numberstarsNumber the Stars by Lois Lowry, 1989.

Annemarie Johansen is ten years old and living in Copenhagen in 1943.  Denmark is now occupied by the Nazis, and she and her little sister Kirsti have become accustomed to the sight of German soldiers in the streets and the food rationing and curfews that have come with the war.  But, there are still worse changes to come in their lives. Jewish people like Annemarie’s best friend, Ellen Rosen, are in danger.  The Germans have been closing businesses owned by Jews, and worse still, some Jewish families simply . . . disappear.

Annemarie comes to understand the disturbing truth behind many of the things that have been happening around her, including the sudden death of her older, grown-up sister, Lise.  Although she had earlier been told that Lise had been killed in an accident, what happened to Lise was no accident.  Lise and her fiance, Peter, were both part of an underground Resistance movement, working against the Nazis.  Peter is still part of the Resistance, and he calls upon Annemarie’s family to help him save not only Ellen’s life but the lives of other Jews who are in danger.

When the Johansens learn that the Nazis are looking for Jews from the register at the Rosens’ synagogue, Annemarie’s family takes in Ellen and pretends that she is their third daughter, Lise, while Peter helps to hide her parents make preparations to get them out of the country.  They journey to the seaside, where Annemarie’s Uncle Henrik prepares to help take the Rosens and others to safety on his fishing boat.  At first, Annemarie is angry that the adults are telling her things that she knows aren’t true and keeping secrets from her about their plans, but they tell her that it is for her own good not to know too much because they don’t want her to be too frightened with the details.  She soon comes to see their point because, as they set their plan into motion, Annemarie must perform an act of bravery for it to be successful.

Besides being an historical novel, this is partly a coming-of-age story as Annemarie goes from being an innocent young girl to being more fully aware of the problems and dangers surrounding her, her family, and her friends.  The title of the book comes from a Biblical quotation about how God “numbers the stars” and Annemarie’s thoughts as she considers her situation and the danger everyone is in.  Ellen’s mother said that she doesn’t like the sea because it is too big and too cold, and on a starry night in the middle of their peril, it strikes Annemarie that night sky and the whole world is like that, too: too big and too cold.  Annemarie thinks that sky is full of more stars than anyone can count, and the world situation and its complexities seem too great for Annemarie to fully grasp.  The immensity and  dangerous nature of it all frighten her.

Annemarie’s older sister, the grown-up child in their family, understood the complexities and dangers of the world and risked her life to fight for their country’s freedom, ultimately losing her life in the process.  Annemarie’s younger sister is still largely unaware of the risks her family is taking to save their friends, still thinking in her innocence that the explosions from the destruction of the Danish naval fleet when the Nazis invaded were “fireworks” for her birthday.  At the beginning of the story, Annemarie is between her two sisters: more aware of what is going on than Kirsti is but not aware of what her older sister did or knew.  By the end of the story, Annemarie has moved to a more grown-up understanding but uses her innocent, little-girl appearance to fool the Nazis into thinking that she is just an ignorant child so they will be less suspicious of her.

Although this story is fiction, similar incidents happened in real life when people took great risks to help Jewish people escape from the Nazis. In the back of the book, there is an Afterword that explains more about the historical events behind the story. This book was a 1990 Newbery Award winner.


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