Number the Stars
By Lois Lowry


Number the Stars - children's book review by P.J. Rooks

Number the Stars cleaves the fascinating from the frightening and spins a charming retelling of Little Red Riding Hood in which lupine Nazis huff and puff but are out-witted and out-run time and again.

Written for children ages nine and up, this story of a resistance movement that deftly smuggled 7,000 Jews out of Denmark just in time to save them from capture by the Nazis is vastly uplifting, inspiring and fast-paced.

An entire country, banded together by the unyielding spirit of a beloved king and led by the courageous idealism of its youth, Number the Stars won't bring tears to your eyes -- that is, as long as you don't read the afterword at the end.

Here, Lowry tells of her research of the Danish resistance and how, "after a while, even courage becomes routine to the reader."

She was stunned and heart-broken, however, to stumble across a picture of a blue-eyed and wind-blown leader of the resistance. A mere 21 when he was captured and executed by the Nazis, Lowry wished to share some of his final words at the end of her story. In a farewell letter to his parents, Kim Malthe-Bruun wrote,

"... and I want you all to remember -- that you must not dream yourselves back to the times before the war, but the dream for you all, young and old, must be to create an ideal of human decency, and not a narrow-minded and prejudiced one. That is the great gift our country hungers for, something every little peasant boy can look forward to, and with pleasure feel he is a part of -- something he can work and fight for."

Though Lowry's interest in this extraordinary subterfuge began with the childhood tales of an acquaintance, it was the parting words of Malthe-Bruun that drove her on to tell a tale of vast compassion that begs to be read by each citizen of our planet. Her research cleaves the fascinating from the frightening and spins a charming retelling of Little Red Riding Hood in which lupine Nazis huff and puff but are out-witted and out-run time and again.

Number the Stars: A brief plot overview

(Hopefully without ruining it for you!)

The Jewish New Year of 1943 does not turn out to be the great feast that was planned when word gets out that the Nazi forces are preparing to invade Denmark and capture the Jews.

The family of Annemarie Johansen, age 10, reaches out with open arms to hide her best friend, Ellen Rosen, and to pretend that she is a member of the family. Quick-thinking and a bit of luck accompany the family as the mother and girls set out to meet Uncle Henrick, a fisherman who also dabbles in the unusually risky business of delivering "cigarettes" across the sea to the safe shores of Sweden.

Though the grown-ups won't tell Annemarie all the details of what is going on, she knows there is something afoot when a funeral is planned for a Great Aunt Birte who never was. The coffin and the mourners arrive, followed soon after by Nazi investigators and a night of tense drama and survival is underway for everyone involved, including Annemarie.

In the story's resolution, all the things that were kept from Annemarie in the interest of not undercutting her bravery, (should it have been needed) are revealed and she watches, with mixed emotions, from a balcony as the Danes celebrate the official end of the World War Two.

Whatever your age, Number the Stars, a Newbery Medal-winning tale of heroism and a Jane Addams Award tale of peace, is definitely one to put at the top of your "must-read" list.

Number the Stars cover

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