the same books from their standpoint. So different from the "..and then I wrote" type of speech I frequently hear...and give. And a different audence as well, with many mental health professionals attending...and perhaps becoming newly aware, some of them, of the vital role that literature can play in the emotional life of a child.
Following that event, back to Boston where I moderated a panel on children's books that make the transition into film...how it happens, how it sometimes fails, why now and then it is a smooth and lasting transition into a different genre with its own strengths. Panelists were Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, who spoke about and showed a clip from SHILOH; Natalie Babbitt, speaking and showing a piece of TUCK EVERLASTING; and Randy Testa from Walden Media, the company that moved HOLES, HOOT, WINN-DIXIE, and NARNIA...among others...into film. He let us peek at a wonderful but sad (sob, sob) scene from CHARLOTTE'S WEB, due out soon.
Speaking of Charlottes, Alfie has a playdate tomorrow with a young corgi named Charlotte. His other best friend is Sophie, and since he is hanging out with girls so often, it is probably good that he has an appointment in early December for, ah, minor surgery. In the meantime, he starts obedience classes tongiht. I suppose they won't deal with the never-chew-up-a-ballpoint-pen issue.
Now, at home, I must tend the daily domestic chores like grocery-shopping which I have not done in much too long...last night it was take-out Chinese for dinner. And there are movies to catch up on. "Little Children" yesterday. Today, a quick sneak off to (speaking of corgis) "The Queen."
I think the first translation I ever saw of any of my books was A SUMMER TO DIE, my first book, in Afrikaans. Since then there have been many, 21 different languages altogether, and it is always fascinating to see the different book jackets. (One of those pictured here, in Turkish, chose to stay with the same cover as the American version. The other one is Hungarian) Some of the most beautiful jackets have been the French. Some of the oddest...because they tend to be cartoonish..are the Japanese.
I thoght of all of this because today, through the blog, I got a request from a Vietnamese publisher interested in translation rights to THE GIVER. I have replied to him and told him whom to contact, but in fact I think a different Vietnamese publisher has already snapped it up.
Of course I never have any way of knowing how good a translation is...unless it is in German, and then my daughter-in-law and granddauughter can give me an opinion. The book STAY! KEEPER'S STORY has a lot of verse in it, and my granddaughter, then just 10, was able to read it in both German and English and explain to me how they had (quite successfully, she thought) translated the verse and maintained the authenticity of both voice and form. She and I did a TV interview together about translation, and she was very adroit and quite self-assured, talking about how it works and why it works well sometimes and not others. At the end of the show she was asked if, when she grew up, she would like to be a translater; she looked horrified, then laughed and said, "No. It's too HARD!"
I am off tomorrow to Wisconsin, where I am to give the Zolotow Lecture Wednesday night. Sometimes, preparing a speech, I feel as if I have nothing left to say. I have said it all. I am out of material. But then I rev it up again and find something - I hope - new.
I guess I feel the same way about writing books at times....
Well, today I was in my office working on the speech I am to give soon in Wisconsin, when in limped Alfie, clearly having trouble walking. When I took a closer look I discovered that his legs were tied together with brown yarn which was also wound around his tail, and when I followed the yarn I discovered that he had also knitted the dining room table. Amazing that he hadn't found my yarn basket (now safely out of reach) before. On the whole he has been a pretty un-mischievous dog, and now he is 6 months old so we tend to forget that he is still a puppy. Here in this picture he is in the TV room, where he scampered when I tried to untangle him, and in doing so re-wound the dining room table one more time.
I will spend tomorrow morning at the Meadowbrook School in Weston, MA. I don't usually visit schools any more (no time) but Meadowbrook bought me at a benefit auction...and so, for a good cause (Reach Out and Read, which provides free books to to babies and toddlers through their medical providers during their first few years) I will go and talk to the kids there. It was also in Weston MA some years ago that I asked a classroom of children for some suggestions to do with the plot of a book I was then writing: ATTABOY, SAM! - and that book is dedicated to those kids, who are all grown up by now.
