Number the Stars (1989) by Lois Lowry is another of the Top 100 Chapter Books that I’ve happened to read at the perfect time — now, when it is more important than ever that we remember the past in order to (hopefully) avoid reliving it.
What it’s about: Annemarie Johansen lives with her mother, father, and younger sister in an apartment building in Copenhagen in 1943. The German soldiers stand on every corner after the occupation of Denmark three years earlier. So far, everyone has suffered equally but now the eye of the Nazis has turned to the Danish Jews and they are all in danger of being “relocated”. The Johansens immediately begin working to save Annemarie’s neighbor and best friend Ellen Rosen and her family and help them get to unoccupied Sweden.
Age level: Grades 5+
I’ve taken out the “best/worst” part of the post again because this book contains exactly what it needs to be honest in its representation of history. It is not always easy to read but is beautifully written and full of essential truths. Lowry explains that the story is based on the stories she heard from a childhood friend who actually lived in occupied Denmark during World War II. She uses historical facts to frame the story of the Johansens and the Rosens and she did a lot of research for this novella-length chapter book. She says in the Afterword:
“In reading of the Resistance leaders in Denmark, I came across an account of a young man … who was eventually captured and executed by the Nazis when he was only twenty-one years old. … I would like to end this with a paragraph written by that young man, in a letter to his mother, the night before he was put to death.
… and I want you all to remember — that you must not dream yourselves back to the times before the war, but the dream for you all, young and old, must be to create an ideal of human decency, and not a narrow-minded and prejudiced one. That is the great gift our country hungers for …
Surely that gift — the gift of a world of human decency — is the one that all countries hunger for still.”
It breaks my heart that I needed to read Number the Stars and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry because of the current political and social climate in the United States and beyond. Though both books illustrated some of the worst that humans have done to each other in recent history, they also gave me hope because the characters in them endured and survived. I have come to the conclusion that we shouldn’t simply wait out these hard times but, instead, build our own Resistance forces now, before the abuse and discrimination escalates. I strongly believe that education is necessary for any successful resistance and fiction is a great tool for educating. Simply getting these books into the hands of children could make a world of difference. As a wise woman once said, the children are our future.
Whew. These last two posts have been heavy. Next, I’ll be escaping into fantasy again while reading The Horse and His Boy, the fifth published Narnia book. I’m looking forward to reading about Narnians rather than Pevensies.