Born 20 March 1937, Honolulu, Hawaii
Daughter of Robert E. and Katharine Landis Hammbersberg; married Donald G. Lowry, 1956 (divorced); children: Alix, Grey, Kristen, Benjamin
One of the most popular children's novelists, Lois Lowry combines a perceptive sense of humor with a sure understanding of children and childhood. Although best known for her comic novels about a girl named Anastasia growing up in the Boston area, Lowry has also received widespread critical acclaim for her more serious novels, including the 1990 Newbery award-winner, Number the Stars (1989), and the 1994 Newbery award-winner, The Giver (1993).
Lowry lived in Pennsylvania during World War II, while her father was on active duty. After the war, she moved with her family to Japan, where she finished junior high. When they returned to the U.S., Lowry graduated from high school in New York City. She taught herself to read at an early age and always loved books. "I remember the feeling of excitement that I had the first time that I realized each letter had a sound, and the sounds went together to make words, and the words became sentences, and the sentences became stories. I was very young—not yet four years old. It was then that I decided that one day I would write books." Determined to fulfill her dream, Lowry entered Brown University at seventeen. She left after two years to marry and had four children by the time she was twenty-five. Returning later to college, she received her B.A. from the University of Maine in 1973 at the age of thirty-six.
After a successful career as a freelance writer and photographer, Lowry published her first novel, A Summer to Die, in 1977. Written in memory of her sister Helen, who died young, the book received the International Reading Association's Children's Book Award for the best book of the year by an author "who shows unusual promise in the children's book field."
Lowry's other novels also draw on personal and family experience. Her years in Pennsylvania, where she lived in her grandparents' home, inspired Autumn Street (1980), the moving story of a child's response to a war being waged far away and her growing understanding of the curious inequities that existed in her own home and town. The Appalachian community in which her brother works as a physician is the setting of the 1987 Boston Globe-Horn Book award-winner for fiction, Rabble Starkey, while a friend's experiences in Copenhagen during World War II led directly to Lowry's Newbery award-winning novel Number the Stars. This is a vivid portrayal of friendship and courage in which a gentile family helps its Jewish neighbors escape when their safety is threatened by Hitler's planned roundup of Denmark's Jews.
Humor forms the backbone of Lowry's novels about the precocious Anastasia Krupnik, whom critic Eric A. Kimmel calls Lowry's "supreme creation, the most formidable child since Ramona Quimby." Beginning with Anastasia Krupnik (1979) and continuing through Anastasia at This Address (1991), the series details the myriad changes and comic moments that mark the life of a girl between the ages of ten and thirteen.
All About Sam (1988), focusing on Anastasia's younger brother, describes with broad humor and flashes of genuine insight about the world as seen through the eyes of an extremely curious, extremely verbal little boy. Underneath the humor, however, lies a serious theme, one Lowry herself identifies as pivotal to her work: "If I go on writing books as I hope to for years and years, …probably every one of those books will have the same basic theme…the importance of human beings to one another." A sequel, Attaboy Sam!, was published in 1992.
Lowry's autobiographical Looking Back: A Book of Memories (1998) includes family snapshots, short excerpts from her novels, and character sketches of her friends and relatives. Lowry explained to Publishers Weekly her childlike narrative, which allows her to share experiences through a different perspective: "That is how I write—I go back to the child I was and see things through those eyes. It's a very subjective way of writing, but it seems to work." Triggered by her son Grey's tragic death in an Air Force fighter plane, this project became Lowry's solution to offering her young granddaughter a story about her father. "Once Grey became the focus of an article in Time and of segments on Inside Edition and 60 Minutes, " she noted, "there was no longer any privacy to the sorrow. Because of this publicity, I began to get many letters from strangers who poured out their own life stories, and this made me aware of how important it is for people to tell their stories to each other."
Lowry discussed her concern with people's misconception of writing books for children in Contemporary Authors: "An awful lot of people believe the myth that it's easy to write for kids, so they think they can sit down and do it on Sunday afternoon after the dishes are done. People who think that are wrong. They should spend their time reading books for young people. A lot of them think they can write for young people but they haven't read what's being written, so they aren't familiar with it. I think, in general, anybody who wants to write anything should a, read a lot and b, write a lot, and quit worrying about who's going to buy it. It seems to be a part of the current generation, which is very impatient, to want to sit down and write something and sell it. If they'd concentrate on the writing instead of the selling, they'd probably end up a lot better off. But it's tough to convince them of that. Instant gratification seems to be very important these days."
Original characters, brilliant plotting, and a finely tuned ear for the comic touch combine to give Lowry's novels for children a permanent place in the history of children's literature.
Black American Literature (1973). Literature of the American Revolution (1974). Values and the Family (1977). Find a Stranger, Say Goodbye (1978). Here in Kennebunkport (1978). Anastasia Again! (1981). Anastasia at Your Service (1982). Taking Care of Terrific (1983). The 100th Thing About Caroline (1983). Anastasia, Ask Your Analyst (1984). Us and Uncle Fraud (1984). Anastasia on Her Own (1985). Switcharound (1985). Anastasia Has the Answers (1986). Anastasia's Chosen Career (1987). Your Move, J.P. (1990). Stay! Keeper's Story (1997). Zooman Sam (1999).
CA (1976, 1999). CANR (1984). CLR (1984). DLB (1986). SATA (1978, 1981).
Horn Book (Mar./Apr. 1987, July/Aug. 1990). PW (2 Feb. 1994, 7 Sept. 1998).
—AMY L. COHN,
UPDATED BY ALLISON A. JONES