Friday, December 11, 2009

Number the Stars: Two Perspectives

It is he who heals the broken in spirit and binds up their wounds, he who numbers the stars one by one. 
Psalm 147:4


After reading and reviewing The Giver by Lois Lowry, many others recommended Number the Stars to me. In my tortoise-like fashion, I obtained and read a copy of this novel, which won the Newbery Award for being the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children in 1990.

Briefly, this work of historical fiction takes place in 1943 during World War II and the Holocaust in Copenhagen, Denmark. Nazi soldiers have invaded the town during the five-year German occupation. When the Jews of Denmark start being "relocated", 10-year-old Annemarie Johansen and her family risk their lives to help Annemarie's best friend, Ellen Rosen, a young Jewish girl, by having Ellen live with them where she poses as Annemarie's older sister. The title of the book is from a line in the psalm quoted above, and also refers to Ellen's Star of David necklace.

When my 12-year-old daughter, Angela, finished the book she was reading, she clamored for another book. I suggested she read Number the Stars. At first, she was reluctant to read it, but once she started it, she was hooked and declared, "It's so good!". I decided to share this review with her, so you'll have the perspective of an adult and a child. I got the idea to do a joint review from Amanda from The Zen Leaf, who does them from time to time.

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I found this book to be extremely touching. I was immediately drawn into the story and the ways in which the children experience life during wartime. How long did it take you to "get into" the story? Did the first chapter, when the kids are racing home and bump into Nazi soldiers, capture you as it captured me?

Angela: Yeah, it really did. I was hooked after the fifth page, I think. I wasn't too thrilled when I first saw it, even though I had heard very good things about it from friends, and of course, family. But I gave it a chance, and I'm very glad that I did!

Life before the war was much more carefree. Now there are food shortages and soldiers on every street corner. How do you think Annemarie and Ellen feel now? How about Kirsti, who yearns for "a big yellow cupcake with yellow frosting"?

Angela: I think Annemarie and Ellen feel like part of their life has been taken away. I know that I would feel that way if soldiers just invaded our town, and left us with barely enough food to go around. Kirsti, I think, only remembers little things from life before the war, like big yellow cupcakes and "fireworks", so she is not as affected.

You're right, Angela. Kirsti doesn't understand as much as the older children do.
I found the presence of the Nazi soldiers rather menacing. Deftly, the author made me feel frightened with just the right words. How did you feel when the Nazis pounded on the door?

Angela: I felt as if I was right there in the story with all the characters! I felt their anxiety, tension, and relief when the soldiers left the apartment. Lois Lowry really did a great job putting her readers into the story!

Now I just have one question for YOU! I know you have read another book by Lois Lowry, The Giver. How did Number the Stars compare to it?

While I found the dystopian world of The Giver to be quite thought-provoking, I think Number the Stars is absolutely incredible. The author allows us to see the war through the eyes of Annemarie, the protagonist, and gives us just enough descriptive details; our imaginations fill in the rest. It's a perfect story in so many ways, on so many levels, a story about friendship, compassion, love, bravery, and hope, in spite of the war and hard times. As you know, Angela, I actually started to reread this book soon after you read it, because I wanted to experience its beauty again. I'm sure that I'll reread this gem many times. What more can I say about Number the Stars but that I highly recommend it for both children and adults.

For another review of
Number the Stars, please visit The Reading Life.

21 comments:

  1. Number the Stars was the first book by Lowry that I ever read. I thought I'd read something as a child, but apparently I hadn't. It was such a beautiful, wonderful book! I gave it to my son afterwards (he was 7 at the time, going on 8) and he didn't think he would like it. Like your daughter, he ended up loving it. I agree that it's better than The Giver, and I really like The Giver.

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  2. I love this! Your daughter is very articulate for 12 years old. I can tell she's a reader.

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  3. Great format of a review! Something I may borrow from you at some point when my daughter actually does read one book from cover to cover, lol!

    I haven't read anything by Lowry but it seems like I need to do it pretty soon.

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  4. Number the Stars was my first Lowry-I really enjoyed your daughter's perceptive remarks on the book-I have given this book to my 13 year old daughter-The Giver is also a wonderful book-I might read the companion books to The Giver next year

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  5. Amanda, Bermudaonion, Lilly, and Mel, thanks for your comments. It's a real pleasure to share books you enjoy with your children.

    More comments welcomed.

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  6. I have never read anything by Lois Lowry, but I will be sure to look out for her books. What a nice idea to do a joint review too. I would love to do this with my girls as they get older.

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  7. Hi, Suko! Thanks so much for posting about this book. I love The Giver so much and I was wondering if Lowry can top it. After reading your review, however, I'm now more inclined to read more of this author's works!

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  8. Great review. I enjoyed The Giver; I must consider this one now. thanks

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  9. Great review. NUMBER THE STARS is an excellent book. My friend Alice was in the Danish Underground at a very young age--17. I gave her the book to read and she said it is very realistic; so much so that when the garbage truck rumbled by the night after she read it, she had a flashback of Nazi tanks rumbling through the streets of Copenhagen.

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  10. Vivienne, I do hope you'll read Number the Stars. It's a quick yet unforgettable read. How fun it must be to have twins!

    Peter, Lois Lowry is an excellent writer and I'd love to read more of her work.

    Diane, thanks for stopping by!

    Deb, thank you so much for your comment, which definitely adds to the discussion. I find that I learn so much from historical fiction.

    More comments welcomed.

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  11. I far prefer Number The Stars to The Giver, myself. I used to read it to my class every year, and they loved the suspense, but their parents were worried about the themes. I can't blame them, as the children were in elementary school, so I haven't read it aloud in years. Still, it's a remarkable book.

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  12. Nice review ladies, nicely written!
    Number The Stars sounds like a great read, especially if you re-read it Suko.
    http://thebookworm07.blogspot.com/

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  13. Very awesome review to both of you! I hadn't heard much about this book but it sounds haunting and very, very moving. I am going to put this book on my wish list and try to get to it very soon. Thanks for the thoughtful double review!

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  14. Excellent review! I'll keep my eyes open for this one.

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  15. Great format for a review! I haven't read the book, but it does sound like a masterpiece and your and Angela's gentle and respectful approach towards it makes me want to run out and buy it for my favorite young reader. Or maybe for my favorite older reader--me! With so many millions of books out there-- good and bad-- how do you manage to pick out the true gems?

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  16. Great review - I love the format! I read this book when it first came out and I was 12! :-) I remember I enjoyed it and found it thought provoking. I need to read it again one of these days and also read The Giver for the first time!

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  17. Thank you all for taking the time to post your wonderful comments. Please stay tuned for more mother-daughter(s) reviews.

    More comments welcomed as usual.

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  18. I loved this review! I read Number the Stars over the summer and it was very powerful without being too much for kids to handle.

    I hope it's okay that I linked to your review on War Through the Generations.

    --Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

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  19. Anna, we're honored that you linked to this review.

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  20. Sounds very touching. Thanks for the review Suko!

    May you and your family have a wonderful, blessed week! :)

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  21. Thank you, Mark David. I look forward to reading more of your reviews.

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