I’ve had an interest in the tragic events surrounding World War II and the Holocaust that began when I was in the play The Diary of Anne Frank in high school (I played Anne’s sister, Margot). Since that time I’ve tried to learn all I can about what the Jews experienced during those years.
I’ll never comprehend the horrific circumstances so many of them faced, and I’ll always mourn for the lives that were lost. What’s hardest for me to make sense of is the loss of innocence that so many Jewish children lived through. I think that is why I enjoyed reading Number the Stars by Lois Lowry so much.
My 11-year old daughter’s class read Number the Stars at school and my daughter insisted I read it. It is the fictional story of ten-year old Annemarie Johansen and her best friend, Ellen Rosen, two young girls who live in Denmark during the German occupation.
The book is written for children the same age and tells the story of Ellen’s family’s escape from Copenhagen to Sweden to avoid capture by the Germans.
A Heartfelt Look
Beautifully written and at times difficult to process, Number the Stars offers a glimpse into the thoughts and feelings of a young girl living through the German occupation. Annemarie’s story gives readers a heartfelt look at what it must have been like to see things happening and not understand why.
Annemarie and Ellen know that there are German soldiers throughout their city, and they know they’re supposed to avoid getting their attention. They also remember the time when the soldiers weren’t there, so they haven’t forgotten what is was like to enjoy the abundance of food and freedom they once had.
Their families are struggling and they want to make sense of it, but nothing from the last three years does, including AnneMarie’s older sister’s death.
Making the Best of Difficult Times
Annemarie and Ellen know their families are in different kinds of danger, so when Ellen’s family (who is Jewish) disappears, leaving Ellen in the care of her friend’s family, they are determined to make the best of it.
These two best friends certainly do – they still laugh and play together despite the fear they both feel. However, when they board a train to Annemarie’s Uncle Henrik’s house, they know their situation is very serious.
Uncle Henrick is a fisherman who lives in a beautiful meadow, and you can see across the water to Sweden. When they arrive at his home they begin to understand some of the strange happenings, and Annemarie is more determined than ever to protect her friend.
A Sensitive Topic
Number the Stars is a glance at what times were like in 1943 for both Jewish and non-Jewish families who wanted to help them. It helped me understand better the fear and anger they must have felt, and I highly recommend the book for children ages 10 and over.
This book addresses a heavy topic that younger students may not be prepared for, yet it sensitively handles it for older students. I learned a great deal from reading it, and I know my daughter did as well.
Number the Stars addresses a difficult event and helps older kids processes it in a sensitive way. Do you have some favorite books that you use as resources for teaching kids about difficult times or topics?