Then on Friday I head to North Carolina with Martin, in order to celebrate his birthday there with all of his children (3 + 2 spouses) and grandchildren (5: Karen, Sarah, Bailey, Gabrielle, and Schuyler). Then to Wisconsin for the Charlotte Zolotow Lecture on October 18th, and from there to New York for a day-long symposium at Bank Street Colllege on Octber 21st. Whew. Busy month!
My seventeen days in eastern Europe were tiring, exhilirating, eye-opening, and quite wonderful for many reasons, but it is good to be back home and dealing with the laundry, phone calls, mail, dog, and groceries, not necessairly in that order.
GETTING home was a bit of a chore.
For starters, British Airways had printed my name backwards on my ticket. I didn't notice. I glanced at my ticket when it arrived and saw Lois/Lowry and it seemed correct. Wrong. It should have said Lowry/Lois.
The person at the British Airways ticket counter noticed the error when I checked in, leaving Boston, but chuckled and said it wouldn't matter. Really said that. I asked, when she pointed out the reversal of names, "How much of a problem is that going to be?" "None," she lied.
My mis-named ticket got me to London, and from London to Vienna. I went by ground transportation to Prague and Bratislava and Budapest....
This photo was taken yesterday morning in a kindergarten in Slavonice, Bohemia (I left there shortly theraafter and am now in Bratislava, Slovakia) and serves as a reminder that children the world over are much the same. Here is a little group of 5 year olds, and you can pick out the Show-off, the Shy One, the Bored One, the Bully, the Prankster. They could have been my grandson's kindergarten class (or my own, at Berkeley Institute, Brooklyn, NY, 1942)
Many of the little boys were named Jakob, I noticed.
School begins at 6:15 AM for those children who need to be there that early. (Others arrive at 7:30 or so) This room was decorated in an under-the-sea motif, but I got to peek at the Meadow Room as well, and downstairs, for smaller children (they can start at 3 years old, though school is not compulsory till age 6) was the Farm.
Now I am using yet one more kind of money, after Euros in Vienna, Czech crowns in the Czech Republic...now I am just calling them kumquats or cornflakes, or whatever word comes to mind; and I have quit trying to figure out how many of them make a dollar. It cost me 450 cupcakes to go to a concert this evening. And worth every crumb....
I am now in a small town called Slavonice, pronounced Slavonitsa, and will be leaving here tomorrow for Bratislava. No time, and tough computer access, to add much here, except to say that last night we had dinner and wine in a tiny restaurant and listened to four local guys play violin, guitar, drums, and a old eastern European bagpipe, and singing folksongs with gusto and great voices...the restaurant clientele, including us, joined in at times; and it made me think once again how sad it is that political and religious differences can't be bridged, when it is so clear that we all have the same spirit and sense of humor underneath.
This morning I bought handmade buttons from a pudgy local lady who spoke no English but had a great semi-toothless smile; and now, when I get home, I will knit a sweater to hold the buttons and I will think of her, and this village, for years to come.
Then Martin and I went to a local grocery store and bought bread, ham, and cheese from which we made ourselves a primitive picnic lunch. Going to grocery stores in foreign countries is always both a wonderful adventure and a good way to get a feeling for real life.....plus you can see what you will be eating, unlike a restaurant where you may order what you think is chicken and it turns out to be cauliflower (also an adventure). I have been in grocery stores in Japan and Iceland and Italy and Kenya and a zillion other places, and it never fails to be one of my favorite stops.
I'm sorry my computer can't insert Czech accent marks because then the words ""Dobry den" would look more interesting..and less pronouncable. It means only "Good day."
We have been in Vienna for three days and are now on our third day in Prague, leaving here tomorrow for Czechy Krumlov. Both Vienna and Prague are beauitful and interesting cities but I found Vienna much easier to deal with, mostly becuase things are in German, which...though I don't speak it...is fairly easy to translate, and when you order wienerschnitzel you know what you are getting. Czech is a much more diffiuclt and alien language, with nothing familiar; and when just today we went the wrong way on a subway, we had to go through stops called Hradcanska, Malostranska, Starometska...you get the picture..in order to backtrack and get our bearings once again.
