Number the Stars by Lois Lowry is my all-time favorite children’s book ever! It’s a historical fiction novel intended for an audience of 9-12 year old children. It’s the story of Annemarie Johansen living in Copenhagen, Denmark during the Nazi occupation of World War II. Her best friend, Ellen Rosen, is Jewish. When the story starts the Nazis stop merely standing ominously on street corners and prepare to relocate the Danish Jews. The lives of the two girls are about to change drastically. One will be forced to go into hiding while the other’s courage will be put to the test.
It is the winner of the 1990 Newbery Medal. Though it rightfully received this award, it’s true accolades come from how it stands up to its toughest critics, children. I have taught this book with two fourth grade and five fifth grade classes across a variety of ethnic groups and spanning the socio-economic bridge. I have read this book with reluctant readers and avid readers. The most challenging part of reading it was being told they weren’t allowed to read ahead!
Why children like it
The pace is quick. The beginning of the story grabs hold of you and you don’t want to let go until the very last page. The events of WWII are so unbelievable that the setting is both intriguing and mortifying. The real stronghold is how relatable the characters are. Annemarie and Ellen are very much like the children in the classroom, but are called to do extreme things. And the themes of the story are the themes of most children’s lives: friendships put to the test, needing to be brave when it would be easier to run away, coming of age and learning the truth of the world around them. I’ve had so many great conversations with my students because of the events in this book!
Through a writer’s eyes
Every time I have read this book I got something new from it. And I’ve read it a lot! (I am not one for rereading books, but this is a clear exception! – remember I’m a reformed reluctant reader). This is a book that should be studied by every aspiring fiction writer. It’s a study of doing it all right! Characterization, plot, sub plot, intrigue, plot twists, symbolism, voice, show-don’t-tell. What makes this an even more impressive feat is that the setting of this story, WWII, is one of the most written about topics. What’s equally amazing is that it is all done in 132 pages!
Give Ms. Lowry a visit at http://www.loislowry.com and be sure to enjoy this book that I am glad was written!