BRIDGTON — Lois Lowry said she was a “hideously shy” child who found it painful to be the new student in her class, as she often was, since her father was a much-transferred Army dentist.

“I remember starting seventh grade in Tokyo, and my mother had given me a very short haircut. I remember hearing someone say, ‘Is it a boy or a girl?’ It’s still painful to me,” said Lowry, 77, sitting in her 1769 farmhouse, overlooking Long Lake. “Moving so often and being shy made me extremely observant. I felt it was important to notice what people wore, what people did. I observed everything.”

And she felt everything. She felt things so deeply then that she finds it easy now to climb back into her 12-year-old self and recall the feelings and moments of her childhood with a rare kind of clarity and emotional power.

This ability has helped her build a nearly 40-year career as a best-selling children’s author, writing more than 40 books about a wide range of topics while never talking down to young readers. Her best-known book, “The Giver,” has been made into a film starring Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep. The film, based on Lowry’s 1993 story of a dystopian future society where bad memories don’t exist for most people, will be released nationwide Aug. 15. The book has sold more than 12 million copies and is both praised and criticized for the topics it exposes young readers to.

“It’s just something I can always do,” Lowry said of being able to see through childlike eyes. “I’m surprised that others can’t.”



It may be Lowry’s ability to observe and to learn quickly that has helped her to stay involved in the filming of “The Giver.”

While many Maine authors sell the film or TV rights to their book and never get a call from the filmmakers, Lowry has had lunch with Bridges, been to the set during filming and had countless phone conversations with director Phillip Noyce.

“Lois has a strong point of view and she’ll tell you what she thinks, but she also knows we’re making a movie and she appreciates we won’t use every one of her suggestions,” said Nikki Silver, producer of “The Giver” and longtime producer of the children’s TV show “Reading Rainbow” on PBS. “She really understood the difference in the two mediums and that makes her stand out (among authors). Her openness led us to keeping her involved.”

Silver said Lowry helped the filmmakers tackle a myriad of issues, including what the town in the film should look like, how many people live there and what sort of needle is used to inject a baby in the story.

At one point, Lowry said, Noyce called her to ask what sort of things would decorate the bedroom of the book’s 12-year-old hero, Jonas. There would be no decorations of any sort, Lowry said. The only things on the wall would be informational or educational. The Periodic Table of Elements would be a believable item to hang on Jonas’ wall, she said.

The 20-year journey of “The Giver” from best-selling novel to major Hollywood film began with Bridges. He originally bought the film rights to the book as a vehicle for his father, veteran Hollywood actor Lloyd Bridges, who he thought could play the wise and elderly title character. Lloyd Bridges died in 1998.


Over the years, Bridge’s option on the book ran out, and eventually Silver acquired it. She contacted Bridges, who is 64, about being involved once more and playing the title role himself.

“It’s probably a good thing that the film wasn’t made 20 years ago because (Jeff Bridges) is a much bigger star now than he was then,” said Lowry. “I’m suspicious of celebrities, but he seems like a very decent guy.”


Lowry, who spends summers in Bridgton and winters in Falmouth near some of her grandchildren, first came to Maine because of her ex-husband’s career.

After living all over the world as a child, Lowry enrolled at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Around the same time, she met her future husband, naval officer Don Lowry. Once married, she traveled from place to place again, raising four children. Don Lowry became a lawyer in Maine and the family settled in the Portland area in the 1960s.

(He started Lowry & Associates, a statewide personal injury law firm, and was seen for years doing local TV ads. The couple’s youngest child, Ben Lowry, became a personal injury lawyer and is seen on local TV commercials, too. The slogan for his Lowry Legal Services is “Mainers Helping Mainers.”)


When Ben was around middle school age, Lowry decided her desire to pursue writing as a career was too strong to ignore. She went back to school in the early 1970s, at the University of Southern Maine.

“I was in the sixth or seventh grade when she went back to school. She was hanging out with USM kids in their 20s,” said Ben Lowry, 51. “She was always interested in writing, always writing things for us kids. So it wasn’t a surprise.”

He said the children’s books his mother wrote and illustrated for her own children had names like “Hippo in the Hollyhocks” and “Caroline Cauliflower.”

