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.
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.