Reviews for Looking Back : A Book of Memories


Booklist Monthly Selections - #1 November 1998
Gr. 4^-8. This unusual book contains photographs from Lowry's past and her reflections on them. In the introduction, she suggests that the book will answer readers who ask, "How do you get ideas?" Toward that end, every section begins with a quotation from one of Lowry's books that relates in some way to the subject of the photo. Think of yourself sitting down with Lowry and looking through her albums while she stops and points at pictures of herself as a child and a teenager, photos of her parents and siblings and, then, more recent pictures of her children and grandchildren. Each picture evokes a memory that is a paragraph to a couple of pages long. Readers who remember the deftly portrayed family relationships in Lowry's novels will be fascinated by pictures of Lowry, her older sister, and her younger brother, as well as the often amusing tales of their youth. The mood is not always light, though, and few will be unmoved by Lowry's reflections on her son Grey's death in 1995. The only downside to the book is the thought of hundreds of other writers poring over their photo albums in hopes of a similar publication. Only a writer with Lowry's blend of humor, detachment, and storytelling ability could make the form work. And perhaps it will work only for readers who love her novels. Even so, that means a large potential audience. ((Reviewed November 1, 1998)) Copyright 2000 Booklist Reviews

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Horn Book Guide Reviews 1999
Lowry's autobiography has a snapshot quality as it leapfrogs through time, recalling childhood memories as well as experiences from the author's adulthood. Black-and-white photographs, taken at various stages of Lowry's life, are accompanied by a succinct, thoughtful text that often makes subtle connections with her published works. Copyright 1999 Horn Book Guide Reviews

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Horn Book Magazine Reviews 1999 #1
Those who seek biographical information about children's book authors-those who want to know the story of an author's childhood, what the author thinks and believes, and (always) where the author gets his or her ideas-will find bounty in these two memoirs. Although occasionally limited, both are nonetheless fascinating autobiographies that delve into the authors' pasts with the same incisiveness and humanity that distinguish their novels.As indicated by the subtitle, Spinelli's book focuses on his childhood in Norristown, Pennsylvania, from his earliest memory of a World War II air-raid siren through his high school years-an era made memorable by ordinary pleasures such as "twin Popsicles and Bonomo's Turkish taffy, hightop Keds and a plaid cummerbund, Howdy Doody...on TV Tuesday nights, salamanders and snakes and candy cigarettes." There is an everyboy universality to Spinelli's childhood, even as the author's keen powers of observation and recall turn his experiences into a unique personal history. Following a loose chronological order, the narrative is composed of highly-polished vignettes that juxtapose major childhood events-such as winning a grade school race and losing a loved family pet-with quiet reminiscences of exploring the nearby woods and listening to the passing of a nighttime train. What emerges is a self-portrait of a very likable kid: a self-professed "good boy" who secretly appreciates the daring of the class "bad boy," a dedicated athlete, and, unbeknownst to even Jerry himself, a writer-in-the-making. Though a nonreader as a child, Spinelli's youthful daydreaming, active fantasy life, intense awareness, and thoughtful observations were all signs of his eventual career. And astute readers may well have a sense of d ja v when reading Spinelli's story, as they recognize moments from his own life that were later artfully transfigured in his fiction.Perhaps the autobiography's strongest achievement is its depiction of Jerry's continual growth: solitary treks that take him further and further from home; the quiet abandonment of his Sunday school "perfect attendance" pins when he begins attending school dances. Spinelli's writing is honest and immediate throughout, yet there are still moments when one questions the primary audience for the book. Kids will love reading about the day Jerry wears full cowboy regalia to third grade, or his desperate sixth-grade need to get into a fight-any fight. Somewhat older kids will relish the scenes of first love. But only adults can fully appreciate his occasional nostalgic forays. In one of the most beautifully written chap-ters, "Mrs. Seeton's Whistle," Spinelli recalls how one mother's dinnertime whistle drew all the neighborhood children home each evening and fantasizes about a "gray, slow-moving" Mrs. Seeton returning today. As she blows her whistle once again, the now-grown neighbor-hood chil-dren "return from our homes and cemeteries around the world...all of us one more time heading home." The passage is unlikely to provoke the same response from a child as it will from an adult. Still, it's not difficult to imagine that forty years from now some child of the 1990s will recall Spinelli's haunting words, and the long-delayed shiver will kick in. Such is the power of this richly rewarding autobiography.Knots in My Yo-yo String contains a scattered selection of family snapshots that serve as an appealing supplement to the written text. In Lowry's Looking Back, the photographs are central to the volume's format. Reading the slightly-oversized book is much like sitting on a couch and flipping through a family photo album while a favorite aunt sits alongside, identifying the subjects of the pictures, pointing out details you might miss, and providing delightful background stories. Unlike Spinelli's book, this volume provides a broader perspective on an author's life, tracing Lowry's entire lifespan to date and, in fact, going further back in time to provide a look at her mother's early life at the turn of the century. Each of Lowry's memories is highlighted by a clear black-and-white photograph, captioned by date, that reveals much about the author, her feelings, and the people she loves. Perhaps working under the assumption that "a picture is worth a thousand words," Lowry lets the photographs do much of the talking, and her own text is succinct, thoughtful, and very much to the point. The written commentary that accompanies each picture is sometimes as brief as a single paragraph."Stories don't just appear out of nowhere," Lowry states in the book's introduction. They are made from "memories, fragments, falsehood, and fantasies....things that happened, which caused other things to happen, so that eventually stories emerged." Leapfrogging through time, Lowry links not-so-disparate moments in short chapters that are introduced with pointedly appropriate or subtly apt quotations from her own published works. The chapter named "Wet Ones" begins with a qu Copyright 1999 Horn Book Magazine Reviews

