Gr. 5-8. Littlest One is a delicate, invisible spirit who is in training to be a dream-giver, learning to blend fragments of happy memories with fragile details of daily life for people as they sleep. She helps a tormented foster child at night, bestowing healing memories in his dreams. He remembers a button, a broken seashell on a shelf, a book left open, images that fight the sinister Hordes that torment him with nightmares of his father's vicious abuse. Lowry's plain, poetic words speak directly to children about the powerful, ordinary things in everyday life, such as the boy's memory of a baseball game ("the curved line of stitches on the ball and then the high thwacking sound of the hit"); the feel of his dog's silky, warm fur; and the thump of the dog's tail against the floor. Pair this fantasy with Valerie Worth's All the Small Poems (1995) and with Katherine Paterson's realistic novel, The Great Gilly Hopkins (1978), about an abused child in loving foster care. ((Reviewed February 15, 2006)) Copyright 2006 Booklist Reviews.
The power of dreams
Littlest One isn't quite sure what she is. She's practically transparent, but she casts a shadow. She's not like a dog (she doesn't have a tail, after all), and yet she doesn't seem quite human. All she knows is that she is learning, slowly, to do a most important job.
Littlest is a dream-giver, one of countless of her kind assigned to grant dreams to humans. Along with her teacher, Thin Elderly, Littlest visits the home of an old woman each night. The two travel through the small home, touching objects and gathering their stories: "memories, colors, words once spoken, hints of scents and the tiniest fragments of forgotten sound." A photograph of an old lover, an afghan used for cuddling a small child, a stuffed donkey, a beloved piece of musicthe dream-givers gather these fragments and piece them into a dream, which they bestow on their humans (or sometimes, on their pets).
Dream-givers don't take their work lightly, but they must not become too involved with their humans or their memories. If they delve too deeply, they risk becoming Sinisteeds, menacing creatures that inflict nightmares.
When Littlest's old woman takes in John, an angry young foster child with far too many sad and troubling memories, the Sinisteeds target the boy with some of their most powerful and damaging nightmares. Can Littlest use her creativity, her empathy and her gossamer touch to help save the boy from his haunting past?
Although Newbery Award-winning author Lowry's language is simple and the story straightforward, Gossamer is more complex and thought-provoking than it may appear at first glance. Here Lowry has effectively combined the realms of fantasy and realism. In spare, sometimes lyrical prose, she creates a race of otherworldly beings and an explanation for our dreams, both the comforting ones and the troubling ones. The novel also deals frankly and realistically with issues of foster care, child abuse and abandonment. Through their interactions, humans, dream-givers and readers alike have the opportunity to be transformed.
Norah Piehl writes from Wellesley, Massachusetts. Copyright 2006 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews
A lonely old woman fosters an angry, emotionally scarred eight-year-old boy. When a horde of Sinisteens bring the boy terrifying nightmares (graphically described) of his father's abuse, Littlest One, an apprentice dream giver, fights back with healing dream fragments. Lowry's touch here is hardly gossamer, but this allegorical novel doesn't require it: her distilled prose bypasses the particular and goes right to the universal. Copyright 2006 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews
Curious, unconventional Littlest One is a dream giver, an ethereal spirit who "bestows" dreams on humans by touching (very lightly; it's dangerous to "delve") items that contain pleasant memories, gathering these "fragments," and wafting them gently into sleepers' ears. Littlest One is apprenticed to Thin Elderly, whose dream-giving territory is a house belonging to a lonely but loving old woman who is fostering an angry, emotionally scarred eight-year-old boy. When a horde of Sinisteens, dream givers who've gone over to the dark side, bring the boy terrifying nightmares (graphically described) of his father's abuse, Littlest One fights back with healing fragments of the boy's triumphant at-bat in a baseball game, his attachment to the old woman's dog, the comfort of his favorite stuffed animal. Like Lowry's recent dystopic novels, this book is rife with symbolic names and weighty-sounding terms; and, like them, this book's meaning is all right there on the surface, barely related to character or plot. In fact, the humans are such stock characters that they might as well be named Troubled Boy, Wise Older Woman, and Single Mom Trying to Get Her Act Together. Lowry's touch here is hardly gossamer, but this allegorical novel doesn't require it: Lowry's distilled prose bypasses the particular and goes right to the universal. Copyright 2006 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Thin Elderly and Littlest One are dream-givers. They bestow dreams, using fragments collected from buttons, toys, photographs, shells and other personal objects that collect and hold memories over the years. The collected fragments become stories of the person to whom they belong, and as dreams they transmit restorative feelings of love, pride, happiness, companionship, laughter and courage. However, Sinisteeds are at work here, too, inflicting nightmares and undoing the careful work of the dream-givers. Readers familiar with The Giver will most appreciate Lowry's riff on the value of memories and dreams and the importance of the sad parts of our lives, too. For such a slim work, the characterizations of Thin Elderly and Littlest are strong-she the sprightly little girl learning her trade, he the bemused and patient elder. The prose is light as gossamer; the story as haunting as a dream. (Fiction. 10+) Copyright Kirkus 2006 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Library Media Connection
With this slender novel, two-time Newbery Award Medal winner Lois Lowry answers the age-old question: Where do dreams come from? Littlest One is training as a dream-giver. With a touch as light as gossamer, she takes seriously her job of gathering memories from people's possessions and returning the pleasant memories as dreams. When she and Thin Elderly, her mentor, get a new assignment, they realize that their new job will be difficult. The woman is old and John is a troubled boy with an abusive father. He has recently been placed in foster care with the old woman. But nightmares visit the boy each night and threaten to undo the good work that Littlest One and Thin Elderly do to bring happiness to their charges. Lowry skillfully crafts three stories into a successful whole in this enchanting novella. With her own gossamer touch Lowry's prose resonates with lyricism and sensitivity. To fully appreciate the prose, teachers and librarians should read this aloud. Strong characterizations and multiple themes (love, trust, work ethic, abuse, growth, and coming of age) lend it to engaging class discussions. Highly Recommended. Tena Natale Litherland, Director of Upper and Middle School Library, Webb School, Knoxville, Tennessee, and Adjunct Lecturer, University of Tennessee, Knoxville © 2006 Linworth Publishing, Inc.
