Out of all the books I read in grade school, I never read “Number the Stars” by Lois Lowry. I remember seeing the cover multiple times, and I never picked it up. My roommate was surprised I hadn’t read it, as it is one of her favorite books. The only World War II/Holocaust book I clearly remember reading was “The Devil’s Arithmetic” by Jane Yolen.
So I curled up in the chair in our living room, the “Schindler’s List” soundtrack playing, and finally read “Number the Stars.” And it was amazing.
For those of you who haven’t read it, the book follows 10-year-old Annemarie Johansen and her best friend Ellen Rosen. The friends living in the same apartment building in Copenhagen, three years after the Nazis took over. By 1943, the Nazis are beginning to round up Denmark’s Jews, and Ellen’s family must go into hiding and flee the country. Ellen moves in with the Johansens and pretends to be part of the family before the Rosens can safely flee to Sweden. Annemarie finds the strength and courage to carry out the dangerous mission of helping Ellen and her parents escape.
It’s been a long time since I had read a book at this grade level (a 4.5, according to Scholastic’s website). But the historical content and complexity that Lowry puts in this book is simply amazing. Though I’ve studied a far amount about World War II, I didn’t know a lot about the Nazi occupation of Denmark and this book left me with more WWII knowledge than I thought it would.
Lowry’s creation of Annemarie is wonderful. At 10, she’s at that age where she can really put two-and-two together and be able to comprehend what is going on around her. I almost felt as if I were 10 again and going through this situation. There were many moments where Annemarie felt really realistic and very mature, especially when she is talking to her uncle about whether she is brave. It’s a question I know I probably asked my 10-year-old self at one point, though not in the context that Annemarie is. Then there were other moments when you remember how young Annemarie and Ellen are, such as when the two friends share annoyed looks about how Annemarie’s younger sister is acting.
When I was in grade school, I loved reading historical fiction books. There was always so much depth and, for any reading level, a wealth of accurate information. I’ve always admired writers like Lowry who are able to craft heavy topics like WWII into well-written books for grade school kids. It’s books like those that got me interested in writing in the first place, especially Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Fever 1793.” Perhaps for NaNoWriMo this year, I’ll tackle writing a novel geared toward grade school students instead of a much older age group.
If you haven’t read “Number the Stars,” please do so. It doesn’t matter how old you are — it is an easy read and provides such an authentic view of World War II through the eyes of a 10-year-old Danish girl.