I've attached a couple of photos from a small lane in a Prague residential area, one of a dog being greeted through a window. Dogs are everywhere, and amazingly rarely on leashes but remarkably well-behaved (could it be a leftover from the repressive Communist regime? You VILL valk nicely?)
Children are the same everywhere, not nearly so well-behaved, and I love seeing them sulk in other languages, assuming an attitude and saying "Nein" or "Ne" is a defiant voice to a tired and frustrated grandma....
We are heading off later today for a trip that will start in Vienna, take us through the Czech Republic, and conclude in Budapest. As a movie fan, that itinerary brings a lot of movies to mind: THE THIRD MAN, which I saw as a kid, and recently re-watched...it holds up well, and the zither music is as haunting as ever; KOLYA...wonderful Czech film; and GLOOMY SUNDAY, a recent movie, terrific, set in WWII Budapest.
Alfie has gone back to the breeder, where when last seen he was romping happily with a Tibetan Terrier named, ah, Elvis. The breeder assures me that he will not forget me in 17 days but I am gloomily doubtful.
I am taking my laptop on the assumption that I'll be able to find internet access at various points in Eastern Europe. There was a time when European cafes were populated by people in trench coats sipping cognac paid for in pfennigs and floirins and murmuring code phrases to fellow spies. Doomed and haunted expatriates right out of novels by John LeCarre. Now, though, it will all be tourists with laptops. Me included.
I travel a lot. Sometimes with Martin, sometimes alone, occasionally with women friends. I was thinking today about some of my worst/best experiences in other parts of the world.
One of the worst was a whale-watching excursion, three hours long, off the northern tip of Iceland, close to the Arctic Circle. The thing that made it bad was our own fault, Martin's and mine, because we had misjudged the weather in northern Iceland in late May. We had thought Spring when we should have known Winter. Thus we found ourselves in rough seas, with snow coming down, in an unheated boat, with an unworking head, no whales in sight, and us in clothes meant for spring. Luckily it was only 3 hours but we both remember it as among the worst 3 hours of our lives, one of those times when the phrase "Take me now, Lord" comes to mind....
I have not posted anything in a while, mainly because I was busy moving from one house to another, schlepping a puppy as I did so, and then heading back to Maine overnight in order to go to a 50th annivesary party for my wonderful friends...I've known them 40 years...Sylvia and Tony.
And now there has been a series of ...well, I could say unfortunate...events that bring to mind the way a story unfolds, when the writer pays attenton to the pacing and the way things fit together. (No, this has to happen BEFORE this, and then THIS can happen next) I will try to tell this as if I were writing it as a story and so I must start out with some background, which is that:
1. Martin and I are planning a trip to Europe quite soon. We are scheduled to leave September 17th, with friends, headed to Vienna, Prague, and Budapest. I've made arrangements for the dog, and let people know I'd be away, and all of that, so things have been proceeding in that realm... but at the same time:
2. I was scheduled for fairly big oral surgery, designed to increase bone in the upper right side of my jaw. This was to take place two days ago...Wednesday...leaving me time to see the doctor for a follow-up NEXT Wednesday, the 13th of September, before leaving for Europpe four days later.
3. Tuesday evening I started organzing some stuff for the trip to Europe. I took out our passports, noted that they were due to expire February 2, 2007, so (I told myself) after this trip, we should get them renewed. Then I went to the US passport website so see how I could go about doing that, say in November. On that website I discovered that some countries require travelers to have passports that are valid for 6 months after they enter the country. Hmmm, I thought. Ours are only valid for four-plus months. I clicked through the list of countries and discovered that Hungary has the 6-month requirement. Uh-oh. I panicked. I told Martin to make phone calls, see what we could do, and off I went, the next morning for:...
No, I am not going to talk about THE GIVER'S ending. I've done it more often than I want to, and I've done it on this blog, so you can scroll back to one posting titled "Perhaps it was only an echo.." plus the one that precdes it...
