Lois Lowry in Conversation With a 10-Year-Old Reporter About Her New Book

TIME for Kids
·8 min read

It’s hard to imagine coming of age in the U.S. during the past four decades without being exposed to the work of Lois Lowry. The two-time Newbery Medalist has written some 40 books for kids and young adults, including classics like Number the Stars and the popular Anastasia Krupnik series. The Giver, her dystopian YA novel published in 1993, is a staple of both middle school curricula and banned book lists—the perennially relevant story is about a 12-year-old boy who learns that the government of his seemingly utopian society uses euthanasia to keep its citizens in check.

On April 7, Lowry will publish her latest book, On the Horizon, a collection of reflections on World War II. The book-in-verse, with illustrations by Kenard Pak, draws from historical research and Lowry’s own memories of growing up in Honolulu and Japan while her father was an officer in the U.S. Army. With vignettes about those who lost their lives—from sailors aboard the USS Arizona to civilians in Hiroshima—Lowry asks young readers to empathize with people on all sides of the conflict. Then, she turns to her own life, and the guilt she felt as a child living in Tokyo in the aftermath of the war. In one particularly affecting recollection, Lowry describes herself as a young girl, watching through a fence as Japanese children play. But she dares not join them, and she isn’t invited to.

It’s the kind of subject matter that isn’t an obvious fit for children. But then, there are many who argue against shielding kids from the darkness in the world. And anyway, Lowry’s message is simple: We all benefit from a more peaceful world.

On the Horizon is written for children ages 10 and up. TIME for Kids asked one of our Kid Reporters, 10-year-old Nora Wilson-Hartgrove, to interview Lowry about the book. We guided Nora’s interview only lightly, letting her ask the questions that occurred to her while reading.

—Shay Maunz, TIME for Kids

TIME for Kids: My first question is: why did you choose to write this story in poems?

Lowry: Oh, that’s an interesting question. But it doesn’t have an easy answer. I can only say that when I sat down to begin to write about the things in the book, they sort of floated up in my imagination in various images and fragments. They wanted to be written in a different way, not in a regular way that a novel would be written. Eventually, it took the form of poetry, and that’s not something that I sat down and thought about carefully. It just kind of happened, as if the book told me to write it that way. That’s a kind of funny answer but that’s the only answer I have.

Interesting. Okay. My second question is, as a kid experiencing World War II, were you scared while it happened?

I was four years old when the war began, and I was eight years old when it ended. I wasn’t scared of the war itself because it was taking place on the other side of the world. But my father was gone because he was in the war, and although he wrote us letters, we were not allowed to know where he was. My mother only knew that he was out in the Pacific somewhere. So I was scared for my father.

But I wasn’t scared the way children who were in the actual places where the war was taking place were. For example, I know a woman who is my age but she grew up in Germany and was terrified during the war because bombs were dropping on the field where she would go out to get the cow each night. When the war was ending and the Americans were entering Germany, which had been defeated, she was very frightened of the Americans and what they would do.

She was eight years old at the time, and she was hiding, she told me, in a basement when the American soldiers entered her little village. She told me that the door to the basement opened, and she looked up and saw an American soldier. He looked down, and she thought he was reaching for a gun, but instead he took out candy and gave it to the children. That’s a very different kind of experience from mine, where I was living quite safely in a little town in Pennsylvania and not worried about what the next day would bring.

Okay, now my third question: you mentioned in one of the poems that you’ve traveled many places. Where are some of the places you’ve traveled?

You name a place and I’ve probably been there. I’ve been to every continent. I’ve been to Antarctica and I’ve lived in Japan. I’ve been to Korea. I’ve been to most countries in Europe. I like traveling, so I’ve done a great deal of it.

You said you felt connected with the boys on the ship and you’ve done a lot of research on their lives. Did you ever get a chance to talk to anyone who was there at Pearl Harbor?

I have talked to people who were not on the ship but were at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed. I, of course, was a little girl, and my family left Hawaii very shortly before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, so I was not there when it happened. I do know people who were there then, but it would be impossible to talk to anybody who was on that ship. Almost all of them died that day. And those who survived are now—and there are very few of them left—very, very old. I read recently that there are two survivors from the Arizona still left, but they’re in their 90s. So no, I haven’t ever talked to any of them.

I actually go to church with somebody who was in the Pacific.

Uh-huh. And is that somebody who is quite old now?

Yeah, he’s 98.

Oh, my goodness. Yes, that’s very old. And does he talk about the war?

A little bit.

I wonder what he would think reading this book.

I should lend it to him sometime. Okay, my next question is: if you were older and allowed, would you have gone and fought in the war?

Hmm. That’s an interesting question and nobody has ever asked me that before. When World War II happened, a lot of young men enlisted immediately in the military because they wanted to fight against the Japanese who had bombed us, and the Germans who had done such terrible things to the Jewish population. So young men dropped out of college and enlisted in the service. People feel differently now.

I did have a son who was in the military, and he was a fighter pilot. He was in the first Gulf War in the Mideast, and my son died in the fighter plane. So I know what it’s like to lose somebody in a war. I’m not answering your question about whether I would rush to be out there fighting. I’m something of a coward. But in wartime, people rise above being cowardly. So perhaps if the circumstances were very terrible, I would stand up and fight.

You chose to write about something that shaped your generation. I think climate change is going to shape my generation. Have you learned anything from reflecting on World War II that you think could help me and my generation as we learn to fight climate change now?

Oh, gosh, that’s a complicated question. We all learn from our experiences, and I’ve learned just from growing old. Now we’re facing these terrible problems that you and my grandchildren are going to have to grapple with and try to overcome. One way is by voting for people who will deal with it. Right now we’re in the middle of a political season, and I’m thinking about who to vote for. I think about the problems we face, and as you pointed out, climate change is probably the most enormous. I’ll end up voting for the person I believe will do more to help us deal with that.

Okay, and my last question is: when you were young, did you ever imagine you would be an author?

Oh, yes, I did. I wanted to be a writer from the time I was probably eight years old. When I was 10 years old, I wrote to a children’s magazine that published letters each month. They published my letter and it said—I know this because somebody recently sent me a copy of that magazine, from 1947—”I am writing a book called A Dog Named Lucky. I am on chapter 13.” I don’t remember writing that particular book, but I was always writing a book, and if I got to chapter 13, it probably was 13 pages in my small notebook. I never wanted to be anything other than a writer, so I feel very fortunate that I was able to grow up and become what I wanted to be.

Well, that is interesting. I want to be a journalist when I’m older, so I —

You’ve got the right job now.

Yes.

How old are you, Nora?

I’m actually 10, yeah.

Exactly the age I was when I was writing to a magazine. Well, I wish you luck in your profession. Journalism is changing, of course. There used to be many, many magazines, and now a lot of journalism is happening on the internet. It will be a different kind of thing, but we will always need writers and thinkers and observers.

Thank you. Well, thank you for your time.

Okay! Thank you for yours, I’ve enjoyed talking to you.