Lois Lowry is one of my favorite authors in the genre of young adult literature. Surprisingly, I only discovered her writing as an almost 40 year old. If you haven’t read The Giver, I suggest that you add the title to your summer reading list. Lowry has a gift for writing stories that are both profound and approachable for her audience.
I was overjoyed when my 11-year-old daughter, Emma, was assigned to read Number the Stars with her 5th grade class. Emma and I don’t always agree on the same books, but we both found ourselves looking forward to our evening ritual of reading this story to each other.
Regional focus: Denmark
Author: Lois Lowry
Genre: juvenile historical fiction
In Number the Stars we travel in time to 1943, Denmark, where we meet the Johansen family and the Rosen family. The two families share many similarities. The mothers are companions and often drink afternoon tea together, the families live in the same apartment building and ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen and 10-year-old Ellen Rosen are best friends and classmates. As the antisemitism of World War II spreads through Europe, the Rosen family is targeted by the Nazi’s. When Mr. Rosen suspects that his family will be “relocated,” The Johansen’s quickly receive Ellen as one of their own.
Throughout the story, the reader continues to meet characters who demonstrate bravery and courage. We are confronted with asking ourselves, “what would I do?”
More than a story of individual courage displayed by Annemarie, we learn of the courage of a country. We discover that during the war, the resistance movement in Denmark was successful in smuggling nearly their entire Jewish population, some 7,000 people, across the sea to Sweden.
What I love:
- Lowry educates us about the history of World War II while creating personal connections with main characters.
- A story that highlights everyday heroes.
- Number the Stars reminds us of “the power of one.”
Themes: bravery, courage, empathy, war, memory, hope, friendship
- How is friendship displayed between Ellen and Annemarie?
- What are a few acts of bravery and courage that are identified in the book?
- Remember a time when you had to be courageous and stand up for somebody else. What happened?
- Throughout the story, different characters tell lies to protect the lives of others. Generally we are taught that lying is dishonest. Do you believe this is always the case? Why or why not?
- In Number the Stars we learn that many Jews are forced to immigrate or become refuges in new countries. Investigate groups of people who are currently facing similar circumstances. Who are they? Why are they unable to stay in their country of origin? Where are they fleeing to?
- Make a new book cover for Number the Stars. What important elements or symbols would you include in the cover art?
- Imagine that you are living during a time of war when every day products are hard to purchase. We learn that coffee, shoes and tobacco are difficult to purchase in Annemarie’s town during the war. Make a list of every day items that you would miss if you lived in a time of rationing.
- If you were able to invite a character from Number the Stars to your house for lunch, who would you choose? Make a list of questions that you’d like to ask the invitee.