Lois Lowry divorced from her husband around the time her writing career began to take off. She wrote for magazines and took her own pictures. She also supported herself by taking portraits of children. About 10 of them, black-and-white photos from the 1970s, hang on the wall of her writing space in Bridgton. They are not the kind of placid children’s portraits taken at school. Instead they show frowns, grins and all manner of expression beyond the typical “say cheese” pose.

When Lowry began writing full time in the 1970s, she moved to Boston. There she met an insurance agent named Martin Small who became her companion for more than 30 years. Small died in 2011.

About 12 years ago, Lowry bought her Bridgton farmhouse, which was in bad shape and that Small thought of as folly. Today, the place has been restored beautifully. It’s a rambling white farmhouse, with perfectly manicured flower gardens that Lowry said she “appreciates” but does not work in.


When she’s in the farmhouse, she spends a lot of time cooking and entertaining.

“She has no specialty, her tastes and dishes vary widely, but it’s so much fun to be at her table,” said Deborah Daw Heffernan, a neighbor in Bridgton. “What is a guarantee is there will be tremendous storytelling. There’ll be a wide range of topics with total openness.”


Lowry’s career as a writer of children’s books, which included the popular series about middle-schooler “Anastasia Krupnik” in the 1980s, was well-established by the time she wrote “The Giver.”

Lowry was inspired to write the book, which is intended generally for ages 12 and up, around the time her father began losing his memory. He didn’t seem to remember, for instance, that Lowry’s sister Helen had died while in her 20s.

“It made me start thinking about memory, about what it would be like if you didn’t remember things that were scary or sad,” said Lowry.


And, if we didn’t remember pain and sadness, would we also forget the people or the loves that might have led to painful or sad moments?

In “The Giver,” society has gotten rid of painful or sad memories in most people’s minds and replaced them with a concept called “Sameness.” Jonas, at age 12, has been selected to be the “Receiver of Memory,” the person who keeps past bad memories in case they are someday needed again. He gets them from “The Giver,” the person previously charged with storing memories. Together, they grapple with whether keeping pain and a deepness of feeling from people is really good for them.

The book became a best-seller and won the Newbery Medal as the “most distinguished” children’s book of the year. It was a children’s book that dealt with euthanasia, suicide and murder long before other books did.

The book immediately drew criticism. During the past two decades, it has appeared frequently on the American Library Association’s Top 100 List of the most challenged or banned books. Challenged books are books that someone has asked be removed from a school curriculum or library, while a banned book has been removed. “The Giver” ranked No. 11 on the association’s “challenged” list for the decade of the 1990s and No. 23 on the “banned/challenged” list for 2000-09.

One of the major changes the filmmakers made to Lowry’s story is that Jonas is 16, not 12. Lowry said she understands the need to appeal to teenagers, a major part of the audience for summer films.

“Teenagers won’t go see a movie about a 12-year-old,” she said.


The book continues to be popular among middle-schoolers especially, and its cover, with the grizzled face of the title character, is easily recognized. That picture was not staged or planned by the publisher, however. It’s a picture of an artist named Carl Gustaf Nelson, who was living on Maine’s Great Cranberry Island in the 1970s. Lowry took a picture of him for a magazine article she was reporting, which never ran.

Nelson died in 1988 and Lowry knew of no family members she could contact for permission. But once the book became a hit, a relative of Nelson’s wrote the publisher demanding his picture be removed. Lowry said she asked for the relative’s address, so she could write to her and try to head off a dispute “before the lawyers sharpen their swords.”

“She said OK, we could use it. She said she didn’t realize I knew him and had taken the picture. She thought we just found his picture somewhere,” Lowry said.

In 1995, not long after “The Giver” made her name known around the world, Lowry’s son Grey was killed in a crash while flying for the Air Force. Her latest book, set in the same society as “The Giver,” is called “Son” and came out in 2012. It’s about a woman who, against societal conventions, grows attached to her son and tries to find him.

Whether “Son” or the two other novels that form a series with “The Giver” will be made into movies is unclear. Lowry said she’s not sure whether the film’s producers, including Bridges, are interested in making those books into films.

Lowry, escorted by her son Ben, will be on hand when the film premieres in New York City on Aug. 11. Is she excited?

“I don’t think it will change my life,” she said.

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