Nicole Tracy | Literary Columnist
A glance at the book synopsis for Number the Stars by Lois Lowry states this: “As the German troops begin their campaign to “relocate” all the Jews of Denmark, Annemarie Johansen’s family takes in Annemarie’s best friend, Ellen Rosen, and conceals her as part of the family.
The story is seen through the eyes of ten-year-old Annemarie, as the reader watches as the Danish Resistance smuggles almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark, nearly seven thousand people, across the sea to Sweden. The heroism of an entire nation is a reminder that there was pride and human decency in the world even during a time of terror and war.”
The book is set in the year 1943 and ten-year-old Annemarie has made many adjustments since the Nazi’s began to occupy her home town of Copenhagen, Denmark. Food and clothing are scarce and Nazi soldiers patrol the streets. When the Nazis start to “relocate” the Danish Jews, Annemarie’s best friend, Ellen Rosen, and her family find themselves in grave danger. Annemarie learns that she will do whatever it takes to save them.
Lois Lowry is the well known author of children’s and young adult books which include titles such as The Giver and the Anastasia series. In Number the Stars, winner of the prestigious Newbery Award, the author presents her readers with a thought provoking tale filled with memorable characters and plot which readers can think about long after they’ve set down the book.
Lowry has written an incredibly powerful account of the Jews in World War II Denmar, tailored to a younger reading audience, and does a masterful job of showing how Annemarie grows up before our very eyes in the way she interacts with her little sister Kirsti, her friend Ellen, and the ever present Nazi officers.
The story provides great insight into how the Nazi’s impacted the everyday lives of Jewish and non-Jewish people, without including some of the more disturbing subject matter associated with the Holocaust, that isn’t suitable for children. Annemarie’s family provides a wonderful example of accepting those with a different religious background and being altruistic, even in the face of danger.
It is revealed that Annemarie’s older sister was killed by the Nazi’s three years prior because she was part of the Danish Resistance and her fiance is captured and executed, but this is not described in any detail.
The story’s simplicity and ten-year-old main character may be more appealing to an 11-12 year old than a teenager, but as powerful of a story as it is, it’s definitely worth picking up and giving it a read, no matter one’s age.
It is an excellent stepping stone for a younger reader into that particular time frame of history, especially since it concerns one of history’s greatest atrocities. It would be a good idea for parents to read this with their children, to answer any questions they might have about what happened, however they feel that is appropriate.
Number the Stars is available at the Howard County Public Library. Copies are limited, so if it is unavailable, ask at the front desk to be placed on a waiting list for it.