#98: Meet Lois Lowry

Jamboread 2010 was held last Saturday at the Spartanburg County Public Library. While there were a variety of events held for kids, Becky, Ticcoa, Harvin, and I were really interested in the two major events: book signings and author/illustrator lectures. Who were the authors and illustrators, you might ask?

Jane Yolen (who has written 300 books, including fairy tales, and she’s also done work in fairy tale research. I used her as a source for my honors project three years ago.)

Paul O. Zelinsky (a wonderful illustrator of tons of children’s books–including Beverly Cleary’s Dear Mr. Henshaw!– and winner of a Caldecott Medal)

LOIS LOWRY! (author of The Giver and Gossamer and tons of other beautiful children’s books)

The day involved lots of laughs as my friends and I excitedly waited to meet these authors and hear them speak. We had books signed by all three, and each gave an hour-long lecture that was truly astonishing. I had a really hard time deciding which lecture I enjoyed the most, so I’ll just say that they were all equally wonderful.

Yolen talked about the importance of storytelling and her unquenchable desire to tell these stories. She also read aloud from her picture book Owl Moon, which is marvelous.

Zelinsky talked about his experiences illustrating. He had a large pad on stage and drew example illustrations for us. He’s so incredibly talented! Here, Awful Ogre is staring down Rapunzel.

And Lowry talked about her childhood and experiences that made her become a writer and write the stories she does. Her mannerisms and style of storytelling made me wish Dr. Sepko could have been there with us…the two of them would be great friends!

Such a perfect day.

The Dream-givers

“And you know what, Thin Elderly? Sad parts are important. If I ever get to train a new young dream-giver, that’s one of the things I’ll teach: that you must include the sad parts, because they are part of the story, and they have to be part of the dreams.”

-Lois Lowry, Gossamer

* * *

Gossamer interweaves the stories of the dream-givers and those to whom they give dreams each night. The story opens with an older dream-giver named Fastidious training the Littlest One. They give pleasant, happy dreams to an older, unmarried woman whose only companion is her dog Toby.

Soon, this woman takes in a foster child, an angry eight-year-old named John. John requires a lot of strengthening to battle the nightmares imposed by the Sinisteeds, the counterparts to the dream-givers. John’s anger stems from his parents divorce and his father’s abuse, and through the good dreams bestowed upon him, he becomes a happier child.

This book is beautiful in that Lowry understands the power of a story. The way that the dream-givers bestow dreams is through touching items in the person’s home. They gather fragments of each person’s story, both happy and sad memories. They use these fragments to provide dreams. Through the dreams, the reader learns more about each person’s story. For example, the woman never married because the man she loved was a soldier who was killed in France during the war. The memory of this man causes her to smile in her sleep.

Furthermore, the language that Lowry uses is wonderful. Littlest One comes to be known for her light touch–her gossamer touch. She gathers memories through the slightest touch, which allows her to touch living creatures, such as the dog and a butterfly, without disturbing their slumber. It’s fitting that at the end of the novel, when Littlest is finished with her training and a new littlest arrives, she is given the name Gossamer.

Moreover, the subtlety of language makes this book powerful. The dream-givers provide dreams by bestowing them upon sleeping human. The connotation of that word implies that good dream are a gift. Conversely, the Sinisteeds–dark, angry, horse-like creatures–inflict their nightmares upon the humans. The experience is painful and harsh, but the dream-givers fight the Sinisteeds through bestowing courageous dreams that the subconscious uses to fight against the pain.

All in all, this short novel is a beautiful piece of work, just like everything else Lois Lowry writes. She’s pretty much a genius. 🙂

“We really have to protect people from wrong choices.”

“Do you love me?”

There was an awkward silence for a moment. Then Father gave a little chuckle. “Jonas. You, of all people. Precision of language, please!”

“What do you mean?” Jonas asked. Amusement was not at all what he had anticipated.

“Your father means that you used a very generalized word, so meaningless that it’s become almost obsolete,” his mother explained carefully.

Jonas stared at them. Meaningless? He had never before felt anything as meaningful as the memory.

“And of course our community can’t function smoothly if people don’t use precise language. You could ask, ‘Do you enjoy me?’ The answer is ‘Yes,'” his mother said.

“Or,” his father suggested, “‘Do you take pride in my accomplishments?’ And the answer is wholeheartedly ‘Yes.'”

“Do you understand why it’s inappropriate to use a word like ‘love’?” Mother asked.

Jonas nodded. “Yes, thank you, I do,” he replied slowly.

It was the first lie to his parents.

* * *

This excerpt from The Giver by Lois Lowry comes just after Jonas receives a memory of Christmas and family. It’s the first time he’s ever experienced real love, and it transforms him. This passage gives me chills–to think that such a society could exist with the absence of love.

In case you’ve been living under a rock and have never heard of this book, I’ll give you a brief summary. This novel takes place in a dystopian society in which every citizen conforms to the same concept of Sameness. As each child approaches the Ceremony of Twelve, he or she is given an assignment–a career choice, if you will, although a committee decides for each child based on his or her aptitude and interests. Jonas is chosen as the Receiver of Memories. He alone will receive the collective memory of society (collective unconscious, anyone?). He must carry the burden of all the emotions–happiness, love, pain, fear. He experiences poverty, war, hunger, sunshine, snow, Christmas, family, joy. No one else in the community ever knows that such extremes existed.

This is a world with color. Without art. Without music.

Without love.

It’s chilling in its portrayal. The novel beautifully explores notions of freedom. It made me realize that freedom of choice–in what I’ll wear, in where I’ll go to school, in whom I’ll marry–is something I often take for granted. What if that choice were taken away from me? Would I miss choice if I’d grown up without it?

I re-read this book this week because I was working on a paper for adolescent literature on how to use literature to teach social justice to secondary students. I chose this book and The Knife of Never Letting Go as examples of dystopian literature that can be used in the classroom. Dystopian literature is so intriguing and thought-provoking because it shows the extremes to which society could go if preventative action isn’t taken. Will we fight against those who remove choice? Will we fight for the oppressed? Can we make a change and avoid a bleak future?

Something to think about.