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Top 100 Children’s Novels #4: The Giver by Lois Lowry

#4 The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993)
260 points

The original dystopian. – Jennifer Padgett

My 7th grade teacher, Mrs. Morgan, read this aloud to us. My best friend and I checked a copy out of the library and finished it on a sleepover, sharing a single copy until we finished it because we could not wait. – Jessalynn Gale

It’s likely that Lois Lowry’s 1994 Newbery Medal winner has introduced more readers to dystopian fiction than any other book. Covering themes of mortality and religion, it’s also a regular on the most challenged list. One thing is for sure – you’ll never forgot it. – Travis Jonker

One of the cooler things about getting old is when you meet adults younger than you who, for instance, may have read an amazing book you first read when you were 18 but THEY read at that perfect book age, when they were 10 or 11, and it is for them what YOUR #1 is for you, and it’s like, WHOA. Awesome. I loved it enough when I was 18. – Amy M. Weir

I think I might have an little bit of a Lois Lowry addiction. I had such a strong need to read The Giver while I was abroad in the Middle East that I wept with joy when I happened to find a copy of it in a used bookstore in Damascus. – Dana Chidiac

Blew my little mind. – Miriam Newman

The plot description from the publisher reads, “December is the time of the annual Ceremony at which each twelve-year-old receives a life assignment determined by the Elders. Jonas watches his friend Fiona named Caretaker of the Old and his cheerful pal Asher labeled the Assistant Director of Recreation. But Jonas has been chosen for something special. When his selection leads him to an unnamed man-the man called only the Giver-he begins to sense the dark secrets that underlie the fragile perfection of his world.”

As per usual we turn to good old 100 Best Books for Children by Anita Silvey for the skinny on the creation of this title.  It was her twenty-first novel, you know.  No newbie to the children’s literature biz (as the fans of Anastasia Krupnik will all attest) the book was inspired by both the old and the young.  On the one hand, Lowry was visiting her parents in the nursing home.  Her mother had retained her memory but lost her sight.  Her father could see but was losing her memory.  This became coupled with a comment from Lowry’s grandson while on a Swan Boat ride in the Boston Public Garden.  “He said to her ‘Have you ever noticed that when people think they are manipulating ducks, actually ducks are manipulating people?’ ”  Mrs. Mallard from Make Way for Ducklings would have something to say about that, I think.  Whatever the case, these seemingly disparate thoughts combined in Lowry’s brain giving us the book we have today.

It was a big time hit from the start.  Maybe this was partly due to the fact that it was the first middle grade dystopian novel to get any attention since the early 1980s.  For a while there, folks were convinced that the ending of the book was ambiguous.  Does Jonas live?  Does he die?  In her Newbery speech Ms. Lowry said, “Those of you who hoped that I would stand here tonight and reveal the ‘true’ ending, the ‘right’ interpretation of the ending, will be disappointed. There isn’t one. There’s a right one for each of us, and it depends on our own beliefs, our own hopes.”  Ambiguity sort of went out the window, though, when the sequels Gathering Blue, Messenger and Son (out this fall) came out and Jonas was wandering about.

It gets challenged in libraries and schools on a regular basis, unfortunately.  Indeed I was a little shocked when I read the USA Today headline Suicide book challenged in schools.  Excuse me, whaaa?  Then they go on to misspell the word “Newbery” as “Newberry”.  Real crack journalism there.  Apparently folks are under the impression that the book is “dangerous because of its portrayal of suicide, euthanasia and infanticide in a neutral to positive light.”  Which is to say, they haven’t read the book.

I love the story about the original cover, by the way.  According to Silvey, “A photographer as well as a writer, Lowry had worked on an article about the painter Carl Nelson, who had a wonderful sense of color but became blind in later years.  For this piece she shot a mesmerizing portrait of him.  She kept the photograph in her studio and realized when hunting for a jacket image that it would be perfect for The Giver.”

It won itself a shiny little Newbery Award in 1994.  Honor books in that particular year included Crazy Lady by Jane Leslie Conly, Dragon’s Gate by Laurence Yep, and Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery by Russell Freedman.  It would be Lowry’s second Newbery Award.

A year ago the announcement went out that Jeff Bridges was hell-bent on bringing this book to the screen.  IMDB says it’s slated for 2013.  We shall see what we shall see.

Best first sentence: “It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened.”

Publishers Weekly gave it a star saying, “Lowry is once again in top form… unwinding a tale fit for the most adventurous readers.”

School Library Journal said, “The author makes real abstract concepts, such as the meaning of a life in which there are virtually no choices to be made and no experiences with deep feelings. This tightly plotted story and its believable characters will stay with readers for a long time.”

There are fewer covers out there than most books on this Top Ten, but more than I had expected.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. The original dystopian? Um, no. Not even for kids. And unfortunately for ME, I’d read too much science fiction by that time in my life for its ideas to come up and smack me up the side of the head. I really wish that I’d been able to come to that book at the right age.

  2. The Giver is, and always will be my favorite book of all time. It has been since I first read it at the age of 12. I reread it every single year. And somehow, it was only in reading this page that I discovered that there was going to be a fourth book. I could just about die of happiness.

  3. This entire time I couldn’t remember if I’d voted for this one this time or not. I guess I did. Yay, quotes!

  4. We were just discussing this last week. I said The Giver is the benchmark dystopian novel for juvenile fiction. And you wouldn’t believe the grief I got. Benchmark doesn’t mean the book everyone is currently reading but the book all others are judged by, right?

  5. I love that beneath the jacket of the original hard cover of The Giver it was solid red. It may have been a coincidence, but I don’t think so. Little details like that really make me happy.

  6. Sharon, I’m wouldn’t have given you any grief at all for that statement. People could politely agree or disagree, but that’s an extremely reasonable opinion.

  7. It was challenged by a parent at the school I taught at for the exact reasons you quoted in that article. I was the only committee member who had read it. (The librarian hadn’t even bothered to read in between receiving the challenge and the meeting-don’t even get me started.) It was a loooong meeting that day but finally decided the book would stay in the collection.

  8. This is my first time reading the Giver. I was really suprised how good it was. I really love the fact that it’s different from any book I ever readed. At the first when I began reading the story, I was really confused if jonas was talking about the present or the past. it kept flipfloping. This book, you may have to reread more then once to get what the author is trying to say. But its all worth it in the end.


  1. […] to play Fiona in the Weinstein Company’s adaptation of Lois Lowry’s award-winning classic The Giver (Houghton Mifflin, 1993). Filming began in South Africa in October 2013. Jeff Bridges will take on […]