But as for endings in general:
Summer is ending. Tomorrow I pack up my car and my puppy and head home after three glorious months on the farm. I've had two women friends here this week—one of them Middy Thomas, who lives in Maine and illustrates the Gooney Bird Greene books for me, the other my friend Nancy, from Boston. Here's a picture of Nancy packing up her car, with Alfie wondering whether he can go along. And one of me enjoying a last few moments on the lawn.
Both Nancy and Middy have been widowed. I listened to them talking about how they make a point of lining up things to look forward to—Middy's headed to California to see a grandchild; Nancy goes next week to Long Island to visit a friend— so that loneliness doesn't take over. The loss of their husbands was of course the end of one part of their lives, but also a transition into the next part.
And though leaving the farm tomorrow is kind of sad, but also it moves me into a fall of projects and travels and work. Yesterday I mailed off the first draft of the theatrical adaptation of GOSSAMER. I worked on it off and on all summer and now it is done and on its way, at least for now. But is the ending of that project? No. After the theater directors have gone over it I expect to hear about certain scenes: "Can't be done"... "This won't work"... etc. etc and then I will go back and revise, working on what is for me a completely new genre, and with the benefit of collaboration....
Here is how - and with whom - my puppy spent his afternoon today. This must be picture book material.
I was blown away by a book this evening. Alone here at the farm...but for a puppy who was busy chewing a pillow at the time...I sat on the porch with a glass of wine and began a book called CROW LAKE by Mary Lawson.
Mary Lawson, the author info tells me, is a Canadian who lives in England. I sat there wondering what it is abut Canadian women authors. Maybe this is a huge over-generalization, but I have found Canadian women authors...Carol Shields*, Margaret Lawrence, Margaret Atwood, among others...to be the writers who have most compelled me with their fiction in recent years.
Canada is, of course, a huge country with vast areas of isolation. I remember traveling by train across Canada in 2001, and as the twice-a-week train chugged through a one-street town - where it did not stop, where it never stopped - a man standing in a second floor wndow turned, dropped his trousers, and mooned the passengers watching from the train windows. I remember wondering about that man. Did he look forward with glee to those Tuesday and Thursday events? Or were they a chore (man looks at watch, groans, says: "Oh god, it's almost 3 o'clock; gotta go pull my pants down again")?
Not much to do in a place like that, and less, I suppose, for a woman. Does it make an intelligent woman introspective, creative, observant, literate?
Mary Lawson is all of that and more....
Here is the start of a list of THINGS YOU CANNOT DO WHEN THERE IS A PUPPY IN THE HOUSE:
1. Use a mop of any kind. The puppy thinks it is a combination of toy and invader, and must be chased, attacked, growled at, and grabbed.
2. Take a shower with any privacy. Of course you can take a shower. But every thirty seconds the shower curtain is pulled aside and a furry head looks in to make sure you are still there.
3. Leave the New York Times on the floor. The puppy goes into shredding mode....
Last night Alfie didn't wake me with his "wanna pee" whine until 5 AM and I must say that I liked that much better then the prevous 2 AM and 3 AM calls, mainly because of the light outside. At 5 AM the sky is lightening a bit in the east, over the lake. At 2 AM, particularly on a moonless night, it is VERY dark here in the country, and as I make my way by Braille around the grassy peeing territory, I am very aware that we have had both bears and coyotes prowling this acreage.
I liked it out there at dawn. There were birds on all the feeders, the grass was dew-covered,and the sky was pink over Long Lake. It felt as if it would be a fine new day.
I didn't know this at the time, but at 4 AM this morning my dear friend Deborah (I'll add a photo of her)was taken into surgery at Mass. General Hospital and given a new transplanted heart. Deb was born with a congenital conditon that had virtually destroyed the heart she had, and since age 45 - nine years ago - she has been living on borrowed time, but with enormous grace and optimism.
There have been some complications, I'm told, but the new heart is functioning, and someone whose name we do not know has given Deborah - and her beloved husband, Jack - a chance at a life together they would not otherwise have had.