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Kirkus Reviews 1998 October #2
A unique format for a memoir Lowry (Stay!, 1997, etc.) offers up quotes from her books, dates, black-and-white photographs, and recollections of each shot, as well as the other memories surrounding it. The technique is charming and often absorbing; readers meet Lowry's grandparents, parents, siblings, children, and grandchildren in a manner that suggests thumbing through a photo album with her. The tone is friendly, intimate, and melancholy, because living comes with sorrow: her sister died of cancer at age 28, and Lowry's son, a pilot, died when his plane crashed. Her overall message is taken from the last words that son, Grey, radioed: ``You're on your own.'' The format of this volume is accessible and it reflects the way events are remembered one idea leading to another, one memory jostling another; unlike conventional autobiographies, however, it will leave readers with unanswered questions: Who was her first husband and father of her children? Why are her surviving children hardly mentioned? Why does it end but for one entry in 1995? It's still an original presentation, one to be appreciated on its own merits. (Memoir. 10-14) Copyright 1998 Kirkus Reviews

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 1998 August #3
Lowry (The Giver; Number the Stars) deftly dances between humorous and heartbreaking with this ingenious memoir. Unlike most autobiographies, this one forgoes a linear chronology in favor of a more inventive thematic organization. Lowry introduces each section with an excerpt from one of her novels, followed by one or more anecdotes each inspired by a photograph of herself or her family. "Reaching Across," for example, features a photo of Lowry and her older sister, Helen, and offers insight into their closely knit relationship; the pair are the models for the exuberant younger and practical elder sisters who appear again and again in Lowry's fiction. Three chapters ("Dogs," "More Dogs" plus "And Dogs One More Time") explain why canines repeatedly show up in her books. In addition to recurring themes, Lowry cites examples of a single, powerful image that becomes a central idea in a novel. In "Bonds," for instance, a quote from The Giver introduces an idyllic picture of Lowry's daughter lying on the back of a horse in the Maine summer sun reading a book. Lowry, the daughter of an itinerant army major, then describes her wish to give her children the things she never had, "a house that was always ours, books that were always there to be read again and again, and pets that followed you home and were allowed to stay." Lowry tenderly relates the recent death of her eldest son Grey in "Sadness," alongside photographs of him with his wife and little girl, and demonstrates how families in fiction and in fact keep their loved ones alive by telling their stories. The unorthodox structure allows Lowry to take creative license to great effect: at critical junctures, she pairs pictures of her mother and herself at the same age and imagines what they might have said to each other at that stage of life. In one such vignette, Lowry recalls that she lost Grey within two years of the age at which her mother lost her daughter Helen (Lowry was 58, her mother was 56) and imagines a conversation between them, and how they might have comforted each other. Lowry unfolds her history in a glorious arc, invisibly threading its parts into a unified whole. Her connection of the everyday details of her life to the larger scope of her work adds a new dimension to her novels and may well encourage readers to speak and write honestly about their own experiences. A compelling and inspirational portrait of the author emerges from these vivid snapshots of life's joyful, sad and surprising moments. All ages. (Oct.) Copyright 1998 Publishers Weekly Reviews

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School Library Journal Reviews 1998 September
Gr 5 Up-Imagine sitting on a sofa with a friend and listening with fascination while she tells you about the pictures in her photo album. That is the feeling one has when browsing through this book of Lowry's family snapshots and reading her lively commentary on them. Readers will chuckle as they hear the tale of the frozen rat she attempted to revive by heating it in the oven and will smile knowingly at the unhappy look on her face when she was forced to wear lederhosen her mother brought home from Europe. The author's voice comes through strongly as she shares both her happiest and saddest times. Though the organization is somewhat chronological, many photos are loosely grouped by topic-"War," "Adolescence," "Opening a Trunk" and so forth-which allows her to make connections between people and events. She introduces each photo, or group, with a quotation from one of her books, making a connection between an event in her life and its fictional counterpart. In The Giver (Houghton, 1993), Lowry writes about the importance of memory, and here, she shows her readers the important role it plays in her own life-how she has used her memories in her work, how they have helped her get through difficult times, and how they enrich and connect us. Much more intimate and personal than many traditional memoirs, this work makes readers feel that Lowry is an old friend.-Barbara Scotto, Michael Driscoll School, Brookline, MA Copyright 1998 School Library Journal Reviews

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VOYA Reviews 1999 April
Reading Lowry's latest is a lot like sitting down with a favorite aunt to leaf through the family photo album. As the subtitle indicates, this is "a book of memories." Photographs of the author, her children, her mother as a child, her pets, houses,and so forth accompany quotations from her books and brief musings about people and experiences in her life. Some of the incidents are funny, some poignant, but all offer insight into the author and her work. As a professional resource, this title has limited usefulness. Though it is a very attractive and appealing volume, it is not at all systematic and leaves out sizable chunks of the subject's life. Readers who want a true autobiography will have towait, but fans will enjoy the warmth and informality of the presentation and be intrigued by glimpses of the inspiration for some of her popular novels. They may even be inspired to sit down with an older relative and hear some of their own familystories, because, as the author states, "Looking back together, telling our stories to one another, we learn how to be on our own."-Kathleen Beck. Copyright 1999 Voya Reviews

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