Sunday Book Review – Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

My Sunday Book Review is for a moving children’s book (ages 9 +), Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. I typically don’t read children’s books often, but I do read a lot of historical fiction, and I came across this book while I was looking at two books Robbie Cheadle had written reviews for and talked about these books written for children to help them understand in their terms about the wars and politically incorrect things humans do to humans. I was curious to read such a book to see how an author could write for the young ones to help them understand the tragedy of WWII.

This book was written in 1989, yet has over 10,000 reviews, many of them from recent years, and many from teachers and parents who’ve read this book to their children. This book is also in school libraries.

This is the heartfelt story of Annemarie Johansen, a Danish girl, and her best friend Ellen Rosen during occupied Denmark 1943. Nine year old Annemarie is a fictional character whose story the author based on true stories she learned of from a friend who lived in Copenhagen during the German occupation, and the sacrifices the Danes made to save most of their Jewish population from capture. Beautifully told with many lessons, teaching children about loyalty and compassion. Denmark surrendered to the Germans in 1940 because their country was too small and not a big enough army to defend themselves. It also explains the story about the Danish King, King Christian, who loved his people and rode on his horse, unaided by guardsmen, to greet the people of his city, daily, even through the war – a story that is documented, and was told to the children as a fairytale to keep them inspired and to know their king loved them, despite the takeover of his country. No doubts Hans Christian Anderson was Danish and well ahead of his times with his famous fairytales and plays!

Blurb:

The unforgettable Newbery Medal–winning novel from Lois Lowry. As the German troops begin their campaign to “relocate” all the Jews of Denmark, Annemarie Johansen’s family takes in Annemarie’s best friend, Ellen Rosen, and conceals her as part of the family.

Through the eyes of ten-year-old Annemarie, we watch as the Danish Resistance smuggles almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark, nearly seven thousand people, across the sea to Sweden. The heroism of an entire nation reminds us that there was pride and human decency in the world even during a time of terror and war.

A modern classic of historical fiction, Number the Stars has won generations of fans.

“Readers are taken to the very heart of Annemarie’s experience, and, through her eyes, come to understand the true meaning of bravery.” (School Library Journal)

My 5 Star Review:

In this story, the author expresses events that occurred with such an easy to understand and compassionate style, teaching history through simpler and metaphoric explanations as used to explain to the children what they were seeing and hearing on their streets, and in public anywhere. For example, when the Danes sank their own navy in Copenhagen harbor before the Germans could take them for their own use, the explosions as ships were burned, were loud and lit up the skies, in the book, the parents would tell them they were fireworks to entertain the children. The author has a wonderful way of conveying the scary events in a way that lets them absorb, what lightens the way to teaching.

A well conveyed story with genuine understanding of a child’s mind – example: little Kristi, Annemarie’s five year old sister, is used to seeing German soldiers on every corner in their neighborhoods as Annemarie tells her bestie, Ellen Rosen, reiterating Kristi is only five and that’s how she grew up in five years of occupation. She’s used to that, that’s all she knows. It’s the nine year olds who were born in freedom and watched their world taken away from them. A very clever telling.

This is a timely book still. And I should think everyone, any age above nine could read this and learn.

A beautifully told Afterword is at the back of this book, where the author authenticates the events that took place are all truth from the people who witnessed. She has a light way of writing on some gloomy subjects and does a great job of expressing – gently, heavy events. She authenticates events and enlightens as to what were facts and which were fiction. Yet, her fictional characters represented actual people’s circumstances. When she brings in Peter who worked for the resistance and was close with Annemarie’s family, Peter was fictional, based on a true person she read about that worked for Resistance.

A good and current reminder timely about the fragility of democracy.

