Grades 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
A Newbery Medal Book
An ALA Notable Children's
An ALA Best Book for Young
about this book
In Jonas's perfect world, everything is under control. There is no war or fear or pain. But when Jonas learns the truth, there is no turning back. In a utopian community where there are no choices--where everyone has his or her place in the world
assigned according to gifts and interests--the time has come for 12-year-old Jonas to become the new Receiver of Memory. He will be the one to bear the collective memories of a society that lives only in the present, where "Sameness " is the rule. But Jonas soon recognizes the losses and discovers the lie that supports his community. He decides he will change his world--but he cannot predict how that change will come about, or what that change will mean for himself and the "newchild" Gabriel,
whom he has resolved to protect.
An Excerpt from The Giver
"Jonas," she said, speaking not to him alone but to the entire community of which he was a part, "you will be trained to be our next Receiver of Memory. We thank you for your childhood."
Then she turned and left the stage, left him there alone, standing and facing the crowd, which began spontaneously the collective murmur of his name.
"Jonas." It was a whisper at first: hushed, barely audible.
Then louder, faster. "JONAS. JONAS. JONAS."
With the chant, Jonas knew, the community was accepting him and his new role, giving him life, the way they had given it to the newchild Caleb. His heart swelled with gratitude and pride.
But at the same time he was filled with fear. He did not know what his selection meant. He did not know what he was to become.
Or what would become of him.
Excerpted from The Giver by Lois Lowry. Copyright 1993 by Lois Lowry. Excerpted with permission from Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
In the Classroom
The Giver is a gripping story that draws the reader into a unique world with disturbingly close echoes of our own. It asks deep and penetrating questions about how we live together in a society.
What must we give up, for example, in order to live in peace? How much should the individual lose of himself or herself for the collective good? Can we ignore and minimize pain in our lives--both physical and emotional--to live happier existences? These ideas, combined with an ending that can be interpreted in two different ways, can lead to a classroom experience that challenges, provokes, and perhaps disturbs.
Have students create a "perfect" community, giving it a name, a system of government, a physical description, and an account of how its people spend their days. Discuss how that community would change and grow. What roles would history and memories of painful events play in the growth of the community? What would have to be added to our own society in order to make it perfect? What would be lost in this quest for perfection?
Family and Relationships (Parental) -- In The Giver, each family has two parents, a son, and a daughter. The relationships are not biological, but are developed through observation and a careful handling of personality. In our own society, the make up of family is under discussion. How are families defined? Are families the foundations of a society, or are they continually open for new definitions?
Diversity -- The Giver pictures a community in which every person and his or her experience is precisely the same. The climate is controlled, and competition has been eliminated in favor of a community in which everyone works only for the common good. What advantages might "Sameness" yield for contemporary communities? In what ways do our differences make us distinctly human? Is the loss of diversity worthwhile?
Euthanasia -- Underneath the placid calm of Jonas's society lies a very orderly and inexorable system of euthanasia, practiced on the very young who do not conform, the elderly, and those whose errors threaten the stability of the community. What are the disadvantages and benefits to a community that accepts such a vision of euthanasia?
Feelings -- Jonas remarks that loving another person must have been a dangerous way to live. Describe the relationship between Jonas and his family, his friends Asher and Fiona, and the Giver. Are any of these relationships dangerous? Perhaps the most dangerous is that between Jonas and the Giver--the one relationship built on love. Why is that relationship dangerous and what does the danger suggest about the nature of love?
History -- Read Elizabeth George Speare's Calico Captive and The Sign of the Beaver. Both deal with Native Americans, but present them in very different manners. Then compare those books to I Am Regina by Sally M. Keehn. What do these three books suggest about the importance of hearing from more than one historical voice?
Language Arts -- The ending of The Giver may be interpreted in two very different ways. Perhaps Jonas is remembering his Christmas memory--one of the most beautiful that the Giver gave to him--as he and Gabriel are freezing to death, falling into a dreamlike coma in the snow. Or perhaps Jonas does hear music and, with his special vision, is able to perceive the warm house where people are waiting to greet him. In her acceptance speech for the Newbery Medal, Lois Lowry mentioned both possibilities, but would not call one correct, the other not. After discussing the role of ambiguity in writing, have students craft short stories that end on an ambiguous note. Discuss some in class, noting the writers' clues for such an ending.
Science -- While throwing an apple back and forth, Jonas suddenly notices that it "changes"; in fact, he is beginning to perceive color. Divide the class into groups and have them research and report on the following subjects: the nature of color and of the spectrum, how the human eye perceives color, what causes color blindness, what causes the body to react to any stimulus. Is it possible to train the human eye so that it does not perceive color?
Philosophy -- A number of utopian communities were established in the U.S., such as the Shakers in the eighteenth century, or Fruitlands, led by Bronson Alcott (father of Louisa May Alcott) in the mid-nineteenth century. Choose one of these communities and list the principles that guided it, as well as the assumptions behind those principles. What generalizations might be made about why such a community may not last?