I have an organ donor card in my wallet. I hope everyone who reads this will make certain that they do, too....
The puppy woke me up this morning at 6:22 AM (Why is it I always glance at the clock when he gives that little yip that means "Take me out so I can pee"?) and it was (still is, at 7:15) pouring rain. Darn! Tha gardens will love the drink of water, but why today? Today I am having between 50-60 people here for a 50th anniversary celebration. And though there are rented tables and chairs set up in the barn, and enlarged old photos of the anniversary couple thumbtacked to the walls inside the barn.....we had envisioned the barn as the place for sitting-down-to-eat-in-the-shade, a respite for people roaming the lawns and enjoying the view of the lake and mountains. Now the view is gone completely, hidden by rain. I will have to slog out through the deluge to pick the flowers that will become bouquets on the tables. The rain is tap-tapping on the metal roof; and it is DARK today in the barn. With the wide doors open at both ends, on a nice day, breezes and light flow through. Not today, though, unless the weather does a quick turnaround in the next 4 hours. People are due to arrive at noon.
We will make the best of it. But DARN.
Happier note: in the mail I have received an advance copy of a YA book to be published by Atheneum next March: "The Opposite of Music" by Janet Ruth Young. I first read this in its earliest stages, a partially completely manuscript, when I was one of several judges selecting new work to be awarded the PEN New England Childrens Book Caucus Children's Discovery award (an award now named the Susan P. Bloom Award) several years ago. The book-in-progress had a different title then - and I can't even remember what it was - but I do remember that in introducing the author at the event where she received the award, I said that while reading it, I had thought: "I wish I'd written this!" Not in envy but in admiration. The book is so well structured, so innnovative in its form; and I am happy to see, reading the finished product, that it has not lost those qualities.
I very rarely - make that never - write blurbs for books. You know what a blurb is, right? One of those quotations on a book's jacket that says something like, "I couldn't put this down. What a page-turner!" and then is signed by someone who too often is a close friend of the author.
Just for the record, I am not a close friend of Janet Ruth Young. I've only met her once. But I do admire this book and I feel, a bit, as if I was in on its early stages and am now so happy to see that it has grown into such a fine finished novel. So I will be glad to write a few words of well-deserved praise to help send it out into the world....
It's always a lot of fun to meet young readers, and here I am with Bobby DiFronzo, age 16, in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, day before yesterday. I knew his mom years ago and went to visit her when I was in Florida on Saturday (I'm now back in Maine)... and Bobby showed me the school project he had done on "The GIver" when he was in sixth grade. The really nice thing is that he had saved it all this time! Or maybe his mom had. In any case, it was great to see it, and him...and his brother Jesse, (who didn't get his photo taken.)
I went to the Portland airport yesterday morning without having heard the news of the terrorist plot against the airlines. So it took me by surprise to find, in that small airport, huge slow-shuffling security lines, and people discarding toothpaste, sunscreen, toddler's juiceboxes, etc. Dutifully I jettisoned my stuff and boarded a plane that left Portland an hour late, still giving me enough time to make my connection in Atlanta. But the Atlanta airport was also something of a zoo, and a zoo with thunderstorms as well, and my 5:20 flight from there to Panana City dindn't take off till 10:30 PM. Finally, though, I am here, with my granddaughter...she and I are sharing bunk beds (I get the bottom!) in a condo on the beach...and my daughter-in-law...just for a couple of days, and then I fight my way through the travel situation to go back home, pick up my puppy, and go back to work.
My granddaughter was born here when her dad, a USAF pilot, was stationed here at Tyndall USAF base. I flew down then to meet her when she was two days old, in 1993. They returned to Germany when she was five months old and now her mom has brought her to see where she lived as a tiny baby. She doesn't remember the house, of course; but amazingly she does have some memories of the house we rented in Seaside, FL, when she was two and a half. Her dad had been killed the previous spring, and we came then to have some quiet time together, and for Margret to see some of their many friends who were still in the area.
