Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry, was published in 1989 by Houghton.
Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen and her best friend, Ellen Rosen, often think about the way life was before the war. But it’s now 1943, and their life in Copenhagen is filled with school, food shortages, and Nazi soldiers marching in their town. The Nazis won’t stop. The Jews of Denmark are being “relocated,” so Ellen moves in with the Johansens and pretends to be part of the family. Then Annemarie is asked to go on a dangerous mission. Somehow she must find the strength and courage to save her best friend’s life. There’s no turning back now.
Number the Stars is yet another historical fiction book that told me a story I didn’t know. I’ve always considered myself pretty cognizant of World War II, and a majority of historical fiction I’ve read and enjoyed have taken place in that time period. However, I knew nothing about the amazing story of the Danish Jews and their escape from the Nazis due to their fellow Danes smuggling them across to Sweden. Thanks to Danish efforts, 99% of the Danish Jews survived the Holocaust.
Number the Stars is an assigned reader in my fourth-grade English class. From their reactions, I know that a majority of my students love the book. They may not completely understand everything about the time period, but the story has just enough suspense and mystery for them to really enjoy it. And Lowry does a great job of ramping up the tension: first, the undercurrent of danger as the Rosens leave and Ellen hides with the Johansens. Then, the mysterious death of Great-Aunt Birte and the empty coffin. Finally, the mystery package that Annemarie must deliver to her uncle. All of it exactly conveys the hush-hush nature of the entire operation the Danes were carrying out, and conveys it in such a way that children will be able to grasp the seriousness of the situation.
The one thing holding me back from outright absorption and enjoyment of the book is that I’m really not a fan of Lowry’s writing style here. And, having read it out loud to my class, I’m even more aware of some of the awkwardness of expression that is more apparent when verbalizing the sentences. It’s a little clunky, basically, and, since I’m big on writing style, it’s just enough to mildly bother me throughout the book.
However, the story, of course, is fantastic, a tribute to the Danes and what they did for the Jews during World War II, a story that conveys the horror that took place during World War II, but also dwells on a positive story, one of bravery and hope. Number the Stars would probably be the first book I would recommend for children to learn about World War II and some of the lesser-known events that took place. I wish that I had more time to really discuss it with my fourth graders, but it’s enough that they get to read it.
Recommended Age Range: 8+
Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction
[Annemarie] turned to her father. “Papa, do you remember what you heard the boy say to the soldier? That all of Denmark would be the king’s bodyguard?”
Her father smiled. “I have never forgotten it,” he said.
“Well,” Annemarie said slowly, “now I think that all of Denmark must be bodyguard for the Jews, as well.”
“So we shall be,” Papa replied.