Sociology -- Choose a group in the U.S. today that actively seeks to maintain an identity outside of the mainstream culture: the Amish or Mennonites, a Native American tribe, the Hasidic Jewish community, or another group. Have students research and report on the answers to questions such as the following: What benefits does this group expect from defining itself as "other"? What are the disadvantages? How does the mainstream culture put pressure on such a group?
Vocabulary/Use of Language
Lois Lowry helps create an alternate world by having the community use words in a very special way. Though that world stresses what it calls "precision of language," in fact it is built upon language that is not precise, but that deliberately clouds meaning. Consider what Jonas's community really means by words such as: released (2), feelings ( 4), animals (5), Nurturer (5), Stirrings ( 37), replacement child (44), and Elsewhere ( 78).
Examine the ways that Jonas's community uses euphemism to distance itself from the reality of what is called "Release." How does our own society use euphemism to distance the realties of death, bodily functions, aging, and political activities? What benefits and disadvantages are there to such a use of language?
Calico Captive by Elizabeth George Speare
The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
A Newbery Honor Book
I Am Regina by Sally M. Keehn
Moon of Two Dark Horses by Sally M. Keehn
0-440-41287-0 To be published September 1997
Teaching Ideas prepared by Gary D. Schmidt, Department of English, Calvin College.
A Newbery Medal Book
An ALA Notable Children's Book
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults A Boston
Globe-Horn Book Award Honor Book
A Booklist Children's Editors' Choice
A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
A Horn Book Fanfare
The Regina Medal
An IRA-CBC Children's Choice
An NCTE Notable Trade Book for the Language Arts
An NCSS-CBC Notable Children's Book in the Field of
* "The simplicity and directness of Lowry's writing force readers to grapple with their own thoughts.. . ."--Starred,
Focus Review / Booklist
* "A richly provocative novel."--Pointer, Kirkus Reviews
* "The final flight for survival is a riveting as it is inevitable. This tightly plotted story and its believable characters will
stay with readers for a long time."--Starred, Publishers Weekly
* "The theme of balancing the values of freedom and security is beautifully presented."--Starred, The Horn Book
* "A powerful and provocative novel."--The New York Times
a message from the author
To listen to this message from Lois Lowry, click here. The file is in RealAudio format and the playing time is 1:36. To
listen to it, you need to download the RealAudio Player, available for free at www.realaudio.com. The transcript of
this message follows.
Kids always ask what inspired me to write a particular book or how did I get an idea for a particular book, and often it's very easy to answer that because books, like the Anastasia books, come from a specific thing, some little event triggers an idea. But a book like The Giver is a much more complicated book and therefore it comes from much more complicated places--and many of them are probably things that I don't even recognize myself anymore, if I ever did. So it's not an easy question to
I will say that the whole concept of memory is one that interests me a great deal. I'm not sure why that is, but I've always been fascinated by the thought of what memory is and what it does and how it works and what we learn from it. And so I think probably that interest of my own and that particular subject was the origin, one of many, of The Giver.
Why does Jonas take what he does on his journey? He doesn't have much time when he sets out. He originally plans to make the trip farther along in time and he plans to prepare for it better. But then because of circumstances, he has to set out in a very hasty fashion. So what he chooses is out of necessity.
He takes food because he needs to survive and he knows that. He takes the bicycle because he needs to hurry and the bike is faster than legs. And he takes the baby because he is going out to create a future. And babies always represent the future in the same way children represent the future to adults. And so Jonas takes the baby so the baby's life will be saved, but he takes the
baby also in order to begin again with a new life.
Many kids want a more specific ending to The Giver. Some write, or ask me when they see me, to spell it out exactly. And I don't do that. And the reason is because The Giver is many things to many different people. People bring to it their own complicated sense of beliefs and hopes and dreams and fears and all of that. So I don't want to put my own feelings into it, my own beliefs, and ruin that for people who create their own endings in their minds.
I will say that I find it an optimistic ending. How could it not be an optimistic ending, a happy ending, when that house is there with its lights on and music is playing? So I'm always kind of surprised and disappointed when some people tell me that they think that the boy and the baby just die. I don't think they die. What form their new life takes is something I like people to figure out for themselves. And each person will give it a different ending.
In answer to the people who ask whether I'm going to write a sequel, they are sometimes disappointed to hear that I don't plan to do that. But in order to write a sequel, I would have to say: this is how it ended. Here they are and here's what's happening next. And that might be the wrong ending for many, many people who chose something different.
Of course there are those who could say I can't write a sequel because they die. That's true if I just said, Well, too bad, sorry, they died there in the snow, therefore that's the end, no more books. But I don't think that. I think they're out there somewhere and I think that their life has changed and their life is happy and I would like to think that's true for the people they left behind as well.