The author reiterates the part of the book where it was the Jewish High Holiday, the New Year, and 1943 now, Jews were still allowed to be in public, (which I sure wouldn’t have gone to synagogue with German SS standing on street corners.) And on this holy day,the Rabbi warns the congregation in time to leave home because the Germans had asked the Rabbi for a ‘list’ of members and they were going to be taken and ‘relocated’. The Rabbi found out as a favor from someone in the high up ranks. Most Jews, except the non believers, left that same night. Most Danes took them in, took care of them and eventually, got them off to Sweden. Only weeks after that holy day, almost the whole 7000 population of Danish Jews were eventually smuggled across water by fishermen to Sweden. These are just some of the things we learn about history, in easy to digest stories.

A fantastic historical telling in easy to read comprehension for children 9 and up to help learn about Danish occupation during WWII.

©DGKaye2022

60 thoughts on “Sunday Book Review – Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

  1. I hadn’t heard those stories of Denmark, reading that book would shed new light for adults. WW2 still casts a shadow and it wasn’t long ago that I realised how quickly Denmark had surrendered, which seemed shameful – easy to say when you have never faced war – but their protection of their Jews puts other invaded countries to shame. This sounds a perfect book for today’s children welcoming Ukrainian children into their schools.

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    1. Hi Janet. I agree. I read lots on that era and I too wasn’t familiar with Denmark’s role or surrender. But reading this book explained clearly that the King new well, they didn’t have the army to fight back. Yes, easy reading for children, but just as educational for adults. ❤

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  2. It sounds like a wonderful story and I guess it must be to have won the Newberry Award. I have read quite a few a middle grade books about this era of history and really enjoyed them. I think telling the story from the child’s point of view makes the history far more meaningful and memorable to children. History as a list of dates and events is boring, but people’s history – now that’s interesting. Thanks for sharing your review.

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  3. Thanks for the recommendation, Debby. I read Robbie’s post as well and didn’t know any of the books she recommended, although they sounded compelling. As does this one. It takes a great writer to be able to tell stories that not only entertain but also teach children about history and past traumatic events.

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    1. Thanks Olga. You said it, both captivating and educational for middle grade and adults alike. It takes a special talent to be able to write about trauma to educate kids. ❤

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  4. Wow…. Sounds a book well worth reading.. I do not think children today understand the sacrifices made by the older generation for liberty and freedoms ..
    Sadly in todays educational system too, so many distortions of one kind or another are entering mainstream school systems which do not promote a healthy historical view of the true facts about world history or society …
    Many thanks Debby for sharing… ❤

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    1. Hi Sue. You said it. Truth has been distorted in so many ways. There is nothing like reading a good book that makes the facts understandable in a captivating way. This book could just as well educate adults, as it did me. Hugs my friend. ❤ xxx

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  5. Wonderful review, Deb. I love well-written children’s books that are ethically as well as traditionally educational. Toss in a healthy sampling of truthful history, and it’s no wonder this book won the Newbery Medal and has 10,000+ reviews. I’ve added it to my reading list. Now, given the vocal rise in Holocaust deniers, all we have to do in the States is elect Dems in November to assure it isn’t banned. Thanks so much for sharing this with us ❤️

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  6. I’ve read this book twice, once in high school and once in college. It made an impression on me. The instructor in my college class was the lone survivor of a Nazi invasion of their home. He retold his captivating personal story. He remained hidden while the rest of his family was murdered.

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    1. Wow Pete! Amazing you read this book twice, and that your instructor was a survivor. It is no doubt when you hear the words from one standing in front of you telling your their own traumatic experience in that war that it would have to leave an indelible imprint. ❤

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      1. There were moments in that class that burned into my memory. One time the professor showed us a film showing Jewish bodies tossed into a pit. It was revolting, and he had to leave the room because he couldn’t watch.

