The Giver

by Lois Lowry

Rationale by Lori S. Livingston

Grade Level and Audience

The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993) according to Alleen Nilsen and Kenneth L. Donelson (1994) discusses such issues as ''intellectual vs. intuitive knowledge, physical and psychological manipulation, euthanasia, family planning and the cost of conformity compared to the costs of divergence" (p. 99). These issues are all explored through the eyes of the twelve-year-old protagonist, Jonas. The main theme of individuality in the face of conformity is an important issue that adolescents are often faced with.

Ilene Cooper suggests (1993) "There's a distinctly appealing comfort in Sameness that kids--especially junior high kids--will recognize" (p. 1506). In an interview, Lois Lowry (Hendershot, 1994), when asked what grade level she envisions The Giver being used at, responded, ''I am hearing from junior high teachers primarily, but not exclusively, and they are telling me that they've never before had a book that promotes discussion in the way this book does" (p. 309).

Judy Freeman (1994) finds The Giver appropriate reading for grades five through eight and states, "This is a powerful novel, winner of the 1994 Newbery Medal, should stimulate invigorating discussions about the concepts of utopia, repression, and conformity'' (p. 67). According to Alleen Nilsen and Kenneth L. Donelson, The Giver is recommended for grades six and up (p. 99).

Plot Summary

Imagine a world where every child is shielded from danger and mischief. It is a world completely absent of pain, poverty, war, disease or discomfort. There is no divorce and no unemployment. The buildings, the people, the weather are all alike. Yet in this world there is no color, no love, no dreams, or choice. This is the world in which twelve-year-old Jonas lives.

He lives with his family--the standard unit comprised of a mother, a father, one boy, and one girl. Each member in this nameless society receives an assignment from the government which is run by a Council of Elders. The Council is responsible for everything from allotting the food to the community to who will bear the children in the society. For example, Jonas's father is a Nurturer at the child care center, and his mother works at the Department of Justice. Community members receive their professional assignments at age twelve. These assignments are given during a ritual known as the ceremony of Twelve. As the book opens, Jonas is experiencing intense anxiety about what assignment he will be given.

At the ceremony, Jonas watches as his peers receive their assignments like Fish Hatcherie Attendant and Birthmother. When Jonas assignment is bestowed upon him, he is shocked and excited to learn that he has been selected for the most prestigious assignment in the community. He is to become the next Receiver of Memory. Jonas is to be instructed in his duties by the previous Receiver of Memory, who has now become the Giver.

Jonas is now charged with the enormous job of maintaining all the memories of the community from snow, colors, grandparents, love, and Christmas to grief, broken bones, horror, and war. When Jonas experiences all these memories he is torn. The pleasant memories urge him to desire the world as it was before the government instituted Sameness. He wants to have parents that love him, not ones who apply to have a son and then only "like" him. Jonas is not sure whether or not the people should be sheltered from these essential characteristics of the human spirit.

As his memory training (in which the Giver transmits the memories through his hand into Jonas's back) progresses, Jonas becomes more and more discontented with his society. For example, one day he encounters some of his friends playing with guns and pretending to fall down and be quiet. Jonas is appalled by this because he knows they are playing war but do not really understand the implications of death. His friends alienate him because he reacts this way and he cannot explain to them what he has learned from the memories. Since he has experienced pleasure, he stops taking the pills that repress sexual desires and feelings. When he discovers that his parents only "like" him because they do not know the feeling of the word "love," Jonas is even angrier at the society for implementing Sameness.

Jonas views a video tape of what is known as "Release." This is a process where deformed or imperfect children and the elderly are removed from the community. On this video, Jonas's father inserts a needle into the forehead of a low birth weight infant. He then deposits it into the trash. Jonas is horrified to learn that ''Release" is murder. This is the policy of the society to "release" anyone who is imperfect or ailing. He then is fearful for the baby, Gabriel, that his family has been given to nurture because its behavior was not developing properly at the child care center. In order to save Gabriel's life, Jonas realizes he must take him and leave the community. Jonas also decides that something within the community must be changed.

The Giver explains that if Jonas leaves the community that all the memories that he has received will return to the community. This had happened ten years before with another Receiver (the Giver's daughter, Rosemary) who asked to be Released because she could not deal with the memories she was receiving. After this incident, the community was thrown into chaos because they did not know how to deal with the emotions the memories evoked. This time, however, the Giver will stay behind to help the people deal with the memories.

Jonas and Gabriel depart for Elsewhere, a place where there is difference. The journey is extremely difficult. They endure pain, fear, dehydration, and starvation. As the book concludes, Gabriel and Jonas hear the music of Elsewhere, but it is ambiguous whether or not the sweet music is that of death or actually the music of Elsewhere.