My memory of that rented house is also a memory of a children's book and my first very profound awareness of the role that literature can have in the lives of children. Nadine was two and a half, just learning to talk, and learning in two languages simultaneously. Her mother is German and her father had been American, so they had always spoken to her in both languages; and after he died, her mom spoke English to her - her mom's family speaking German - so that she would continue to have both.
During that visit, her mother went out to dinner with old friends while I babysat. It was the first time she had left Nadine since her papa had died, and when it grew dark outside, the little girl began to cry and cry. I had taken a lot of picture books with me to that rented house, and that night she chose the one we read again and again....she, shuddering with sobs, whispering "read it" to me each time we came to the end, and so I would begin once again at the beginning. The book is called "Owl Babies" and it is by Martin Waddell. Such a simple story, of three baby owls who wake in the night to find their mother gone. Two are filled with ration and logic, explaining to the terrified littlest one that she is out hunting for their food. But the frightened little one wails again and again, "I want my mommy"...the same thing my granddaughter was feeling that night. Each time the book moved toward its wonderful ending, with the mother owl swooping in and enfolding the babies in her huge wings, I could feel my frightened and grieving granddaughter relax in my lap with the knowledge that her own mama, too, would return.
It has been such a long time since then, and the same child who sobbed then is now a tall, beautiful, and self-assured almost-13-year-old. She says she has vague memories of that house, the house where we read "Owl babies" again and again. She doesn't remember her own fear, or the reassurance of that book; but she remembers the porch swing....
OKay, so it is only August 9th. Summer isn't REALLY ending yet. But it starts to feel like it, around now. Last night was the last concert of the chamber music festival. When I got home and took Alfie out for a walk, there was an almost-full moon, and the air was cool.
Yesterday he had his first playmate for a visit: a German Shepherd puppy named Sophie, who came to visit with my friend Kay; and it was Alfie's first time off the leash, as he and Sophie wrestled and ran for almost an hour (then the two of them collapsed on the porch and slept, so that Kay and I could eat lunch with no dogs wanting to investigate the sandwiches).
Sophie lives down the street from us in Cambridge so will come to play in our yard often after summer DOES end and we go back home. Alfie has not yet ever seen his "real" home, just this farm where he is learning to chase chipmunks and to be wary of the underground electric fence.
German Shepherds are smarter than Tibetan Terriers, I mention with a sigh. That is why German Shepherds are guide dogs, and drug-sniffing dogs, and police dogs, and win at Las Vegas, and get tenured positons at MIT. Tibetan Terriers...well, they are just fluffy stuffed animals who are a little timid about their own shadows and who like to curl in your lap....
I've been cleaning out the barn. We're having a large party...50th anniversary for my son's parents-in-law (my son married the daughter of friends of mine; how nice is THAT?!) and here is this huge space, open at each end—when we roll the giant doors aside—for a breeze to come through; and the walls are perfect for tacking up photos, etc, so there will be tables set up, and lots of food, and friends and kids and dogs and the whole wonderful thing that happens on family occasions.
Also in the barn is the Mickey-and-Judy room, the little theater, where last summer my granddaughter, Nadine, and her friend Annika, both of them 11 years old at the time - visiting from Germany, put on a puppet show which they had written, rehearsed, and for which they had made the puppets. The amazing thing was that Annika spoke no English at all. Nadine speaks both English and German - she always has, since when she was acquiring lnaguage she had an American dad (my son) and a German mom. Nadine's dad died when she was two. But after that her mother spoke English to her so that she would keep the language of her American family.
At any rate, here they are (Nadine on the left) with their puppets after a wildly successful performance of "The Bad Prince" during which Annika read her English dialogue phonetically and beautifully. There were fourteen people in the auidence and each of them gave the show a rave review. The sign above the puppet-theater-window, which is hard to read in the photo, says THE LIVELY VIRTUOSO THEATER ARTS COMPANY, FOUNDED 2002.
The sock puppets, a little moldy, are in The Green Room still, along with the HISS, BOO, and APPLAUSE instructional signs. So I've been smiling with nostalgia as I clean the barn....