Number the Stars
Lois Lowry Biography
Lois Lowry is a prolific writer. Since her first book, A Summer to Die, was published in 1977, she has written over twenty novels for young adults and has won numerous awards. Her writing style varies from the lighthearted, humorous Anastasia books to the much more serious issues (evident in Lowry's two Newbery Medal winners, Number the Stars and The Giver) that are a part of the adult world young people are preparing to enter. Her books portray sensitive, intelligent, witty protagonists faced with challenges and choices. Lowry writes about life transitions, the importance of family, true friendship, and the need for caring relationships between all human beings despite their differences.
Lowry was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, on March 20, 1937, to Robert E. Hammersberg, a United States Army dentist, and Katherine Landis Hammersberg. Because her father was a career Army officer, Lowry often moved during her childhood. Leaving Hawaii, her family moved to New York, and, in 1942 Lowry began kindergarten in a private school. She remembers wearing dog tags (identification tags) on a gold chain around her neck that were similar to the dog tags worn by her father. When her father was sent overseas, where he was stationed during most of World War II, her mother took Lowry and her older sister, Helen, to Pennsylvania to live with her family. During this time in Pennsylvania, Lowry's grandfather showered her with attention and affection, but her step-grandmother merely tolerated her. Because Lowry was a shy, introverted child, she sought companionship and entertainment in the wonderful worlds that existed within the books she found in her grandfather's library. While Lowry's father was overseas, her mother had a baby boy, named Jon, whom Lowry loved having in the house. After the war, Lowry and her family joined her father in Tokyo, Japan, where they lived for two years in an Americanized community.
At the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, Lowry returned to the United States to attend a small, private high school in New York City. She had just turned 17 years old when she graduated from high school in a class of close to fifty students. The caption under her senior picture in the school yearbook reads, "Future Novelist." The following fall, Lowry entered Pembroke College, a branch of Brown University, in Rhode Island, to pursue her childhood dream of becoming a writer. However, she dropped out at the end of her sophomore year to get married at the age of 19. Because her husband, Donald Lowry, was a Naval officer, Lowry resumed a military lifestyle that included traveling and living wherever her husband was stationed. When her husband left the service to attend Harvard Law School, they settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts. After her husband finished law school, the Lowry family, which now included four children, moved to Portland, Maine. Lowry eventually received a bachelor's degree in 1973, at the age of 36, from the University of Southern Maine, and then immediately began work on a master's degree.
While attending graduate school, Lowry established herself as an accomplished freelance journalist. She began writing stories and articles that appeared in publications such as Redbook, Yankee, and Down East, as well as in newspapers. She also edited two textbooks — Black American Literature (1973) and Literature of the American Revolution (1974), both written by J. Weston Walsh — and became a photographer, specializing in photographs of children. In 1978, a collection of her photographs of buildings and houses was published in a book titled Here in Kennebunkport.
Lowry's first novel, A Summer to Die (1977), is about the relationship between two adolescent sisters, Meg and Molly, and the effect that Molly's death, as a result of leukemia, has on the family. Lowry based the relationship between Meg and Molly on her own memories of her relationship with her older sister, Helen, as they were growing up, and on the feelings and emotions that she felt when Helen died at the age of twenty-eight of cancer. Lowry experienced other heartaches as well. Lowry's oldest son, Grey, a fighter pilot in the United States Air Force, was killed in a plane crash in 1995. In addition, Lowry has a daughter who became disabled as a result of a disease involving the central nervous system. Her daughter's disability has reinforced Lowry's belief that people are "connected" despite their physical differences.
In 1977, Lowry and her husband divorced, and Lowry remained in Maine for the next two years, continuing to write. After completing another serious novel, Find a Stranger, Say Goodbye (1978), Lowry moved to Boston. Because she had been writing about serious and sad issues, she decided to write a humorous short story about a 10-year-old girl named Anastasia Krupnik. Anastasia is a gangly girl who wears glasses, has messy blonde hair, and is always getting into mischief. Lowry liked Anastasia and her family so much that the short story became the first chapter of her novel Anastasia Krupnik (1979), the first in a series of novels about Anastasia.
Lowry lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts and spends most weekends at her nineteenth-century farmhouse in New Hampshire. She spends at least five hours writing every single morning, working on more than one project at a time. When she isn't writing, she likes to cook, garden in the summer, and knit in the winter. She enjoys reading memoirs and biographies, taking exotic, adventurous trips, and going to as many movies as possible. She is also an accomplished photographer. The photograph of a young Swedish girl on the cover of the Yearling-Newbery edition of Number the Stars was taken by Lowry.
Lowry's novels cover a variety of topics that range in tone from serious to humorous and share many of the same themes: freedom, friendship, and the interdependency that exists between people. Through her writing, Lowry communicates her hope for human decency to exist in the world.