Theoretical Support and Redeeming Values

The Giver contains many inherent social issues which cause Jonas's moral character to develop. According to Kohlberg (1969), The Giver deals with three stages of moral development. The three stages are: stage four, law and order, ''blind obedience to authority"; stage five, social contract, "what is best for society"; and stage six, "let your conscience be your guide." Stage four is the most prominent stage the book deals with. All the characters, including Jonas and the Giver, exhibit blind obedience to authority. The entire community does not question the government on its practices. For example, Jonas's mother and father do not ask why they cannot have more than just two children; they simply accept it as a law. The Giver, even though he has had the privilege of experiencing memories of pleasure and pain, does not object to what the government has done to the society. He does not object to Sameness because he has been trained to follow its rules. It is not until he meets Jonas, who feels that people should have the right to choose what to feel and not be told what to feel by a Council of Elders, that the Giver begins to question if the ways of the society are truly what is best for it.

Jonas and the Giver (after his conversations with Jonas about the right to choose) both move into Kohlberg's stage five of moral development: what is best for society. Jonas comes to this stage very slowly. As he receives the memories, he is still uncertain whether or not Sameness is the best choice for his people. He is concerned that if people were allowed to choose things like color, their jobs or even their mate that they might make the wrong choices. As Jonas says, "I can't imagine it. We really have to protect people from wrong choices" (Lowry, p. 98).

He continues to follow authority because it protects people from making wrong choices. As the memories increased, however, Jonas wonders how his people can be satisfied with their lives without experiencing the memories of which he and the Giver have the privilege. Jonas and the Giver come to the conclusion that what is best for society is not Sameness. Even though they know returning the memories of the community will be difficult for them, and may even cost Jonas his life, it is what is best for society. Freedom of choice must be returned at whatever the cost.

Kohlberg's (1969) level six emerges toward the conclusion of the book. Both the Giver and Jonas develop a set of ethical principles that guide their subsequent actions. This change to level six begins when Jonas views the Release tape. He watches in horror as his father executes an infant through lethal injection. When Jonas learns that this is what happens with the elderly as well, he develops his own ethical principles where euthanasia is unacceptable. The Giver watches Jonas' reaction to the tape and knows it is time to let his conscience (which holds the guilt of his daughter Rosemary's death by Release) be his guide. When Jonas leaves the community with Gabriel and returns the memories to the community, he is risking pain, starvation, exposure, and possibly death to do what his conscience knows is the moral and ethical thing to do.

In addition to Kohlberg's theory on moral development, The Giver demonstrates several aspects of Havighurst's (1972) developmental tasks. '"Achieving emotional independence from parents and other adults" is one task that Havighurst cites. Jonas exhibits this several times. For example, he achieves emotional independence from his parents when he realizes that his memories make him different from them. They allow him to think and act independently of their control. He also becomes emotionally independent from his community. At the conclusion of the book he no longer relies upon them to make decisions for him. He is making them for himself. In regard to this task, Havighurst also states that "In adolescence, the young person begins to define his life goals realistically. He has a growing perception of the total community and perhaps attempts to become integrated independently of his own family" (p. 140). Jonas struggles with his conscience to realize that the people he has looked up to all his life, like the Council of Elders, and his parents' principles no longer correspond to his.

Another of Havighurst's (1972) developmental tasks that Lowry's book portrays is "developing a personal ideology and ethical standards." This task is very similar to stage six of Kohlberg's moral development. Jonas and the Giver have both developed ethical standards. Neither feels that the community should be Protected from choice anymore. The Giver exhibits his ethical standards by staying behind to help the community deal with the burden of the returning memories, despite the consequences and the difficulties. He does this because he is a man who adheres to his ethical and moral beliefs.

Havighurst states, "The crowning accomplishment of adolescence is the achievement of a mature set of values and a set of ethical controls that characterize a good man and a good citizen" (p. 142). At the conclusion of the book Jonas has developed this mature set of values for himself. He values human life above all else, but he also values love, freedom and choice. He makes the ultimate sacrifice as a good citizen because he places the lives and well-being of the community above his own life. He has developed a set of ethical controls that allow him to decide about what is good and bad in the world.

In conjunction with Havighurst's developmental tasks there is also Christensen's (1988) theory on attitudes and values. One of the essential points that Christensen defines in his work is "being obedient to the law, except where religious convictions or deeply held moral principles forbid. Any disobedience should be non-violent." This is demonstrated throughout The Giver. Jonas is obedient to authority until he realized it violates the basic ethical principles which he believes to be true about the human condition. When he does rebel against the community by returning the memories to it, the action is definitely passive and non-violent.

Jonas demonstrates another point from Christensen when he leaves the safeness and comfort of the community to endure pain and risk on his trip to Elsewhere so that the community and Gabriel can be saved. Christensen's definition of this is "acknowledging the importance of self-discipline, defined as the strength to do what we believe we should do, even when would rather not do it." Jonas also demonstrates this when he receives the painful memories of war, sunburn, and broken bones. He would rather feel only the pleasant memories of sunshine and snow. Jonas knows, however, that he must endure this pain to protect the memories of the society even though he does not want to.

