Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

My seventh book for the Young Reader’s Challenge is “Number the Stars” by Lois Lowry. It is a Newberry Award Winner published in 1989 by Yearling, a division of Random House.

“Number the Stars” is the story of 10 year old Annemarie Johansen who lived in Denmark in 1943 after Denmark had surrendered to the Nazis. She lives with her parents and her younger sister, Kirsti in an apartment in Copenhagen. Her best friend is Ellen Rosen who lives upstairs. They are fast friends and would do anything for one another — and do.

This book is different from “Letters from Rifka” in that it shows more fear, more danger and more heroism. In the beginning, Annemarie sufferes deprivation to a point — childish things like pink cupcakes — but she is fortunate that her family is intact, except for an older sister, Lise who died in a vague “accident”. She and her friend, Ellen, go to school and life continues pretty much as usual until one day — the Jewish New Year — when things change. Ellen’s parents leave for a while to an undisclosed location, Annemarie, her mother, her sister, and Ellen make a hasty trip to visit her Uncle Henrik in the country. Annemarie could sense the tension and danger and was becoming very aware that the world they new was changing quickly and not for the better.

When they arrived at Uncle Henrik’s, Annemarie realized that there was a serious movement going on and that her family was part of it. Her family was involved in the hiding and transporting of Danish Jews across the ocean to Sweden. Ellen was reunited with her family and then embarked on a quick but very dangerous journey in the false bottom of Uncle Henrik’s fishing boat.

Annemarie’s family realized that she was being very brave and so they gave her bits and pieces of information. She was growing up quickly and had many questions. She learned that her sister, Lise, was part of the resistance movement along with her fiance, Peter, and was killed while fleeing from a meeting. Annemarie learned that her Uncle Henrik had been helping people flee for a while and he told her of the tactics he had for not getting caught.

The last chapter of the book has the Johansens together two years later. The war was over and life was returning to normal. Annemarie hadn’t forgotten her friend and was looking forward to being reunited with her at some point in the future.

The afterword is quite interesting because it explains the book — what is fiction, what is not, what is documented historical military fact.

This book is well written, flows flawlessly, is edgy and tense without being unbearably sad or grotesquely graphic. You know, without a doubt, that the Rosens are safe and will return home at some point and you can feel the relief of the end of the turmoil.

I would recommend this book for the older reader in our age group. It is very readable, the content is not objectionable, you can feel Annemarie maturing and her parents realizing that they can trust her with precious information. I might even read it again, myself.


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