MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Lois Lowry is a writer of young adult fiction and a two-time Newbery Award winner. Her books tackle serious, thought-provoking issues. Her most famous work, "The Giver," chronicles the dark underbelly of our future Ethiopian society.
Here is her pick for our reading series, You Must Read This.
Ms. LOIS LOWRY (Author, "The Giver"): One spring bedtime in 1945, my mother opened a book and began to read aloud to me the first chapter of "The Yearling" by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. I was eight years old.
By eight, I already knew I wanted to be a writer. I had taught myself to type on my father's Royal portable typewriter, and I had read the children's classics of the time — "The Secret Garden," "Little Women." I pictured myself growing up to write about characters like these — smart, independent girls who rise above their circumstances, girls who triumphed.
Then, as my mother read those first few pages of "The Yearling," I saw a blue-gray smoke rising from the chimney of a simple cabin, and watching the smoke drift into the sky was a boy named Jody Baxter. I recognized him right away. He was so like me — skinny, blonde, solitary.
I moved as my mother read the words into the clearing in the farthest swampland where the Baxters lived their hard-scrabble lives. I could hear the insects buzzing and the bubbling sound of the little spring, and I could see the glisten of a dark magnolia leaves and smell the thick pines. It was the first time I had slid so effortlessly into the landscape of a novel.
But I was jolted, too, in the first pages by the bleakness, the desperate poverty, and Jody's grim-defeated mother. These were people who are probably never going to rise, never going to triumph.
Our volume of "The Yearling" contained illustrations, paintings by N.C. Wyeth. One showed the boy, Jody, seated on the floor, leaning against his father's bed as the father fights for life after having been bitten by a rattlesnake. My mother showed me the picture. We gazed at it together for a long time and then she went onto finish the chapter.
The concluding words speaking about the boy are: He was torn with hate for all death and pity for all aloneness. When she read that sentence, my mother began to cry. It was only as an adult looking back on that moment that I realized she had been weeping for herself. Her husband, my father, was in the Pacific then where terrible battles were still being fought during that spring late in the war. My mother must have been as frightened and lonely as the boy in the book.
Jody Baxter didn't triumph. No wealthy uncle, no neighborly benefactor, no pious platitudes at the end. But when I moved into his world, I fit more comfortably there than I ever had in the lush, English gardens of Mary Lennox or the virtuous New England of Jo March.
A writer is often a lonely person. Our worlds are populated by the things we imagine, the things we remember or dream. For me, the voice of childhood is the one I hear most clearly. It comes to me in the cadence and diction of the boy in "The Yearling," a book I return to again and again.
Lois Lowry is a two-time winner of the Newberry award, she's the author of "The Giver." Her most recent work is "The Willoughbys."
You can find more You Must Read these recommendations at our Web site, npr.org/books.
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