Lowry, Lois. Number the Stars. New York: Bantam, 1989.
Summary: Lowry’s Number the Stars is a simple yet poignant novel about a young girl’s contribution to the resistance movement in Denmark during World War 11. Annemarie Johansen, a 10-year old girl living in Copenhagen, is faced with the knowledge that the Nazis are beginning to "relocate" the Jews in her city. Ellen Rosen, a neighbor and classmate of Annemarie’s, is Jewish. Through a series of small acts of bravery, Annemarie and her family help the Rosens escape into neighboring Sweden, in a boat with a false bottom, operated by Annemarie’s Uncle Henrik. Annemarie is called upon to ensure the Jews’ safe passage when she has to deliver a package to Henrik, in the dark, because her mother has broken her ankle and cannot walk. Annemarie successfully delivers the package, and only later learns what could have happened had she not been able to dodge the soldiers who stop her in the woods. Once the war is over, Annemarie’s parents tell her that her older sister, Lise, was part of the resistance movement and was killed for it. Annemarie realizes that she too, has helped Jews escape and feels proud to know and be friends with Ellen, even though she doesn’t know if she’ll ever see her friend again. At the end of the book, Annemarie decides to wear Ellen’s Star of David necklace, as a sign of her friendship, until Ellen returns and can wear it herself.
Important Themes: Lowry weaves together the themes of bravery and family to demonstrate the power of small acts of heroism. With strong role models, Annemarie is able to be brave when she needs to be, and she admires the Rosen’s for their strong family traditions and religious beliefs, which they continue to practice until the day they are forced to leave their Copenhagen apartment.
Language: Although the language in Number the Stars is surprisingly simplistic, young adults in a wide variety of reading readiness would be able to use this text as a learning tool, both for the message and the language employed. Lowry uses direct speech, simple yet telling figurative language, and a sense of humor to invite the reader to go beyond the text. Students as young as 5th graders have read this book, as have 10th and l 1th graders, all with success and meaning.
Secondary texts: Along with Number the Stars, the following would compliment Lowry’s gentle introduction to the Holocaust: Anne Flank: The Diary of a Young Girl; Briar Rose, Jane Yolen (accompanied by The Sleeping Beauty); Farewell to Mane a Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston; The Shawl Cynthia Ozick; "Schindler’s List," Stephen Spielberg Productions; The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom, and other Holocaust books, poems, and visual texts.
Questions: How can one person make a difference? What is bravery? What is prejudice and why does it exist? What is dignity and who has it/doesn’t have it? What is the significance of Ellen’s Star of David necklace? What’s the role of "family" in this novel?
written by Gwen Gray