This curriculum unit offers tested and proven materials for teaching The Giver to elementary, junior high/middle school and high school students. It is a book we have found compelling, both as readers and as teachers. The author has managed to convey the difficult abstract idea of a utopian/dystopian society that functions well only under the strictest of government controls. With a reading level of 4.5, teenagers will understand it and will leave the novel well prepared to handle more difficult works on the same theme, such as 1984 and Brave New World.
This book is a change of pace for Lois Lowry, better known for her Anastasia Krupnik books. It has no profanity and none of the problematic sex scenes or gratuitous violence of other contemporary novels. It does include a strong portrayal of this society’s “Ceremony of Release” that is observed when a citizen reaches the end of his or her life. Although some may object to it, our students have not found these to be a problem for them, and they accept them as appropriate in the context of the story. We agree with that assessment and hope you and your students will view the book in the same way.
When Lowry was asked how she thought of the idea for The Giver, she said it began as her mother was dying. She “began to think on a subliminal level of the importance for people to pass along their memories to the next generation.1 In addition, she said that as she traveled, all hotel rooms began to look the same, and it was “that sameness about things that I depicted in THE GIVER.2
In one interview, she was asked about the photograph on the cover. She commented, “I took that photograph in 1979 while I was working for a magazine which sent me to interview and photograph this man, a painter [Carl Nelson]. While I wrote about him, we talked about color and form, perspective and composition of painting . . . The painter died some years after I photographed and interviewed him, and during the last 5 years of his life he went blind.3 She liked the strength and compassion evident in Nelson’s picture.
The Giver has received numerous awards, including the 1994 Newbery Medal and the American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults. The preface to the paperback edition calls it a “powerful and provocative novel” (New York Times), says that “its richly plotted story and its believable characters will stay with readers for a long time” (School Library Journal), and states that “the theme of balancing the values of freedom and security is beautifully presented” (Hom Book Magazine).
This brings us to one final comment: this unit is very flexible. We offer approaches based on firsthand experience, but we know that there are many other combinations that will work as well. We believe that all teachers adapt ideas to fit their own teaching styles, and this format, like those in all of our curriculum packets, is easily and successfully modified.