Publishers Weekly Reviews
Lowry's (The Giver ) spellbinding story centers on a clever, curious young dream-giver. Littlest One is learning the nocturnal task performed by her kind, which entails gently touching objects belonging to a human, thereby gathering "memories, colors, words once spoken, hints of scents and the tiniest fragments of forgotten sound" and combining them to create dreams. The most challenging task she must master is to "bestow" the dream on a sleeping human. Under the tutelage of a caring, patient elder, Littlest begins to hone her skills in the home of a lonely 73-year-old woman who takes in John, an angry, unhappy foster child. Through Littlest's gathering process and John's resultant dreams, as well as through the dreams of John's estranged mother, Lowry poignantly reveals the boy's sad past. Some of the novel's most moving scenes center on the growing trust between John and his foster mother, as his bitterness and low self-esteem begin to abate. Littlest demonstrates her tenacity and talent when she successfully counters the curse of the four-legged Sinisteeds, renegade dream-givers who have been "consumed by the dark side" and who inflict powerful nightmares on their victims, including John. Lyrical, richly descriptive prose ushers readers into a fascinating parallel world inhabited by appealingly quirky characters. While she gathers fragments, Littlest demonstrates an unusually delicate touch that enables her to gain deeper insight--a gossamer touch that earns her the name in the title. With her exquisite, at times mesmerizing writing, Lowry displays a similar skill. Ages 10-up. (Apr.)[Page 74]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews
Gr 4-7 -Readers first meet the dream-givers as they creep around a dark house in the middle of the night where an old woman and a dog named Toby are sleeping. "Littlest was very small, new to the work, energetic and curious. Fastidious was tired, impatient, and had a headache." Littlest is soon paired with a new partner, Thin Elderly, who is a much better guide and teacher than Fastidious was. They are benevolent beings who visit humans (and pets, too) at night. They handle objects, gather memories, and give them back in the form of happy dreams that comfort and help those they're assigned to. The dream-givers' counterparts are the strong and wicked Sinisteeds, who inflict nightmares and sometimes travel in frightening Hordes. And the humans that Littlest and Thin Elderly care for do need help and protection from bad dreams. The old woman is lonely and has taken in a foster child named John, who's living apart from an abusive father and the fragile mother who desperately wants him back. Lowry's prose is simple and clear. This carefully plotted fantasy has inner logic and conviction. Readers will identify with Littlest, who is discovering her own special talents (her touch is so sensitive and delicate that she is renamed Gossamer). John, who starts his stay in the house with anger and violence, will draw a special kind of sympathy, too. Lowry acknowledges evil in the world, yet still conveys hope and large measures of tenderness. While not quite as compelling as The Giver (Houghton, 1993), this is a beautiful novel with an intriguing premise.-Lauralyn Persson, Wilmette Public Library, IL[Page 132]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Voice of Youth Advocates Reviews
Dream-givers. In the night, they slip about the house, collecting wisps of memories from cherished objects and mementoes with which to bestow sweet dreams on their home's inhabitant, a tender but lonely older woman. Littlest One is the newest trainee, delighting in her job nearly as much as she is overwhelmed by curiosity and wonder. Her tutor, Fastidious, finds her tiring and fears that she is too much of a chatterbox to work without calling attention to her presence. Under more patient tutelage, Littlest discovers a rare gift, the gossamer touch, an ability to touch a living being without awaking it. Her unusual gift may make all the difference when a troubled young boy comes to live in the home and the dream-givers' nightmare-granting counterparts, the Sinisteeds, sense his vulnerability and prepare an attack Lowry, author of many award-winning books, charmingly succeeds again with this lyrical and compelling story about the importance of memory and the transforming power of love. The story of a damaged child and his struggling mother-about the healing that a loving presence can provide-is devastatingly authentic, but the events in Lowry's imaginary nighttime world mesh so effortlessly with the story set in the real world, illustrating so meticulously why good things provide strength in dark times, that it is difficult not to believe her fantasy is truth. The gentle blend of wit and pathos will enchant readers as much as the charming Littlest One does.-Catherine Gilmore-Clough 5Q 4P M J Copyright 2006 Voya Reviews.