Tag Archive for Lois Lowry

On Lois Lowry and the Perils of The New York Times Comments Section

There was a nice piece on Lois Lowry, written by Dan Kois, in the October 3 edition of The New York Times. It’s worth reading. I’m not a fanboy by nature, but with Lois Lowry I make an exception. I hold her in the highest regard, with great respect and admiration for the integrity of our work — and, even moreso, her commitment to her work. I think of her in the way I thought of Arnold Lobel: the real deal, the genuine magilla.

In the article, Lowry made a comment that made me think. To set the stage, the year was 1978, and Lowry was to give a commencement address to a local middle school:

She was preceded to the lectern by the principal, who told the bored, uncomfortable kids that these were their golden years. When Lowry spoke, she told them the principal was misleading them. These weren’t their golden years at all. At best they were a dull beige. She reminisced about her own eighth-grade year, when she was obsessed with a girl in her class who had enormous breasts when Lowry had none.

The kids laughed. But when Lowry looked out at the parents, she later wrote, “their faces were like concrete.” She realized that day that she could talk to kids or she could talk to adults, but not to both: “And so I chose the kids.”

I love that: I chose the kids. I’ve asked myself if that’s always true of my own work, or even if it’s possible. With the Jigsaw Jones series, for example, I was always aware of the potential parent in the room, the mother reading the story out loud at bedtime. And I was aware of the gatekeepers, the teachers, the librarians. Even before that, my editors and publisher. You have to navigate through a lot of adults before reaching an actual kid. Maybe that was wrong, but I tried to please those adults, too.

I remember coming across Bugs Bunny cartoons as an young adult, and realizing (then) that they often threw in some grown-up humor, with references that few children would understand. I liked how it worked on dual levels. Anyway, that’s NOT the section of the article that got the biggest response. Lowry was asked about The Hunger Games, and she had the temerity to respond carefully, respectfully, and honestly:

“I could certainly see why kids love it. It’s suspenseful. The plot moves right along. But I was troubled by the fact that it’s children killing children.”

Here’s are few highlights and lowlights from the Old Gray Lady’s comments section. In fairness, you should read the entire article, since some of these folks are taking issue with Mr. Kois’ handling of the article, more than anything Lois Lowry specifically said. The YA crowd is a tough (and yet sensitive!) readership, and some of them shoot arrows:

A.J. asks:

Is Ms. Lowry somehow implying parents should censor their children’s reading habits if the book doesn’t rise to the level of hers? I hope not.

Herzliebster writes:

Where is it written that to praise one author one is obliged to disparage others? Or that there is only one right way to write a book — or even one right way to write a dystopian novel for teens? Since when is literature, or even one subgenre of literature, a zero-sum game?

Cynthia Bishop:

I am beyond sad for Lois Lowry’s loss of her son, and in awe of her writing ability. Nonetheless, to imply that there can only be one kind of ‘good’ book for children and teens, and that all books written for the latter are violent and negative is simply ridiculous.

Elizabeth Hutchinson writes:

Why must every discussion of children’s or young adult literature invariably devolve into some sort of dismissal, in this case, that “every young adult book published is a dystopian thriller packed with action sequences,” a claim so easily disproven as to need no examples? Even as the NY Times (and NPR and many others) force themselves to acknowledge the indisputable presence of the YA market, there is always an undercurrent of “less-than,” and why is that? Is its sheer popularity a threat to some other authority? Maybe.

To which Tamora Pierce replies:

Yes, the dismissal gets very old. Anyone who walks down the aisle can disprove it immediately, and yet journalists and pontiificators insist on doing it. Surely the days of dissing the fiction that shapes our adult minds should be over? What’s worse, these pronouncements are usually made by those who have made no effort to read what is available–and sadly, that includes Ms. Lowry.

Alice comments;

All kudos to Lois Lowry, but I’m not sure why granting those kudos requires the digs at the Hunger Games, a series of novels embraced by no less a literary critic than Stanley Fish (and on this website!).

Thom McCan:

Euthanizing a baby, worrying about another girl who has large breasts while she has none, violence by children. This is supposed to help children understand the world?

And at last, mercifully, there’s Donald:

As a former children’s librarian, I read this article with interest and pleasure. Having enjoyed Lowry’s “Looking Back: a Memoir” so much so that I have given it as gifts to several people, I was thrilled to get a little bit more of the back story of her son’s death. That said, I am a bit shocked to see all the negative and angry comments. Methinks these folks doth protest too much! Mr. Kois you have done a fine job interviewing a Newbery medal winner and a legend. Kudos.

