“And they are beginning to realize that the world they live in is a place where the right thing is often hard, sometimes dangerous, and frequently unpopular.” -Lois Lowry, Number the Stars
One of my favorite books in elementary school was one that has stuck with me for years, and I’ve gone back to read it many times. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry is a book close to many due to its hard hitting subject and intense familial relationships. Since today is Winner Wednesday, though, I’ll start out by listing the awards this book has won:
John Newbery Medal- 1990
Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award- 1991
National Jewish Book Award for Children- 1990
This acclaimed book was published in 1989, meaning that only a year after it was printed, it was already winning awards and creating a whirlwind of responses and emotions in readers. I think this is because of how approachable and relatable the book is, while still addressing a difficult and important topic. The book is from the point of view of Annemarie Johnson and her family and friends in Nazi Germany. The book begins with Annemarie’s family rescuing a young Danish Jew and Annmarie’s best friend, Ellen, by pretending that she is Annemarie’s dead sister, Lise. Annmarie’s dad does everything in his power to keep Ellen and the family safe, which takes them on an incredible and terrifying journey. Annmarie and Ellen learn about being brave and doing the right thing, even when it might not seem like the easiest or most lawfully correct action. The topic of the Holocaust and Hitler’s rule over Germany is not the easiest, nor most understandable, but by addressing it with friendships and familial interactions, students of all ages can comprehend and appreciate Annmarie’s situation and feel for her in this scary time of her life.
In the end, Annmarie says goodbye to Ellen so that she will be safe from the Nazis until the war’s end. Ellen is shipped away, which is difficult for Annmarie to come to terms with. The war ends and it is revealed that Lise, Annmarie’s sister, was actually a member of the Resistance, the group that saved Ellen. Lise had been killed by Germans during her involvement with the group. Annmarie is proud to know that her own sister played such an important role in saving people like her best friend.
This book is excellent for classroom use because it can be approached and analyzed in so many different ways. It has a lot of themes and symbols that can be traced and followed throughout, like Lise’s memory and Ellen’s necklace. By following one thread through the entire book, students can create different opinions and formulate their own thoughts on the situation. This is an easy way to introduce students to analyzing literature.
In addition, I think this book is important because it shows loyalty and love in their most pure forms. Each time I read it, I feel content knowing that even though a lot of lives were lost, people like Annmarie and Ellen existed during the Holocaust and made a difference in the lives of so many people. Number the Stars connects us to a time and place where things were so different than they are now, but it does it in a relatable and accessible way. This book is just as special and important to the world as its three awards and honors said in the 1990s, and it shares a message that any human can appreciate and understand.
Review by Tyler Knickerbocker