I am pretty sure that Lois Lowry has influenced my life more than I will ever know. I can’t remember if I read Number the Stars before I read any of the Anastasia books; it doesn’t really matter. Lois Lowry’s writing is real and wonderful. She says that her books are all about human connection, and its importance in our lives. This is one of the reasons her books are so affecting.
It comes as no surprise that Lowry’s books have been banned and removed from libraries; one of her characters, twelve-year-old Anastasia, reads Cosmopolitan and (sort of) knows about sex. (The shock! The horror!)
I inhaled the Anastasia books when I was in fifth grade. The series starts with Anastasia Krupnik. I also read the Sam books, about Anastasia’s little brother; that series starts with All About Sam. Anastasia was so grown-up and cool, without being snotty. I wanted to be her friend, and I wanted a little brother like Sam.
Also, she had glasses. As someone who has had glasses for 23 years, I will tell you that there are very, very few girl characters in books with glasses who are cool. (Someone fix that.)
The Anastasia and Sam books have their serious moments, but for the most part, they are funny and realistic. Lowry is even more well-known for her deep portrayal of death, despair, and the scariness of change.
Number the Stars is about a Danish girl, Annemarie, whose best friend, Ellen, is Jewish. It’s 1943. The Nazis are occupying Copenhagen. Annemarie’s family protects Ellen and helps her get across the sea to Sweden. Number the Stars won the Newbery Medal in 1990, and deservedly so. What a profound, tense novel.
The Giver is one of those books that gets better and better the more times you read it. It’s about a society in the future (presumably) where everyone is the same. Babies are born in a center, where they are then distributed to families. No one feels pain, or sadness, or true joy. The Giver is the only one who can feel these things, because it is his job to give emotion and sensation to the next generation. Jonas is chosen to be the next Giver, and changes society with his actions. This novel won the Newbery Medal in 1994. Every time I read it, it destroys me for a day or so.
Find a Stranger, Say Goodbye is about searching for family. Natalie has a wonderful, perfect life, but she wants to know about her birth mother. She goes on a journey to answer her own questions. Unfortunately, this novel is sort of dated; Natalie doesn’t have the benefits of the Internet to help her find her mom. It’s still a moving look at identity and self-hood.
A Summer to Die is the first book that made me cry. I challenge you to read it without sobbing. It’s about Meg, a thirteen-year-old, and her sister, the older, prettier Molly. Molly has everything that Meg wants. And then Molly gets sick. And stays sick. And won’t ever get better. It’s not a book about Molly, though. It’s about Meg’s grief. A Summer to Die came out in 1977, so thirty-three years worth of teenage girls have gotten the chance to hate Molly and then feel bad about it.
This last one isn’t a series book (though I really want it to be) or anything sad. It’s hilarious. The Willoughbys is a satire of the children’s books of yore. The Willoughby children want to be orphans because they think it’s romantic. Their parents are totally fine with that, and run away. The children take in an abandoned baby. Oh, and there are heirs and fortunes! Lois Lowry also illustrated this short novel, and I think her illustrations take after Edward Gorey. All in all, a delightfully wicked book. If you like Lemony Snicket, you will like this.
Great stories, unconventional plots, and well-crafted writing: this is why I love Lois Lowry.