Name of Book: Number the Stars
Author: Lois Lowry
Audience: Ages 10-14
Summary: Young Annemarie Nielsen and her friend Ellen Rosen live in occupied Copenhagen in 1943. Though young, they understand that the occupation of their city by the Nazis is frightening and dangerous, especially for Jews like Ellen and her family. When the Nazis begin to relocate the Jews, Annemarie and her family take many risks to save Ellen and her parents. Faced with difficult choices, frightening truths, and hope for a time beyond war, Annemarie learns about her own strength and courage as she works to save her friend.
Literary elements at work in the story: In very age-appropriate ways, this short novel brings to life the historical events of Europe during WWII. Lowry develops Annemarie’s character across the novel as she matures from a carefree school girl to a young lady burdened by the reality of war. Annemarie is insightful, intelligent, caring, discerning and brave. The novel’s action rises quickly as Annemarie’s family works to save their neighbors, the Rosens. While the plot is not complicated, the author slowly unveils the secret that Annemarie’s family must keep. This skillful plot development allows the reader to experience tension – and hope – alongside Annemarie. Additionally, as various family members come forward to help the Rosens, the author maintains her focus on Annemarie and the fears she must face, thus allowing a young reader to relate to this difficult period in history.
Perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability: With a backdrop of Nazi-occupied Europe, this novel explores the treatment of the Jews at the hands of the Nazis. Through Annemarie, a Lutheran, and Ellen, a Jew, the author reinforces the idea that love and friendship are not bound by such distinctions as race or religion. Throughout the novel, in fact, the two families are shown to be loving neighbors who are respectful of their varied traditions. Annemarie and her sister Kirsti, in fact, are frequently invited to the Rosen’s home to see the lighting of the Sabbath candles. In terms of gender, Annemarie is depicted as a strong girl, capable of carrying out a dangerous mission. However, the author is also careful to be realistic in her characterizations for this particular time and place. When Annemarie and her mother visit Uncle Henrik, Annemarie’s mother notes the clutter and announces that Uncle Henrik needs a wife. Finally, while Annemarie must present herself as a “silly, empty-headed little girl,” the great irony is that this pretense is what allows her to be her most daring, brave, and quick-witted self.
Theological Conversation Partners: Genesis 15:1-6; Psalm 147 (Quoted in the novel); Isaiah 41:8-13; Mark 12:28-34; I John 3:11-22
Faith Talk Questions:
- Ask children to identify some of the things that frighten people. Ask them to consider why we become fearful in certain situations.
- The novel makes the point that bravery is not the absence of fear, but the putting aside of fear for a greater good. In what ways were Annemarie and her family brave in the face of great fear?
- Ask students to brainstorm for a list of examples from scripture that show bravery in the face of fear.
- What do you think motivates people to set aside their fears and act bravely?
- How does faith play a role in facing fears? What are some examples of the role of faith in this novel?
- The Rosens and the Nielsens are neighbors. What does scripture say about the relationship between neighbors? How is this lived out in the action of the novel?
- Peter reads Psalm 147 during the dark and frightening night of the Rosens’ escape. How does this psalm offer hope to those gathered? How does it offer hope to us?
- Abraham was promised as many descendants as there are stars in the sky. Consider the use of stars in this novel. How do Ellen’s necklace, the title of the novel, Psalm 147 and the story of Abraham in Genesis 15 work together to speak of hope in the midst of the persecution the Jews faced in Europe in 1943?
This review was prepared by Union Presbyterian Seminary student Catherine Lovejoy.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Books written for Grades 5-8 (Ages 10 -13), Books written for Grades 9 - 12 (Ages 14-17), Faith Questions For...., High School Students, Historical Fiction, Middle Schoolers, Older Elementary, Realistic Fiction | Tagged: courage, fear, Hope, Jewish, love, Lutheran, neighbor, World War II | Leave a Comment »