A significant point in Christensen's philosophy is "developing the courage to resist group (or individual) pressures to do what we believe, when alone, that we should not do." This point is illustrated numerous times throughout The Giver. Jonas has the courage to stand up for what he believes in despite the fact that his friends, his family, and his superiors pressure him to conform to the laws of Sameness. Jonas resists the temptation to live a life free from pain, divorce, lies, war, starvation and illness because he knows that the price of living in this community is losing one's individuality.

Rosenblatt (1983) states, ''Although no one code should be taught dogmatically, the need for the individual to work out his own principle and his own hierarchy of values is imperative" (p. 131). The Giver emphasizes this concept. Jonas takes into account his society's principles and his own principles to create a hierarchy of values with human life, emotion, and choice above the comfort and security of his conformist society. Through his experiences with the memories and the viewing of the Release tape, Jonas begins to develop his hierarchy where his ethical principles rate above the laws of his society.

"If the individual understands the important molding influences in his own past and in the history of mankind, if he becomes aware of alternative social patterns or of alternative types of happiness, he will be better able to make choices to dominate and if necessary, to remold his environment. Thus he will be in a position to exercise his 'will' and to consciously influence his own future and of the society about him'' (Rosenblatt, p. 156). This is the basic premise of The Giver. Jonas experiences the important emotions of pain and love that his people cannot. With this knowledge and the knowledge that there are alternative patterns of life where people make their own decisions, Jonas is able to remold his environment. He does this by returning their memories to them.

In The Giver, students will be able to see how Jonas evolves into a person who makes decisions for himself. As Rosenblatt states, "Because the literary experiences tend to involve both the intellect and the emotions in a manner that parallels life itself, the insights attained through literature may be assimilated into the matrix of attitudes and ideas which constitute character and govern behavior" (p 274).

Rosenblatt states, "Discussion of literary experiences makes possible the struggle to clarify emotion and make it the basis of intelligent and informed thinking" (p. 238). Students are encouraged to think critically about emotional issues that arise in The Giver. According to Carlsen (1974) readers of the recommended reading age (middle school) for The Giver are just beginning to develop critical thinking skills. The discussion of The Giver fosters this development.

Erikson (1968) deals with several of the attributes of adolescence in conflict. "The adolescent looks most fervently for men and ideas to have faith in, which also means men and ideas in whose service it would seem worth while to prove oneself trustworthy" (p. 129). Jonas first looks to his society for these ideas to place his faith in when he first becomes the Receiver of Memories. As the novel progresses, Jonas looks to the ideals that he has developed to put his faith in.

"To a considerable extent adolescent love is an attempt to arrive at a definition of one's identity by projecting one's diffused self-image on another and by seeing it thus reflected and gradually clarified" (p. 132). Jonas exhibits this attribute of adolescence in his love for Gabriel. In his love and devotion for Gabriel, Jonas is able to develop an understanding of himself and the value of human life. This provides a good role model for adolescents who have the potential to place love on a negative source. The love that Jonas has for Gabriel is pure and positive.

The Giver has many redeeming values because it offers students an information base on several significant social issues that will help educate students about issues that impact their lives. The Giver provides numerous examples of situations where Jonas encounters euthanasia. J.P. Moreland and Norman L. Geisler (1990) write, ''Active euthanasia weakens respect for human life. The intentional killing of an innocent human life is simply wrong. It is wrong because human life is sacred and human beings have intrinsic value as ends in themselves by virtue of their membership in the natural kind 'human being'" (p. 78). This is one opinion on the debate surrounding euthanasia.

Students will begin to realize that there is more than one side to this debate. Moreland and Geisler also state, "It is cruel and inhumane to refuse the plea of a terminally ill person that his or her life be mercifully ended in order to avoid unnecessary suffering'' (p.70). Euthanasia is a complex issue with many opposing viewpoints that students must discuss in order to be educated about it.

"The rise of advanced medical technologies, especially life-sustaining ones, has brought to center stage the values and moral issues involved in euthanasia" (p. 63). Jonas's society presents a situation where the elderly, once they begin to ail, are participants in a type of forced euthanasia. While our society does not compel this it does possess the medical capabilities to make this possible. The Giver will help educate students about the controversy of medical ethics.

In an article for Newsweek, David Kaplan (1996), writes, "Two influential federal appeals courts, using different legal theories, have dramatically expanded the ability of terminally ill patients to kill themselves and immunized the physicians who help them's (p. 62). Kaplan is referring to the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan which ruled that the New York state's manslaughter stature could not be used to prosecute doctors who aid in the death of terminally ill patients and the case of the Ninth Circuit appeals court in San Francisco which found that assisted suicide was protected by the 14th Amendment which guarantees liberty. Currently, thirty-two states prohibit assisted suicide but, according to Kaplan, these two court rulings have "set the stage for a Supreme Court battle" where legalization of assisted suicide may become a reality. With this much controversy surrounding the issue, it is necessary for students to understand both sides of the debate so that they can make educated decisions about it. There is no cure in sight for chronic and painful diseases like AIDS and cancer; with the possibility that euthanasia may become legalized, it is likely students will encounter this dilemma in the future.

