At the 2016 National Book Festival
“From the time I was 8 or 9, I wanted to be a writer,” says Lois Lowry. “Writing was what I liked best in school; it was what I did best in school.” Now she is the award-winning author of more than thirty books, which Lowry believes all explore the theme of the importance of human connections. Her books include “Number the Stars,” “The Giver,” “Anastasia Krupnik” and “Gooney Bird Greene.” Lowry has received many honors, including two Newberry Medals, the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime contribution to young adult literature, the National Jewish Book Award and the Regina Medal. Her latest book is the autobiography “Looking Back: A Book of Memories” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Lowry lives in Massachusetts and Maine.
Previous National Book Festival Appearances
- 2012 Book Festival Podcast
- 2012 Book Festival Webcast
- 2009 Book Festival Webcast
- 2009 Book Festival Audio
From the 2009 National Book Festival
What sparked your imagination for your first picture book – Crow Call?
Crow Call actually is a story I wrote years ago, and which was published years ago—in 1976, I think—for adults. And it was a story I had lived (since it is autobiographical) many years before that. When a publisher asked if I would like to turn it into a story, a picture book, for young people, I was delighted. It didn’t require many changes, really.
You’ve written many award winning novels. How did the experience of writing a picture book differ? Did you collaborate with the illustrator - Bagram Ibatoulline?
No. He and I have never met. But I am thrilled by his beautiful illustrations and they seem to me very true to the story. He did have a photograph of me at age nine, so it is no surprise that the child in the book resembles me. (And he asked me to describe the colors of the plaid in the shirt. It is hard to describe the way colors cross each other and create new colors! But he re-created that much-loved shirt of mine very well).
You have written many award winning books. Do you have any special favorites among them?
My favorites change, and often the one I think of as favorite is one not yet published…that’s true right now—a book in which the main characters are all mice! But the reason that that particular one comes to my mind as “favorite” is because I have just finished writing it, so the characters are still alive for me, and still very dear to me.
What challenges do you face in your writing process? How do you overcome them?
Time, time, time! I am so terribly busy; I have so very many projects in the works; and I travel so much. And so I have to make the time to write, and that means sometimes at the expense of friends and family.
What tips or advice can you share with young students who hope to start writing?
Everything I know about writing I learned by reading. Every single thing.
Can you suggest a fun writing topic to get them started?
No. Everyone has to find his/her own stories. I think one good way to start, though, is to look back through your own experience and recall something—a moment, an incident—that did two things: 1) caused you to feel deeply; and 2) caused you to change in some way.
What is your list of favorite children or teen books?
- The Yearling
- Sarah, Plain and Tall
- Tom’s Midnight Garden
- Goodbye, Mr. Tom
- Pink and Say
- Owl Babies
- A Visitor for Bear
How do you decide on themes for your books?
I don’t. I simply write a story. I pay attention to the characters and try to make the reader care about them and what happens to them. If, at the end, a “theme” emerges—well, that’s just happenstance.
How important is research in the development of your books? Can you explain the process as well?
Research is more important in some books that others. My own book Gossamer, for example: no research. Entirely imagination. The Silent Boy and Number the Stars both required a good deal of research because they dealt with true events at a particular time in history. One has to get the small details right— what they ate, wore, read, for example— as well as the larger historical events.
What is your advice to parents for passing the joys of reading on to their children?
Let them see you reading and enjoying and valuing that process. Take your children to the library. Talk to them about what they are reading. Read the same things; or read them together. And it goes without saying that reading to them is essential. But you know what? I disagree in part with all my colleagues who recommend reading to children after they have begun to read to themselves. That may apply to some children. But it wouldn’t have to me as a child. Reading to myself was such a solitary and delicious and private act. I did not want my mother to read to me after I was, oh, probably seven years old.
If you weren’t creating children’s books, what do you think you would be doing?
I’d be in the film-making industry. I worked years ago as a photographer and I still have a very visual sense; I love the thought of combining words and pictures the way films, at their best, can do.
Can you tell us about any new books that you will be working on during the coming year?
Squeak, squeak, squeak! I already told you about the mouse book. In addition, I have a full-length fairy tale, a novel, complete with princess and suitors and chambermaids—and illustrated (wonderfully) by my friend Jules Feiffer.
Do you have a website where young people can learn more about you and your work?