A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
JULY 30:

  • Happy birthday Marcus Pfister (The Rainbow Fish).
  • It’s the birth date of Henry Ford (1863-1947). Read Driven: A Photobiography of Henry Ford by Don Mitchell.
  • Happy birthday to Baltimore, Maryland, founded in 1729. Read Goliath: Hero of the Great Baltimore Fire by Claudia Friddell, illustrated by Troy Howell, and Anna All Year Round by Mary Downing Hahn, illustrated by Diane de Groat.
  • In 1942, WAVES (Woman Appointed for Volunteer Emergency Services), the women’s section of the U.S. Navy was established. Read Women Heroes of World War II by Kathryn J. Atwood.
  • It’s National Cheesecake Day. Read The Cheese by Margie Palatini, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, and Who Made This Cake? by Chihiro Nakagawa, illustrated by Junji Koyose.

Seventy-six years ago on July 30, 1935, the modern paperback revolution began when Sir Allen Lane published the first Penguin paperback. I have always been grateful that he was knighted for this achievement—and that in the United States, beginning in the sixties, paperback books for children became a staple of publishing lists. Although I love hardcover books, I must admit that today’s paperbacks often look just as nice as the original—and, of course, they allow many more children to have access to these books. This is true of the book of the day, Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars, just released in a new, striking paperback.

In 1989 Lois Lowry, who has distinguished herself by the range and quality of her writing for children, tackled the subject of the Holocaust in a book for fourth through seventh graders. One of the hallmarks of the Lowry cannon rests in her ability to bring any subject, no matter how complex, into the emotional and intellectual range of children. For years Lois had listened to the stories of her friend Annelise Platt, who experienced World War II as a youngster in Denmark. By creating a very engaging and sympathetic Danish child, Annemarie, Lowry found a way to talk about the events of World War II in Demark as a child would experience them.

Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen and her Jewish friend Ellen are inseparable, and their mothers are also best friends. When Nazi soldiers begin the roundup of the Jews, Annemarie’s family hides Ellen and gets the girl and her parents to their uncle, who runs a fishing operation near Sweden. Then one night, when the coffin for “Great-aunt Birte” is brought to Uncle Henrik’s house, several Jewish refugees receive clothing and provisions and prepare for a boat ride to freedom. Because part of the plan goes awry, Annemarie must travel, in the dark of night, with a basket for her uncle—one that contains a handkerchief that will confuse the Nazi dogs’ sense of smell.

Each chapter has been beautifully crafted; each moves the story along.  From the first moments when Annemarie encounters Nazi soldiers to the final page when Denmark has been freed, readers stay with her, cheer her on, and hope that she makes the right choices. The life of her best friend rests on the thin shoulders of this child. Ultimately, Number the Stars explores the issue of taking political action, even if to do so might mean death. The book also shows Denmark at one of its finest hours in history—a time when the citizens banded together, forgetting religious differences.

In the new paperback edition, Lowry provides an introduction to her classic. She says that ten “is an age when young people are beginning to develop a strong set of personal ethics. They want to be honorable people. They want to do the right thing.”  Used in many schools, read independently, or shared in families, Number the Stars shows young readers a protagonist who achieves that goal. It takes one of the darkest periods of world history and brings light and beauty into the landscape.

Here’s a passage from Number the Stars:

“Halte!” the soldier ordered in a stern voice.

The German word was as familiar as it was frightening. Annemarie had heard it often enough before, but it had never been directed at her until now.

Behind her, Ellen also slowed and stopped. Far back, little Kirsti was plodding along, her face in a pout because the girls hadn’t waited for her.

Annemarie stared up. There were two of them. That meant two helmets, two sets of cold eyes glaring at her, and four tall shiny boots planted firmly on the sidewalk, blocking her path to home.

And it meant two rifles, gripped in the hands of the soldiers. She stared at the rifles first. Then, finally, she looked into the face of the soldier who had ordered her to halt.

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Originally posted July 30, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Award Winning, History, Jewish, Multicultural, Newbery, Politics, Social Conscience, World War II
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Number the Stars
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COMMENTS

  1. G.Perry says:

    I avoided this title for a long time. I knew I was going to read it , but I didn’t want another heartache like I got slammed with, reading Anne Frank. That was one of two reasons I avoided this title. The other was more personal. I understand these kinds of characters better than some,

    As an example, If I were asked “Which children’s author has shaken your emotions the most” I would unhesitatingly say Lois Lowry, and then, say “The Giver.” Is how she did it.” There was a considerable reawakening from far away places in the mind for me, from works like The Giver, and Number the Stars.

    And so, I finally read Number the Stars. It was just glorious.

    Embrace it. You’ll not regret it. It’s a glorious work, and it will stay with you forever.

  2. I was a history major in college and my senior research was The European Response to Hitler: Resistance movements in Holland, Denmark, France and Germany. I think Lois is a remarkable writer and was so pleased to see her tackle this subject in Number the Stars. A beautiful and important book. Thank you Anita for highlighting it in your amazing Almanac.

  3. Chana Martel says:

    This book is awaiting my arrival on my bookshelf. The Giver was one of my all time favorite books by Lois Lowry. To this day I have read it over and over again and still find something new and exciting in it. I know that Number the Stars is a very different story line but a very important one at that. Thanks for brining it to my attention yet again Anita!

  4. Momo says:

    When I talk about WWII this book is at the top of my list along with two slightly more obscure titles The Little Riders By Margaretha Shemin and What about me? By Gerte Evenhuis about the resistance. This second one is long out of print and my library copy is now lost but the story remains strongly in my memory.. I also like Dancing on the bridge of Avignon by Ida Vos.

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