The Giver not only discusses the controversial issue of euthanasia but considers the topic of abortion and family planning as well. In the case of Planned Parenthood vs. Casey (cited in Harrison and Gilbert, 1993), the court stated that "Some of us as individuals find abortion offensive to our most basic principles of morality, but that cannot control our decision. Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code" (p. l). The Giver provides students with the opportunity to discuss abortion as it has been defined by United States law. Students have a right to know the type of laws that have been implemented concerning their bodies.

Miriam Claire (1995) states, ''The estimated 50 to 60 million women worldwide who have abortions each year are not experts on abortion, morality, law, or politics. Neither are their partners, but somehow they have to make the choice" (p. xiii). By discussing the issue of abortion as it occurs in The Giver, students will have the benefit of being informed about the issue so that if they do have to make a decision, it will not be one formed out of ignorance.

James C. Mohr (1978) writes, "twenty-one percent of females 13-19 will undergo abortion" (p. 23). These statistics reflect the age population that will be reading The Giver. Young adults who are in this age range need to know their options. The Giver creates an excellent medium for the discussion of this issue.

Patricia King and Melinda Beck (1996) state, "Some abortion foes think compassion will win more converts to their side'' and "A few activists on the abortion-rights side are arguing for a radical shift in rhetoric as well" (p. 61). With this debate heating up and each side approaching the issue in new ways, students will need to discuss the changes in the debate and how it will effect them.

Literary Qualities and Summary of Reviews

Lesesne, Buckman, and Chance (1994) are emphatic about the importance of Lowry's book: ''Newbery award-winning author Lowry has entered into the ranks of Asimov, Bradbury, and a few other hallowed writers of science fiction with her latest book for Ya [young adult] readers...Few other works of science fiction have explored a world of the future akin to the one created by Lowry. This philosophical treatise begs reading aloud to readers of all ages. It is a work deserving of close scrutiny by those who decide on awards for children's books" (p. 439).

Nancy Johnson (1994) comments on the lasting impact of The Giver. "Every once in a while, a book comes along that, once finished, remains with you a long, long time. The Giver is just such a novel...The Giver is hard to put down, begs to be discussed, and lingers long after the last page has been turned'' (p. 461).

Parents Magazine (1993, December) in its "Best kids' books of '93" section gives The Giver a place in the canon of great literature. "Akin to 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, The Giver deserves its place among the classics of literature of resistance for the young" (p. 194).

Walter H. Lorraine (1994) comments enthusiastically upon Lois Lowry as an author and her work, The Giver. "In an age of conformity Lois is a unique and important voice. She is an author who truly has something to say and is willing to risk saying it. Which is Lois's best book? Certainly The Giver is an exceptional book" (p. 426).

The Reading Teacher (1994, October) calls The Giver, "An outstanding read-aloud and discussion generator'' (p. 158).

Patty Campbell (1994) praises the book as a unique addition to the science fiction genre. " Sure, The Giver by Lois Lowry won the Newbery. But it was My Book of the Year long before the committee had made their hotel reservations for ALA Midwinter. Here is a novel that transcends the young adult genre, a dystopia worth of taking its place next to modern classics like A Handmaid's Tale, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and Brave New World" (p. 32).

In her review of The Giver, Karen Ray (1993) writes, ''Even children who've never heard the word 'allegory' could be swept up in the story of young Jonas...The Giver, a powerful and provocative novel, is sure to keep older children reading. And thinking'' (p. 26).

Amy Kellerman (1993), School Library Journal, discusses Lowry's literary style and her characters, "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" (p 124).

The Reading Teacher's (1994, November) section on ''Teachers' choices for 1994" finds The Giver a valuable and beneficial classroom resource. Unsettling yet unforgettable questions are raised in this novel. Mature readers must ponder choices between freedom and sameness, the consequences of our choices, and our vision of what makes a perfect society. The ideas in this book challenge the thinking of both children and teachers as they explore critical questions together. If one of literature's purposes is to better understand our beliefs and values, this novel delivers'' (p. 245).

Objectives, Teaching Methods, and Assignments

Suggested Teaching Objectives

Students will...

  1. Understand the benefits of freedom and choice.
  2. Become aware of the positive and negative aspects of a utopian society.
  3. Be able to understand why The Giver may be banned.
  4. Acquire a stronger appreciation for the value of a person's individual characteristics.
  5. Develop a new appreciation for the things that are normally taken for granted in life: love, choice, sunshine, grandparents, snow, etc.
  6. Be able to identify with a character (Jonas) and understand one does not always have to follow the majority opinion.
  7. Be able to understand how a person can develop a set of ethical principles and adhere to them even in the face of adversity.
  8. Be able to exhibit an informed opinion on several important social issues such as: euthanasia, family planning, utopian societies, religion and freedom.
  9. Learn that problems can be solved non-violently.
  10. Develop a better appreciation for history and the value of memories.
  11. Become aware that often it is necessary to put the needs of others (Jonas's society) above the needs of the self.
  12. Become aware of the psychological effects of euthanasia and abortion.
  13. Become aware of the possible consequences of conformity.

