By: Lois Lowry
Summary: This is a factually based story about a young girl named Annemarie Johansen and her best friend Ellen Rosen. Lois Lowry wrote the book based on the stories of a life-long friend of hers who experienced many of the hardships and events described in the book. The setting takes place in 1943 in Denmark during World War II. The story is written in third person, through the eyes of ten year old Annemarie, so the language is age-appropriate and easy for children to understand. The story begins with word getting around in Copenhagen, the town where the girls lived, that the Nazi soldiers were here invading their town and kidnapping the Jewish people and send them to concentration camps. Ellen, Annemarie's best friend, was Jewish, so she and her family were in great danger. Ellen stayed with the Johansen's and pretended to be Annemarie's sister, but they ran into many troubles. One night, the Nazi soldiers came to Annemarie's house looking for Ellen's family, but they tricked them into believing that Ellen was a part of the Johansen family. After that incident, Annemarie's family thought it would be safer for the girls to go live with their uncle Henrik instead. The story continues with Annemarie trying to find the courage to save her best friend's life, but she cannot hide her fears.
What drew you to this book?: I noticed that the book received a Newbery Medal and the little girl on the book cover looks so innocent. Once I started reading the book, I could not put it down. I wanted to continue reading to find out what happens to Ellen and her family at the end of the book. When I read books, I like to put myself in the characters role and imagine the events occuring as I read on. The fact that this was a true story made me sympathize with the characters even deeper. I also love how the book is age appropriate for young readers and that the story is written through the eyes of a young girl, so the students get her perspective. There is so much history behind the story and the details make it easy for the reader to form a picture in their mind of what life was like during that time period.
Activities/Lesson Ideas: The story touches on a variety of themes; for example the friendship between the two girls, Annemarie and Ellen, is very strong. Annemarie held onto Ellen's Star of David necklace as a way to symbolize the bond that they both shared. She had to go take many risks and troubles in order to save the life of her best friend, yet she somehow found the courage to keep on going. Bravery is another theme that plays out throughout the story. Annemarie's uncle taught Annemarie that it is okay to be scared. He told her that being brave means "somehow ignoring the dangers of a situation , often because one does not fully understand it".
- One lesson idea might be to have the students create character webs listing the different characteristics of the two characters. Then they can compare and contrast the two.
- Another lesson idea might be to study symbols and what they mean. In the story, symbols represent different people (i.e. the star of david necklace represents Judaism).
Number the Stars has a strong historical connection to World War I and the holocaust period, thus it would be great to use this book in a unit on the World War. The story touches on events like the invasion of Denmark, and the Danish resistance. One of the characters in the book, Peter, is a fictional character who represents the many young men who fought and those who died as members of the Danish Resistance.
- A lesson idea might be to study the Danish Resistance and how they came about, while using the character of Peter to help the students understand what life was like for a member of the Resistance.
- A lesson idea might be to study what life was like for children during the Holocaust and War period. The students could pick a character they feel they most identify with or feel for and write them a letter telling them how they feel (i.e. write a letter to Annemarie letting her know that you admire her bravery and that everything is going to be okay).
- A lesson idea might be to explore anthropology as the students learn about the Danish culture and Jewish culture and traditions.
- A lesson idea might be to integrate georgraphy and have the students locate and plot where Denmark and Sweden are on the map.
Domains of Social Justice: This book definetly touches on three of the domais of social justice.
Self-Love and Acceptance- Annemarie does not understand everything that is going on, but she continues to stay strong and hope for the best for her friend. She begins to understand that it is okay to be scared and that it doesn't translate to not being brave. I think the students will be able to relate to her on that level because everyone has, in one point in their lives, felt scared about something.
Respect for Others- Annemarie and Ellen both value friendship so much that they will do anything to keep that bond strong. They don't let the fact that they come from different cultural backgrounds get in the way. They respect one another and care for each other a great deal.
Taking Social Action- Annemarie and her family take risks to save their dear Ellen. Annemarie's uncle has a boat that he uses to smuggle the Jewish people to Sweden.
Where to purchase the book: Amazon website- http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0395510600/ref=pd_kar_gw_2/105-8984657-6750815
- Elementary Themes: Number the Stars- http://www.stemnet.nf.ca/CITE/number_the_stars.htm
Website includes everything you could ever need from resources for teachers to activities and lesson plans for students. It includes passages about the brief history of the struggles of the Jews at the hands of Hitler and the Nazi Party, fate of children, life under German occupation, etc.
- The Star of David article