And most beautifully, Jane Hinrichs:

This is a wonderful piece of journalism. The quotes the journalist chose and the direction he went is beautiful commentary on a quartet of books that are so rich in meaning and beauty I think everyone on earth should read them. Lois Lowry is a genius in her writing.

I am sorry for those who have commented against what she said and what was written. She said good things about The Hunger Games. Her criticism of it was not against the author or the writing, but she gives thoughtful questions about why children killing children is a good thing to highlight. We can disagree with her or agree with her, but to then slam her for her opinion is not a good thing. She doesn’t slam The Hunger Games author at all.

If you haven’t read Lois Lowry’s books I recommend them. I’d let my youngest child read them though the material is not all happy. But it is written in a way that will get them thinking about what life is about.

Odds & Ends

Around the web . . .

* This was sweet and lovely and instructive on the value of seeing things from a different point of view.

* I recently read this book and it’s just about perfect, a 135-page gem.

* Paste Magazine recently listed their “15 Favorite Tina Fey Moments” and I laughed all the way through. I bought the audiobook of Bossypants for Lisa, and she loved it.

* OMG (and I never, ever type “OMG” — so take note, people!), have you seen the brilliant, beautiful cover that Greg Ruth did for The Secret Journeys of Jack London by Tim Lebbon and Christopher Golden? It does everything a cover should do, makes you want to pick up the book and read it. Greg Ruth, my goodness. Wow.

* Okay, I guess Lois Lowry can be president after all. Seriously, I love her blog, somehow all that great humanity comes leaking through. And if my math’s not wrong, she looks terrific 97 years old.

* This is my favorite song from the new Fleet Foxes CD, “Helplessness Blues.” It’s a fan-made video of “Lorelai,” which opens with Brian Wilson-era harmonies and a touch of Dylan. “I was old news to you then, old news, old news to you then.”

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

Men Reading: What You May Have Missed

In addition to the relentless snowbooking, I’ve been putting in time over at my new blog, FATHERS READ, which is dedicated to 1) fun photos of men reading; and 2) the importance of positive role models for boy readers.

Note: I want to pause for a moment to emphasize that these gender issues often devolve into an “us” versus “them” scenario, the boys against the girls, with advocates for each side lined up in opposition. This is unfortunate and counter-productive. What we want is readers, boys and girls. Yes, I wrote: the importance of positive role models on BOY readers. Because that’s my focus here, the statistical fact that boys do not read as much as girls. But on a larger scale, the fathers read movementha! — benefits boys and girls. I’m not pitting one against the other.

Please check it out, spread the word, send in photos. Things are eerily quiet over there, it’s the proverbial tree falling in the forest.  It’s a new blog and generally these things either take time or die on the vine. Right now, it’s too soon to tell.

Over the past two weeks:

* Author Lois Lowry tugged at my heart;

* Author Lewis Buzbee stopped by to contribute, “Five Things About Me as a Young Reader.”

* Peter Lerangis, author of many outstanding books, got fierce about reading.

* I’ve linked to useful, provocative articles on tips for boy-friendly educational approaches, the culture of low expectations, research that suggests how video games might actually boost brainpower, super dad seminars, 14 literacy strategies for boys, and more.

* Identified some pretty excellent father-based blogs.

* And for as long as supplies last . . . photos. Really great photos.

Please do what you can to amplify this important message.

Promote the site on your blog . . .

Send in a photo . . .

Honor a man who played a role in your development as a reader . . .

Don’t make me beg, people.

Lois Lowry & Me

I’ve never met Lois Lowry and I doubt she has any idea how terrific I am. But for my money time, she writes one of the few truly excellent blogs out there by authors. I mean to say, it’s not all self-obsessed twaddle. Maybe it’s because she’s already successful; Lois doesn’t feel compelled to relentlessly beat the drum of  self-promotion. But actually I think it’s because her interests range far beyond her own self, and the blog reflects that. So I make it a point to swing by from time to time.

Lois Lowry, right (she’s the one in the turtleneck).

I recently commented on one of her posts, “Do I ever work?” In it, Lois took a rare moment to discuss her writing, offered up some thoughts on transitions, and was mildly critical of another writer’s work. (Note: Lois admits to  mostly reading books for adults. I can relate to that.)