Suggested Teaching Activities

  1. Have students conduct a debate match over the positive and negative aspects of a utopian society like Jonas'.
  2. Have students role play the ceremony of Twelve or any scene from the book.
  3. Have students bring in current literature such as magazines or newspapers which discuss major issues within the book. (i.e. euthanasia, abortion, homicide, freedom, etc.)
  4. Have students present a case to the class on whether or not they felt Gabriel and Jonas survived at the end of the novel.
  5. Have students rewrite the ending of the novel.
  6. Have students write a letter to Jonas or the Giver telling them what they think of their actions.
  7. Have students read The Giver in literature circles using role sheets and reading logs. Then have students give a presentation on the book. Examples: posters advertising the book, act out a scene, Siskel and Ebert book review session, news broadcast depicting story events, or design a new book cover.
  8. Have students write diary entries imagining they are Jonas as he experiences the different memories.
  9. Have students develop a board game based on the experiences in The Giver.
  10. Have student sketch with colored pencils or oil pastels a significant event or character in the book. Have students discuss and interpret the drawings.
  11. Have students discuss the differences and similarities between Jonas's society and the society in which they live.
  12. Have students create poetry from significant excerpts within the book and present them to the class.

Possible Essay Questions

  1. What do you think would have happened to Jonas if he had been caught and forced to return to the community?
  2. How do you feel about Jonas? Did your opinion of him change throughout the book? Cite specific instances from the novel to support your opinion.
  3. Do you think Gabriel and Jonas reached Elsewhere at the conclusion of the novel? Why or why not?
  4. Describe the positive and negative aspects of a utopian society like Jonas 's.
  5. What are the benefits of Sameness? What are the benefits of freedom and choice?
  6. Do you think it is important to preserve feelings of pain, illness, and war? Support your answer with specific evidence from the novel.
  7. What do you think was the ultimate conflict in the book? How was it resolved? Are there other ways the conflict could have been solved?
  8. Do you think Jonas was justified in returning the memories to the community? Why or why not?
  9. What changes did you see in Jonas's moral character as the novel progressed?
  10. What have you learned abut the issues of freedom and choice as a result of the novel?
  11. Describe the major events that prompted Jonas to leave the community.

Possible Objections

There are numerous reasons that a book may be challenged for censorship. According to "Appendix A: Common targets of censorship from The Schoolbook Protest Movement: 40 Questions and answers (Jenkinson, 1986, pp. 70-71), The Giver contains several targets for censorship. Here is a list of reasons it could be censored:

Why The Giver Should Not Be Banned

No child should be shielded from mischief and danger, either physical or moral, in the library or out of it. Such protection leaves them incapable of resistance when they are exposed to it as they finally must be, to the mischief and danger of the world.
			-George Bernard Shaw 
The Giver, while it contains many controversial issues, allows students to experience moral dilemmas and extrapolate their own conclusions about them. It provides students with the opportunity to face danger and mischief in a contrived setting so that when they encounter issues like conformity and freedom they will be able to properly respond to them. In The Students' Right to Read (1989), the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) writes, "Students and parents have the right to demand that education today keep students in touch with the reality of the world outside the classroom'' (p. 6). The Giver with its discussion of significant social issues definitely keeps students in touch with the outside world.

If students were to avoid all books that deal with issues that are present within The Giver, students' view of life would not be an accurate one. The Giver teaches students to deal effectively with the issues of freedom and conformity. It conveys to them the dangers of wishing for a perfect world. Without The Giver students would not learn about these issues in such an educated manner. "Censorship leaves students with an inadequate and distorted picture of the ideals, values, and problems of their culture" (p. 7). The Giver helps to clarify the picture of these ideals, values, and problems.

''In many ways, education is an effort to improve the quality of choices open to all students. But to deny the freedom of choice in fear that it may be unwisely used is to destroy the freedom itself" (p. 5). Students need to have the opportunity to choose to read books like The Giver because the more educated students are, the better prepared they are to enjoy their environment and deal with problems in it. Teachers can educate these students as long as the right to read exists, but take this right away and America's youth will suffer a grave loss.

Margaret T. Sacco (1995) states, ''However, the new realism genre relates better to the everyday life, problems, and experiences of adolescents, better than classics" (p. 64). The Giver is part of this new realism genre. It demonstrates the problems of things like peer pressure that middle-school age children (whom the book is recommended for) are likely to be dealing with. The Giver is in touch with current social problems like euthanasia and abortion that young adults will eventually be dealing with.

