Lowry Transports Us to Nazi Occupied Denmark

Lowry, Lois. Number the Stars. New York: Yearling, 1989.

Number the Stars is a short novel showing the struggles children had growing up during the turbulent World War II era. The main character, Annemarie, faces more obstacles than many children in different parts of the world deal with today. Although the story takes place in Denmark which had not yet taken over by Germany in the beginning of the story, Annemarie is living in a Jewish-filled town. Her family’s friends, the Rosens, a Jewish family, are the parents of her best friend Ellen. Annemarie overcomes many difficulties with growing up experienced by children even today. She is in the place between a child and a young adult, and because of this, having valuable information pertaining to the war withheld from her by her parents. Her Uncle Henrick explained their actions to Annemarie, "It is much easier to be brave if you do not know everything. And so your mama does not know everything. Neither do I. We know only what we need to know." (76) With little knowledge of what is actually happening, Annemarie shows what it must have been like for a young Danish girl during these times. Number the stars is her journey to understanding. Annemarie’s experiences bring World War II to life for the reader no matter what their age. Annemarie’s journey to adulthood is a story any child can learn from. The lessons of bravery, friendship, and responsibility linger throughout Number the Stars. Lois Lowry’s story of Annemarie has something any grade level or age can gain from reading it, although it would be most effective for middle school age children. Everyone can make a difference, even a ten year old.

Recommendations for Teachers
  • Number the Stars is generally for a younger audience, but the topics in the book are even more applicable to older students. There is danger in teaching such a graphic subject to a younger audience, although we believe that the benefits out weigh the possible consequences.
  • This book can be used as an incredible teaching tool for teachers. Majority of child today see war as glorious either through playground games they play, video games, television or the movies. This book brings the truth of war into focus and how horrible it can really be. Students can look into the horrifying facts and statistics of the Holocaust to realize this even more.
  • The Danish Resistance managed to smuggle almost all of their Jewish population to safety. Teachers can lead their classes in a look into how and why they accomplished such a feat while some other Nazi occupied countries did far less then Denmark.
  • Teachers can have their students try to connect more with the main character, Annemarie, by journaling how it must have felt to break the law to do what was right. This can also lead into a discussion of what is truly right and why we think so. Also students can discuss why they think the Nazis would do such horrible things when they are commonly thought of as "wrong."
  • For a less war related topic, Students can investigate the Jewish culture and how it is portrayed in the book. This could even involve a look into Jewish customs and traditions.
  • If looking for related pieces of literature, The Diary of Anne Frank would be an obvious choice. This true diary kept by Holocaust victim Anne Frank would give students a look into the mind of an actual victim. Catherine Bradley's Hitler and the Third Reich would give students a broader picture of Hitler and the Nazi party and their impact on Germany and the world.
About Name of Author
Lois Lowry was the middle child of three children and she admits that she was glad to have this position because it allowed her to have her own time to dive into books and continue living in her imagination. She was born in Hawaii and because her father was an Army dentist she was able to travel all over the world in which I assume helped her later in her writing. She married young at the age of nineteen to a Naval officer and continued her quests around the world with her new family. She began writing professionally after she got her master's degree which was what she had always wanted to do ever since she was young. She now resides in Cambridge, Massachusetts and often spends time in Maine where her children grew up.

She explains that all of her books seem that they may contain the same general theme--the importance of human connections. Even though her books may have the same general theme, there is more to get out of them than just human connections. They provide insight about the feelings of characters that are put into situations different than our own. She dealt with two great losses in her life (the death of her older sister and her oldest son) that have given her inspiration to continue marking her spot in this world. This information provided is from her website (link provided below) in which the last line of her written autobiography states, "For my own grandchildren--and for all those of their generation--I try, through writing, to convey my passionate awareness that we live intertwined on this planet and that our future depends our caring more, and doing more, for one another."

In Number the Stars, Lowry provides an afterword section that explains how much of Annemarie's story is true. She explains to her readers that the characters are fictional, but many of the events are not. She was able to develop Annemarie off of her friend Annelise's fascinating stories about growing up in Copenhagen, Denmark during the years of German occupation.

This video is about the German occupation of Denmark, where the book takes place. The people of Denmark are now known to have supplied excellent protection to its jewish community during the German occupation. But in September 1943, Hitler's representative in Denmark, Dr Werner Best of the SS, set in motion a plan to round up 8,000 Danish Jews.

Additional Resources:
--Kevin Shields, Jacquelyn Girardot, Leanne Woodwyk