At this year’s American Library Association annual conference in Las Vegas, librarians lined up to see two-time Newbery Medal winner Lois Lowry in conversation with ALA president Barbara Stripling and actor Jeff Bridges, who stars in the film adaptation of Lowry’s The Giver, which hits theaters August 15. The discussion was part of the ALA President’s Program and Awards Presentation, held on June 29.
Among the highlights of the awards portion of the event was the debut of a new award, the Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity. Daniel Handler, better known by his pseudonym Lemony Snicket, presented the award to Laurence Copel, the founder of the Lower Ninth Ward Street Library in New Orleans. In recognition of her efforts, Copel received $3,000, a certificate “suitable for framing, but not framed,” as Handler quipped, and a donation of 1,000 books from First Book. The real crowd pleaser was the “odd, symbolic object from Handler’s private collection,” a component of the prize that will differ every year. Mo Willems designed this year’s object and emerged from the audience to hand-deliver it to Copel, who appeared delighted at the sight of a plaque containing a caricature of her riding her signature bookmobile bike.
Following the awards, ALA president Stripling welcomed Lowry and Bridges to the stage and opened the discussion with a question about memory, one of the central themes of The Giver. “I’ve always been fascinated by memory and dreams because they are both completely our own,” Lowry said. “No one else has the same memories. No one has the same dreams.”
For Lowry, the experience of memory is strongly associated with photographs. She described looking at a black and white photo from her childhood and recalled how it instantly triggered memories of that time – even the smallest details, such as the color and texture of her socks. Photography also influences Lowry’s work as a writer. “In my writing I focus lenses,” she explained. “I’m almost always seeing when I am writing.” Bridges described a similar experience when he first encountered Lowry’s book 20 years ago. He initially was drawn to the book because the photo on the cover, which was taken by Lowry, reminded him of his father (actor Lloyd Bridges).
In addition to their mutual appreciation for photography, Bridges and Lowry expressed similar sentiments about the role of reading in children’s lives. “Reading is a rehearsal for life,” Lowry said. Bridges expanded on her point, saying, “Both movies and books provide safe places for children to explore real-life experiences. They help to develop compassion in our fellow man.” Even when he is playing the role of the villain, Bridges finds compassion crucial to character development.
Lowry did not write the screenplay for The Giver, though she was a consultant on the film and helped develop the new ending. Bridges said movies made from books are always collaborative. “We sat around the table reading the book,” he said of the start of the project. In addition to the ending, there are other key differences between book and film. Jonas, the novel’s 12-year-old protagonist, is depicted as several years older in the film, and the Chief Elder, portrayed in the movie by Meryl Streep, plays a much larger role on screen than in the book. And the scene in which Jonas bathes an old woman in the House of the Old did not make it into the movie, even though Lowry argued for it – even volunteering to play the part herself, she joked. “If I had known that,” said Bridges, “I would have lobbied for it.”