"Exposure to ideas does not compel belief, ruled the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in affirming the right of the Hawkins County, Tennessee schools to assign students reading texts" (National Coalition Against Censorship, 1987, p. 1). While The Giver exposes readers to controversial social issues, it does not force the reader to follow the beliefs of the protagonist. It provides an excellent means for discussion of these social issues but allows students to determine what aspects of the literature are applicable to their lives. If The Giver is banned then students will lose the valuable right to form their own opinion.

Rosenblatt states, "If the student's structure of attitudes and ideas is built on too narrow a base of experience, he should be helped to gain broader and deeper insight through literature itself" (p. 107). Students do not receive a full education if the literature they read is focused on a few select genres such as historical fiction or suspense. The science fiction genre in which The Giver is written serves to broaden the student's base of experience through interaction with the complications of an idealistic society.

"Students need to learn to evaluate what he believes to be 'normal' in relation to a wide range of attitudes and values," writes Rosenblatt (p. 152). The Giver provides students with opportunity to develop a varied background of attitudes and values. Students should not be limited to the attitudes and values set forth by a few select, approved books. Students have the right to read about these values, be educated on them by teachers, and then determine for themselves what is normal and acceptable.

The content of The Giver presents a valid argument as to why it should not be banned. The community in The Giver did not have access to books or anything that allowed them to think critically or independently. Jonas and the Giver were the only two with access to knowledge. Because the people were ignorant of the knowledge in books, they blindly obeyed the laws of Sameness which robbed them of their most fundamental human right--the right to choose. By banning books like The Giver, we send the message to young people that ignorance is acceptable. ''Removing a book from a school library because a passage in it offends members of the community increases in some measure the probability that the student will see suppression as an acceptable way of responding to controversial ideas" (National School Board Association, 1989).

By taking away the students' right to read The Giver, the students' First Amendment rights are violated. In the court case of Tinker vs. Des Moines (Moshman, 1995), students do not "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate." According to Moshman, students have a right to protection against unconstitutional efforts to limit their ultimate intellectual and political freedom as adults by indoctrinating them as children" (p. 31). This means students have just as much right to express intellectual freedom by reading The Giver as do adults.

Teaching books like The Giver and educating students about the issues within them is our responsibility to young adults. As Ken Donelson (1985) states, "If we do not come to the aid of books in trouble--and it seems there will never be a time when a would-be censor is not eager to remove some offensive or controversial book--then we can no longer think of ourselves as professionals whose duty it is to serve literature and students" (p. 98).

Lois Lowry is an award-winning author whose achievements have been recognized repeatedly. She is the recipient of two Newbery Medals for best fiction for her books The Giver (1994) and Number the Stars (1990). Out of the twenty book reviews that were used for this rationale nineteen of the twenty were extremely positive about Lowry's book. The Giver has also been named:

Another reason The Giver should not be banned is it meets the NCTE's guidelines for selection of a notable children's book. Here are the criteria which The Giver fulfilled:

  1. Deals explicitly with language, such as plays on words, word origins, or the history of language
  2. Demonstrates uniqueness in the use of language or style
  3. Invites child response or participation
  4. (a) Is appealing in format; (b) Is of enduring quality; (c) Meets generally accepted criteria of quality for the genre in which it is written.

Barbara Feldstein (1995) states, "Young people often see things simplistically--issues are reduced to black and white. As we get older, and perhaps wiser, we become aware of various interpretations. This does not mean to imply that difficult decisions should be avoided, but rather all aspects of an argument should be respectfully considered before the decision is reached" (p. 152). Jonas at first sees his community in terms of black and white. His government is right and anyone violating it--for any reason--is wrong. This parallels what many young adults encounter when growing up. They fall in with the crowd whether it be a social clique or gang--even if it violates the principles, because it is easier to follow the crowd than to stand as an individual. Jonas's actions in The Giver provide the student with a non-conformist view of individuality that can aid students in difficult decisions.

Brant and Katel (1996) call the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, "the most devastating act of domestic terrorism in American history" (p. 47). Thomas et al. (1996) states that the unabomber was responsible for "sixteen bombing in 17 years; 23 wounded and maimed, three people dead'' (p. 36). Norland (1996) writes, "for four years the world has heard about war crimes in Bosnia, and investigators are now probing the mass graves of Muslim victims" (p. 53). These are some of the numerous examples in our society of people dealing with conflict violently. The Giver provides the students with a substantial example of a non-violent way to deal with conflict. Jonas's actions are a positive role model. In such a violent world students need to see non-violence as an option.

George Braziller (cited in NCTE and International Reading Association [IRA]) who published a book that was being censored wrote, "I would ask you to reconsider your decision for the sake of your students, the ideals of education and knowledge, and also the freedom of speech and thought. We shall not be protecting our youth if we swathe them in ignorance, nor shall we earn or deserve their respect, if we cannot place enough trust and faith in them to reason and respond on their own behalves." Students have the right to read about, discuss, and draw their own opinions from the issues in books like The Giver. To ignore this right is to violate this right and makes our society no better than the regimented dystopia of The Giver.