Anyway, Lois used my comment as fodder for today’s blog post, provocatively titled, “Put clothes on him. But not too many.” It’s about including details — without going overboard. You should read it.

When I ask my daughter, Maggie (age 9), to describe a movie she’s seen, she’ll go into excruciating, mind-numbing detail. Well, she’ll begin, warming to the topic, this happened, then this, then this, then this . . . until warm blood starts trickling from my ears. “For the love of all that is good and holy,” I’ll cry, “get to the point!”

That’s when I learn she’s only on the previews.

Maggie, you see, is at that stage in her development where she can’t quite separate the wheat from the chaff. It’s all important, and therefore, of course, nothing matters. I’ll beg, “Please, dear heart, just give us the highlights.”

It’s a basic mistake for many young writers. Too many details, too many dreary facts, most of them meaningless. As authors, we must seek the telling detail, not bury our characters under mountains of fact.

Anyway: I feel like the radio talk show caller who’s been on hold for the past half hour. Suddenly he’s gotten through and can’t quite believe it. “I’m on the air? Really? Lois, is that you? I thought you’d be taller.”

Fan Mail Wednesday #63-64

Big day, lot to do — have to write, write, write! — and listen to this over and over again. So let’s pull a couple of letters out of the hopper to see what’s what.

Here’s one from Chesterfield, MO:

Dear James Preller,

I like your books a lot. It is very fun to read. My favorite book from you is The Case of the Class Clown. It is my favorite because it has a lot of  cool stuff. I am writing to you because you have fantastic books. How do you get your ideas? How do you make a book? Is it fun to be an author? Do you have to show someone your books to get it published and for you to be famous? I really want all your books because they are good. I would love for you to write back.

From, Ritik

My reply:

Dear Ritik:

Thank you for your wonderful letter. It came on the perfect day, right when I needed it. I’m glad that you think there’s “cool stuff” in my book. I try to jam in as much cool stuff as possible, actually. Hey, I have exciting news about the Class Clown — it’s been turned into a musical by the ArtsPower Touring Company! Can you imagine that? Jigsaw Jones and Mila, singing on stage, and solving mysteries, too!

You asked a lot of great questions, so let’s get to ’em.

1) Ideas come from anywhere and everywhere, but mostly from things I’ve experienced (seen, heard, done, or felt) in ordinary life. But as a writer, I try to remind myself of this: “It’s not that hard. Just make something up!

2) When it comes to creating a book, the author is just one piece of the puzzle. It’s a team effort, including editors, artists, art directors, printers, truck drivers, and more. In terms of the writing, it all starts in a quiet room, when a writer sits down determined to DO IT.

3) Is it fun? Sometimes, not always. But on days when I get letters like yours, Ritik, it is definitely rewarding.

4) Most books are produced by a publisher, a company that makes books. Writers from all over will usually send them manuscripts — typed versions of the story on plain white paper — and the publishers will read them all to select their favorites. Only a very few manuscripts get made into books. So I’ve been very, very lucky.

Thanks for reading my books, and for writing to me!

JP

Letter #64:

Dear Mr. Preller,

You are one of my favorite authors! I am nine years old and in fourth grade. I have one brother and one sister. I have always wanted your autograph! I was wondering if it was fine with you if I sent you a piece of paper in the mail for you to sign. It’s OK if you don’t want to.

Your Friend,
Isaac

My answer:

Isaac,

Sure, happy to sign whatever you send me. Here’s an idea: You could break a leg and show up at my house wearing  a cast — I could sign that!

On second thought, probably not a great idea. You could include a book, maybe? A napkin? Whatever!

Warning: I have the worst handwriting, a lefty scribble. I should have practiced as a kid, but I had no idea that anybody would ever want my autograph. It still shocks me when people ask for it. My autograph? Really? Is this some kind of mistake? Do you think I’m Lois Lowry?

I would very much appreciate it if you included an SASE. Do you know what that is? It’s an acronym for “Self-Addressed, Stamped Envelope.” It’s an old courtesy that seems to have been largely forgotten these days (grumble, grumble). That way, it doesn’t cost me extra money to answer your letter. Unfortunately, the expense of stamps and envelopes adds up. I wish I say that the money was nothing to me, that I had a spare room full of cash, but, alas, it’s not so. That would be the other author: Rowling, J.K.

My address: 12 Brookside Drive, Delmar, NY, 12054.

Many thanks for reading my books.

JP