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      2. Yes, as a very long time reader and studier of WWII holocaust, it’s things like that which take my breath away that man had no humanity. These things should sear the minds of everyone. 😦

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  7. I found this fascinating and inspiring, Debby. I knew a little about Denmark fishermen smuggling people to Sweden but a lot of this was new to me. This is a book I think I need to read and perhaps pass on afterwards. xx

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    1. Happy to grab your interest Trish. Yes, like I said, I read many books on the topic and hadn’t read much about Denmark’s part. This was certainly educational to me as well. Definitely a book to be read and passed on. ❤ xx

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  8. Another great review. These days I’m way behind on everything–including reading. If I weren’t neither children’s nor historical fiction would be on the list but your reviews are almost like reading them anyway. 🙂

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    1. Lol John, thanks for that – I think. I don’t give away spoilers, but enough to get the gist of the story and hope to leave people curious to find out the rest. 🙂

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  9. Debby, I love, LOVE this book! Your review is outstanding, particularly how Lois Lowry approaches a difficult subject. No wonder it won the Newbery! I think it should be mandatory reading in schools.

    And, have you read “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio? OMG! Every kid in high school or middle school needs to read it in order to graduate. I was glued. It still hasn’t left me after a few years. Yes, it’s that good.

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    1. Yay Jennie! I was hoping you’d see this book. I had no doubts you would be intrigued. What a gift to be able to write about terrible things in a way that children can digest. And no, I hadn’t heard of Wonder, but you can be sure I’m heading to Amazon now to grab a copy! Thank you!! ❤ xx

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      1. Yes, I have read Lois Lowry’s book many times. You’re right that it’s a gift to write about terrible things in a way children can digest (a far better word than ‘understand’). Please let me know what you think about Wonder. The last time I was in Barnes and Noble, a teenager was with his mother and buying the book. I’m sure it was required reading, as he didn’t look happy. WELL, I couldn’t help myself, I intervened to tell him about the book and how wonderful it is. I’m sure people were watching, but the kid was glad, and so was his mother. 😀

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      2. Thank you for your kind words, Debby! Promise you will tell me what you think of the book. YA is a powerful genre, and it’s my favorite reading. I desperately wish these books were around when I was a teen. I hated everything I was forced to read. Hated. Like Moby Dick and Beowulf. YA books would have made me a reader.

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      3. I promise you Jennie. And I so agree with you! There wasn’t much in the ‘learning’ department of books when we kids, learning, not meaning educational, but learning about life through books for appropriate ages. ❤

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  10. Debby, what a compelling review. When so much is being distorted, we need books like these, for children and adults alike. You always lead me to an interesting read, thank you, our UB. ❤ xXx ❤

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    1. Thanks so much my lovely. I read so many books, but only post 4 and 5 star reviews here. When I love a book I love to share the wealth. I’m so glad you resonate with what I share. Hugs and love UB ❤ xxx

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  11. Ni! Quite a book, Debs. Good for you reviewing it so well. Our eldest son, Jason, lives in Denmark and his partner is Danish. I wonder if they are aware of the history? Will certainly check. Top marks to Denmark! Hugs xx

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    1. Thanks so much Joy. And yes, if you’re going to live in Denmark, it’s always nice to know some history about their wonderful King and what happened. ❤

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  12. I believe Danish Jews are often overlooked as targets of persecution. The cover is evocative of the suffering among the children. Thanks for highlighting a book I knew nothing about, Debby!

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    1. Thank you Marian. I was thrilled to come across this book while looking for another. Yes, it takes place about a horrific time, but it’s written with grace and compassion and no graphic descriptions. Very educational. 🙂

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  13. Wow, what an educational book for both children and adults. Thanks for sharing your thoughtful review, Deb. After reading your review, I couldn’t help but think what a wonderful movie this would make if someone were to adapt to the screen.

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  14. Thanks for sharing your review, Debby. The book sounds poignant in many ways despite the tough subject. No wonder it found such acclaim. “Only weeks after that holy day, almost the whole 7000 population of Danish Jews were eventually smuggled across water by fishermen to Sweden.” Wow! What a bright shining tribute to the Danish people.

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    1. Thanks Diana. And absolutely, how fascinating a country that helped their own despite political rampage. I’ve read much about WWII era, but was fascinated to learn about Denmark’s part in the war. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

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