Harrison E. Salisbury's lecture (cited in NCTE and IRA) provides an excellent summation about why The Giver and books in general should not be banned, "The an exquisite example of human genius. Where it flourishes, man flourishes. Where it withers, humanity withers. The book is strong . It can endure for a thousand years and more, but there exist those who would put out its eyes, blacken its words, reduce it to a gray heap of ashes, lock it in chains, and let generations live and die in darkness." We must let The Giver illuminate our students.

Alternative Books

The Giver deals with a number of issues including abortion, euthanasia (suicide), individuality, and responsibility. There are many other young adult novels that deal with the social issues mentioned above. The following list, however, only includes some books which discuss these issues as well as other alternative books in the science fiction genre.

Individuality and Responsibility

Cormier, Robert.(1974). The Chocolate War. Jerry is faced with standing up to a group known as the Vigils who rule his school. He is forced to make some complicated decisions when he refuses to sell chocolate for the Vigils.

Scoppetone, Sandra. (1974). Trying Hard Not to Hear. Camilla learns that growing up sometimes means dealing with issues that are not always pleasant and involves discovering her own values as she begins to understand others.

Stirling, Nora.(1969). You Would If You Loved Me. This book deals primarily with the difficult issues of teenagers--especially indecision, responsibility and following the crowd.

Johnson, Scott.(1992). One of the Boys. Marty Benbow's boys run the school which Eric attends. Eric likes being a member of the group but has to make a decision about going against the group when their jokes turn cruel.

Guy, Rosa. (1992). Billy the Great. A teenager, Billy, attempts to make his own choices when his parents have mapped out his life for him.

Danzinger, Paula. (1979). Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice? Lauren learns about being her own person amongst the confusion she encounters at home and at school.

Science Fiction

Westall, Robert. (1983). Futuretrack 5. Kitson and his friend seek to find answers to some pressing questions from their highly regimented society where nothing is questioned.

Macdonald, Caroline. (1989). The Lake at the End of the World.The year is 2025. One family, after experiencing world-wide devastation, comes into contact with a teenaged boy from a mysterious hidden society.

Huxley, Aldous. (1946). A Brave New World. Science and technology take over every aspect of human life.

Bradbury, Ray. (1953). Farenheit 451. A futuristic society where censorship is the controlling force and reading books becomes a criminal offense.


Peck, Richard. (1985). Remembering the Good Times. Three friends Trav, Kate, and Buck are the inseparable their freshman year in high school. Their friendship may not be enough to save Trav, however.

Crutcher, Chris. (1989). Chinese Handcuffs. Eighteen year-old Dillon struggles to deal with the psychological effects of his brother's violent suicide.

Miklowitz, Gloria. (1983). Close to the Edge. A young girl is dissatisfied with herself and her family life and ponders suicide; but when she meets several elderly Jewish ladies she learns about the value of human life.

Cleaver, Vera and Bill. (1970). Grover. Grover's mother is dying of a crippling cancer. She cannot endure the pain any longer and kills herself. His father, stricken with grief, cannot help him but his friends help him to cope with the loss and the way it occurred.

Johnson, A.E. (1980). A Blues I Can Whistle. A special friend helps a boy deal with the death of his parent while the boy is considering taking his life too.


Laing, Frederick.(1968). The Bride Wore Braids. A teenage couple runs away to get married and discover that is not exactly what they had bargained for. They married because of a pregnancy which ends in a spontaneous abortion.

Head, Ann (1967). Mr. and Mrs. BoJo Jones. A young couple are forced into real life when they have to deal with the pregnancy that creates the marriage. Abortion is discussed but not carried out because the mother has a miscarriage.

Dizeno, Pat. (1970). Phoebe. Phoebe, who is only sixteen years old, is faced with numerous options and difficult decisions when she learns she is pregnant. This is recommended for more mature readers.

Powers, Bill. (1978). A Test of Love. A young girl is forced to make decisions about her pregnancy options. A good novel about young adults doing what is best for them.


Beck, M., King, P. (1996). Persuasion not blame. Newsweek. p.61.

Best kids books of '93--The Giver by Lois Lowry. (1993). Parents, 68, 194.

Brant, M., & Katel, P. (1996 April 22). The orphans of Oklahoma City. Newsweek. pp.41-47.

Bradbury, R. (1953). Farenheit 451. New York:Ballantine.

Brown, J.E. (1994). Preserving intellectual freedom:Fighting censorship in our schools. Urbana, Illinois:National Council of Teachers of English.

Books for the teenage reader. (1994). [Review of The Giver]. English Journal, 83, 80.

Buckman, L., Chance, R., & Lesesne, T. (1994).[Review of The Giver]. Jounal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 37, 439.

