Lois Lowry is the highly acclaimed author of more than 30 books for young readers. Over the years, she has received numerous awards, including two Newbery Medals. Her writing style is so diverse, having written such a wide range of books, that her body of work cannot be categorized easily. Her genres range from contemporary fiction and historical fiction to fantasy and autobiographies. Her audience is just as eclectic, ranging from elementary school students to young adults. And while some of Lowry’s books are light-hearted, others deal with more serious and somber topics, allowing her to appeal to so many readers around the world. Come explore what makes Lois Lowry such a diverse and well-read author.
Born on March 20th, 1937 in Honolulu, Hawaii, Lowry entered the world during a time of war and destruction. Her father, Robert Hammersberg, was an army dentist, ensuring that Lowry’s childhood would involve moving all around the globe and always being close to the ongoing conflict. While Lowry was still young, her family moved to Brooklyn, New York, and then to Carlisle, Pennsylvania where she started school. As she had started reading by age 3, Lowry went straight into second grade at age 6.
After World War II, her family moved to Tokyo Japan, where she completed her middle school years at The American School in Japan. By the time she started high school, Lowry moved back to the United States. By 18 she had already lived on two vastly different continents, giving Lowry such a unique perspective on the world. In 1954 she attended Pembroke College, which would later merge with Brown University in 1971. It was there that she met her husband, Donald Lowry, a U.S. Navy officer.
Life as Lois Lowry
Lois and Donald Lowry married after university in 1956. Like her father, her husband was in the US Military, and she once again found herself moving around the United States. They moved several times from San Diego to New London, Connecticut, to Key West, Charleston, Cambridge, Portland, and Maine. Together they had 4 children, Alix, Kristin, Donald Grey, and Benjamin.
While being a full-time wife and mother, Lowry finished a degree in English Literature, going on to pursue graduate studies after. It wasn’t until 1977, when she was 40 years old, that Lowry published her first novel, A Summer to Die. That same year Lois and Donald parted ways, and she went on to find love with Martin Small, whom she loved until his death in 2011.
Following the footsteps of his grandfather and father, Lois’ son Grey became a US Air Force major and flight instructor. In 1995 he tragically dies in a plane crash, leaving Lois heartbroken and proud of her son.
In the 1970s, Lois became a freelance journalist and submitted a short story to Redbook. While the story was intended for adult readers, the story is written from a child’s perspective. Her ability to convey the world through a child’s eyes lead to her career as a children’s book author, appealing to young audiences but maintaining some mature themes.
Her first novel, A Summer to Die, is a YA novel dealing with the pains of terminal illness, as Lowry had experienced when she lost her own sister to cancer in 1962. The book follows Meg and her sister Molly through their lives, bickering over little things and being jealous of each other. One day while the sisters are playing, Molly gets a nosebleed, which becomes almost constant over the next months. After soaking her bed in blood one night from the nosebleeds, she’s taken to the hospital, where she is diagnosed with leukemia. The story follows on, watching Molly slowly get worse while the love between her and her sister grows stronger every day.
Lowry perfectly captures the devastating theme of loss in a way that younger readers can understand and appreciate. And she continued to do so in her second novel, Autumn Street, exploring themes of dealing with racism, grief, and fear as a child. The book is quite close to being autobiographical. Taking place in World War II, Elizabeth is sent to live with her Grandfather, closely following Lowry’s own experiences of having her father deployed.
Another one of her novels published in 1989, Number the Stars, deals with World War II. This historical fiction follows the story of a family of Jews escaping Copenhagen. The book received numerous awards, including Lowry’s first Newbery medal. She went on to win her second for The Giver 5 years later.
Lowry became notorious for a number of children’s and YA book series, some of which follow her darker and more mature themes, while others are more light-hearted, short reads.
While the novels don’t directly follow on from each other, they all take place in the same universe, a dystopian world of Lowry’s creation. All the novels are tied together in the final installment. The series includes The Giver (1993), Gathering Blue (2000), Messenger (2004), and Son (2012). The first novel was turned into a film in 2014.
The Giver is set in a society first presented as utopian, which gradually reveals itself as dystopian. It follows Jonas as he is selected to inherit the role of the Receiver of Memory, who stores all the past memories of society before Sameness was implemented. In this role, Jonas learns about the past as well as what happens to the children who defy society’s Sameness and struggles with the weight of the truth. Jonas decides he and a baby, Gabriel, need to flee in order to survive. In the 1990s, this book appeared on the American Library Association’s list of the most challenged books.
Gathering Blue follows Kira, a girl with a deformed leg, who is orphaned and fighting against her town’s rule of sending the deformed off to the Field to die. Messenger takes place 8 years after the original novel, following Matty, a message bearer who is forced to cross through a lethal Forest. Son follows Gabriel’s birth mother Claire, who embarks on a dangerous journey to find her boy.
Anastasia Krupnik Series
Anastasia Krupnik is a series of middle-grade novels about a girl just trying to grow up. Anastasia deals with everyday problems like popularity, acne, and the new arrival of her baby brother, Sam. The books are written in an episodic fashion, with each chapter a self-contained minimal narrative linked together. The series was ranked 29th on the American Library Association’s “The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000” primarily because of references to Playboy, beer, and suicidal thoughts. The series is comprised of 9 books written from 1979-1995.
Sam Krupnik Series
As a spin-off of Anastasia Krupnik, Lowry decided Sam deserved his own story. There are only 4 books in this series, written from 1988-1999. All About Sam was the first novel in the series, following the mischievous little Sam in his adventures of curiosity. As our narrator is still young, the story consists mostly of his observations, feelings, and thoughts, very similar to the 1989 film Look Who’s Talking.
Gooney Bird Series
Starting out with Gooney Bird Greene in 2002, Lowry’s third children’s series follows Gooney as a recently transferred second grader. She is unusually self-confident, loves being the center of attention, and has a very eccentric style. Because of this, her new teacher, Mrs. Pidgeon, turns her storytelling lessons into outlandish tales in which Gooney is the main character. Not only does the class learn a lot about Gooney, but they learn how to tell a story and that everyone has a story to tell.
Only consisting of two books, written in 2008 and 2020, the story follows the children of Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby. In 2020 it was turned into a computer-animated comedy film on Netflix, narrated by Ricky Gervais, the family cat. The sequel novel, The Willoughbys Return, takes place 30 years after the first. We see how the siblings went from orphans to heirs to the Melanoff candy company fortune. The story, however, focuses primarily on the original cast’s children.
Beyond writing book series, Lowry has written numerous standalone young adult stories. Some of these include:
Lois Lowry’s books have been a part of many young readers’ journey to becoming book lovers. Although her novels cover a variety of topics, ranging from serious to humorous tones, they share many of the same themes: individuality, freedom, and the importance of memory. Through her writing, Lowry communicates how people should understand that everything they do affects other people, the environment, and the world. Thank you, Lois Lowry, and happy birthday!
Click here for quotes from Lois Lowry on the importance of books!