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!
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.