Campbell, P. (1994). [Review of The Giver]. The Wilson Library Bulletin, 69, 32.

Carlsen, G.R. (1974). Literature IS. English Journal, 63, 23-27.

Censorship: Managing the controversy. Alexandria Virginia: National School Boards Association.

Christensen, R. (1988). Values and attitudes to be fostered by the Public schools. Unpublished manuscript, Miami University, Department of Political Science, Oxford, Ohio.

Claire, M. (1995). The abortion dilemma. New York: Plenum Publishing Corporation.

Cleaver, Vera and Bill. (1970). Grover. New York: Lippincott. G

Common Ground. Urbana, Illinois: National Council of Teachers of English and International Reading Association.

Cormier, R. (1974). The chocolate war. New York: Bantam Doubleday.

Cooper, I. (1993). [Review of The Giver]. Booklist, 89, 1506.

Crutcher, C. (1989). Chinese handcuffs. New York: Greenwillow Press.

Danzinger, P. (1979). Can you sue your parents for malpractice? New York: Delacorte Press.

Dizeno, P. (1970). Phoebe. New York: Mcgraw-Hill.

Donelson, K. (1985). Almost 13 years of book protests. School Library Journal, 92, March, 93-98.

Donelson, K.L. (1982). The students' right to read. Urbana, Illinois: National Council of Teachers of English.

Donelson, K.L., & Nilsen, A. (1994). [Review of The Giver]. English Journal, 83, 99.

Erickson, E. (1968). Identity: Youth and crisis. New York: W.W.

Flowers, A. (1993). [Review of The Giver]. Horn Book, 69, 458.

Freeman, J. (1994). [Review of The Giver] Instructor, 103, 67.

Geisler, N.L., & Moreland, J.P. (1990). The life and death debate: Moral issues of our time. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing.

Gilbert, S., & Harrison, M. (Eds.). (1993). Abortion decisions: the 1990's. Beverly Hills, California: Excellent Books.

Guy, R. (1992). Billy the Great. New York: Delacorte Press.

Havighurst, R.J. (1953). Human development and education. New York: Longman's Green.

Head, A. (1967). Mr. and Mrs. Bojo Jones. New York: Four Winds.

Hendershot, J. (1995). An interview with Lois Lowry, 1994 Newbery Medal winner. The Reading Teacher, 48, 308-309.

Houghton Mifflin. (1993). [Review of The Giver]. Book Review Digest. p.1277.

Huxley, A. (1946). A brave new world. New York: Harper LB.

Jenkinson, E. (1986). The schoolbook protest movements: 40 questions and answers Kappa Educational Foundation.

Johnson, A.E. (1969). A blues I can whistle. New York: Four Winds.

Johnson, N. (1994). [Review of The Giver]. Language Arts, 71, 158.

Johnson, S. (1992). One of the boys. New York: Athenum.

Katz, L. (1987). Censorship News. New York: National Coalition Against Censorship.

Kellerman, A. (1993). [Review of The Giver]. School Library Journal. 39, 124.

Kohlberg, L. (1969). Stages in the development of moral thoughts and actions. New York: Holt, Rhinehart, Winston.

Laing, F. (1968). The bride wore braids. New York: Four Winds.

Lorraine, W. (1994). Lois Lowry. Horn Book. 70, 423-426.

Lowry, Lois. (1993). The Giver. New York: Bantam Doubleday.

Macdonald, C. (1985). The lake at the end of the world. New York:Dial Books.

Miklowitz, G. (1983). Close to the edge. New York: Dell Publishing, Inc.

Mohr, J. (1978). Abortion in America. New York: Oxford University Press.

Noland, R. (1996 April 15). Death of a village. Newsweek. pp.52-55.

Older Readers - The Giver by Lois Lowry. (1994). [Review of The Giver]. Reading Teacher. 48, 158.

Peck, R. (1985). Remembering the good times. New York: Delacorte Press.

Powers, B. (1978). A test of love. New York: Franklin Watts Inc.

Rosenblatt, L. (1984). Literature as exploration. (3rd ea.) New York: Modern Language Association.

R.P.K. (1994). [Review of The Giver]. Social Education. 58, 247.

Sacco, M.T. (1990). How to combat censorship. Eileen Tway Children's Literature Drive-In. Oxford, Ohio.

Sacco, M. T. (1995). Some of the best books for young adults. Unpublished manuscript. Miami University, Department of Teacher Education.

Sutton, Roger. (1993). [Review of The Giver]. Bull Cent Child Books. 46, 257.

Teachers' Choices for 1994 - The Giver by Lois Lowry. (1994). [Review of The Giver]. Reading Teacher. 48, 245.

Thomas, E. et. al. (1996 April 15). Probing the mind of a killer. Newsweek. pp.30-43.

Westall, R. (1983). Futuretrack 5. New York: Greenwillow Books.


From rationales prepared and donated by students of Margaret T. Sacco, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. Used with permission.

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