Number the Stars

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

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What is it that truly defines a friend? Is it the willingness to share lunch or play games together? Often times friendship is defined by these minor characteristics, but is not really indicative of what friendship consists of. Quite possibly the true definition of friendship can be found in one’s willingness to sacrifice for something deemed truly important. In her novel Number the Stars, Lois Lowry displays an example of true friendship through her strong characters and their unselfish actions and willingness to sacrifice in order to serve a purposeful cause. It is a novel about maturing, and standing up for what is right. This novel proves that the pure innocence of childhood can overcome the evil nature of the Nazi's.

Number the Stars takes place from the perspective of Annemarie Johansen, a ten-year old girl in Copenhagen, Denmark during the German occupation in 1943. A bulk of the story describes the complex relationship between Annemarie and Ellen Rosen, the young Jewish neighbor of Annemarie. The two share a tight bond that only grows stronger as the story progresses. Along with Annemarie’s little sister Kirsti, the girls slowly find out how serious the German occupation really is and in the larger sense how destructive the Holocaust is. Early in the story, Annemarie, Ellen and Kirsti are acknowledged for the first time by German soldiers on their way back from school. Annemarie recalls this experience, writing, “The German word was as familiar as it was frightening” (2). Later in the story, the encounter would once again be a defining moment as Annemarie is forced to confront her fears and evade the Germans.

Number the Stars is filled with defining characteristics symbolic of resistance, and the participation needed to preserve freedom. Mr. and Mrs. Johansen are forced to explain complex situations and trust Annemarie with information regarding the occupation in Denmark. Annemarie is then forced to accept this troubling information and decide how to react in the process growing up. Instead of turning away in fear, Annemarie becomes intricate in the cause of overcoming the Nazi regime and makes a crucial impact within the story. Lowry does a brilliant job of demonstrating the struggle of overcoming oppression. The story presents a unique portrayal of the Jewish conflict outside of Poland and Germany, including people who lived in Europe who were not Jewish, especially if they became involved in trying to help their Jewish counterparts. Within the story, Uncle Henrik gives a truly symbloic line as he compares Annemarie to her mother and father remarking, "Frightened, but determined, and if the time came to be brave, I am quite sure you would be very, very brave" (76).

Another interesting element in this novel are the various representations within the novel that are demonstrated in each character. Kirsti represents the pure innocence of childhood, and the blissful experience of enjoying youth without worrying about potential danger. Annemarie represents an innocent girl who understands the danger of the nazi occupation, but chooses to confront this danger through bravery, while utilizing the innocent nature of a child. By the end of the novel, it is clear that Annemarie has come of age and her experience with the Nazi occupation has strengthened her spirit as opposed to weakening it. It is truly a story that illustrates strength in the face of tremendous adversity, and confronting it through bravery. At the beginning of the novel, Annemarie is apprehensive and clearly shaken by a confrontation with the Nazi's. By the end, she is able to stand up to the Nazi's in the midst of an adverse situation in which the pressure of shielding freinds from death is eminent. Annemarie simply acts in the innocent manner that her sister Kirsti would when confronted with this situation. She proves that innocence can overcome the guilty reign of the Nazi regime. She asks herself "What would Kirsti reply?" (114).

Number the Stars is a truly remarkable novel that presents a very understandable and unique depiction of the German occupation in Denmark. Telling the story from the perspective of Annemarie, a young women, allows readers to envision what is taking place and relate on a much deeper level. Number the Stars is appropriate for all ages and is highly recommended for those interested in world history or simply a great story.

About the Author

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Lois Lowry was born March 29, 1937 in Hawaii to parents Robert and Katherine Hammersberg. Lowry was the middle of three children. She had an older sister, and a younger brother. Lowry didn't mind being the middle child in her family and states: "That left me in-between, and exactly where I wanted most to be: on my own. I was a solitary child who lived in the world of books and my own vivid imagination". The Hammersberg family grew up during World War II in Pennsylvania, while Lois' father served in the army as a dentist.

Lowry enrolled at Brown University in 1954 after she graduated from high school. She attended for two years, but dropped out of college life after she met and married her husband, Donald, a military man himself. They had four children early in their marriage, Alix, Kristin, Grey and Benjamin and Lois kept very busy raising her large brood, who were all under the age of five. The Lowry family moved quite often due to Donald's career as a Naval Officer. They started their home in California, moved across the country to Conneticuit, then south to Florida, and onward to South Carolina. When Donald decided to go to Harvard Law school after his military caeer ended, the family settled in Cambridge Massachusetts for a while. When Donald finished law school they finally settled in Portland, Maine, where Lois put some energy back into herself and her studies now that her children were older.

Lowry completed her degree in English Literature from the University of Southern Maine in 1977. She went on to do her graduate work from her alma mater along with writing freelance articles for magazines. It was an article she wrote for Redbook magazine that caught the attention of editors. Encouraged to further her career as an author, she wrote A Summer to Die, in 1977 which was inspired by the young death of her sister Helen at the age of 28 to cancer. With the success of this book Lowry continued to flourish as a writer and won her first Newbery Medal Award for Number the Stars in 1990. In 1993 she wrote The Giver, and despite some controversy and criticism for inappropriate content for children, won her second Newbery Medal Award for this book. Lowry has also written many series including The Anastasia Series, The Sam Series, The Tates Series and the popular Gooney Bird Series. The Giver Trilogy includes Gathering Blue (2000) and Messenger (2004).

Writing, for Lois, has become a cathartic experience that has helped her through some difficult times in her life. When Lois was 40 years old she and Donald divorced, leaving her a single mother. In 1995 her son Grey was killed in the crash of his fighter plane. Lowry's words from her own website reveals her inner most feelings about this tragic incident: "His death in the cockpit of a warplane tore away a piece of my world. But it left me, too, with a wish to honor him by joining the many others trying to find a way to end conflict on this very fragile earth."

Today, Lois is a grandmother and continues to write and make speaking appearances throughout the country. She enjoys a quiet life and likes to garden, knit and of course read.



Lois Lowry ( This web page was written by Lois herself. She shares a complete list of her work and awards and speeches she has given over the years.
The Giver (Informative website about the book The Giver, published in 1993, which has received some criticism for inappropriate subject matter for children. Lowry received the Newbery Medal for this book in 1994)
Google Books (Preview the book The Giver)
Lesson Plans (A resource file for teachers including a biography, bibliography, criticism, lesson plans and ERIC Resouces)
Carol Hurst's Children's Literature Site ( Reviews, things to notice and talk about, related books)
Interview with Lois Lowry ( An informative interview about her book The Giver)
Webquest ( A webquest designed by a teacher for upper elementary students for Number the Stars)
Webquest (Another webquest designed for middle school aged students)
Q & A with Lowry ( Lowry answers questions about the freedom to read and censorship)
Maus (A couple excerpts from a graphic novel dealing with issues similar to Number the Stars)
The Jewish Faith (Informative page about the Jewish beliefs, people, places, language, scripture, practices and customs)
Map of Denmark ( map and information about the country of Denmark, including Copenhagen)
Holocaust Museum ( Informative website dedicated to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum located in Washignton D.C.)
World War II in Europe (Timeline with photos and text)
Lois' blog (for up to date on-going news about books, appearances, movies, etc.)

Related Books

-We Remember the Holocaust by David A. Adler
-Hitler and the Third Reich by Catherine Bradley
-Twenty and Ten by Hutchet Bishop
-Autumn Street by Lois Lowry
-Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank

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