Lois Lowry (born Lois Hammersberg) spent her first years in a traditional family unit; her father was an Army dentist, her mother a teacher. The middle child of three, the family had moved to New York City from Hawaii shortly before the Pearl Harbor bombing, although her father spent the remaining war years in the Pacific. Her mother and siblings spent those years in Pennsylvania with her maternal grandparents. It was during this time that she began to be a solitary child who lived in the world of books and her imagination. Many hours were spent sitting on the servants’ stairs, hidden from the household mainstream, practicing writing and rewriting stories in spiral-bound notebooks. Her father’s absence created a sense of loss; it is notable that the father figures in her novels are very strong ones.
An early reader, she was so capable in first grade that she was advanced to third grade. She graduated from high school at sixteen. The next two years she attended Pembroke College, the women’s branch of Brown University. She delayed her formal education when she married naval officer Donald Grey Lowry, who later became an attorney. By the time Lois was twenty-six, she had four children. After living in several states and in Tokyo, she and her husband settled in Maine. She received her B.A. from the University of Southern Maine and, in 1972, completed a graduate degree. The marriage ended in 1977.
Her writing career began with short stories for adults and nonfiction magazine articles, for which she often took the illustrating photographs. Her first novel, A Summer to Die, was a story based on her older sister’s early death from cancer. It was written on the portable typewriter her father had given her for her thirteenth birthday. Not intended to be autobiographical, the book contained enough similarities to Lois’s life to be noticed by her mother.
In 1979, Lowry’s first Anastasia novel was published. Based on a spirited, impetuous, and irreverent heroine, the Anastasia series continues to be popular. While humor pervaded many of Lowry’s first children’s books, her most recognized works are solemn in tone, content, and subject. Number the Stars is a fact-based story of Nazi-occupied Denmark. Her dystopian novel, The Giver, describes a perfect society in which only one person can give and one can receive memories.
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