Saturday, August 11, 2007
Number the Stars (1990)
Lois Lowry's Number the Stars is based upon the true story of the Danish resistance against the Nazi occupation in World War II. In her Newbery acceptance speech, Lowry noted that “The Danish people were the only entire nation of people in the world who … did not, in 1943 … turn away … from the disaster” of the Holocaust.
Annemarie, the 10-year-old main character, and her family bravely save her Jewish best friend and other Jews in late September and October, 1943. The title comes from Psalm 147:4a, “…he [God] determines the number of the stars…,” read in a scene in the story, and also refers to the Star of David, which is significant in the plot. An afterword tells what parts of the story are true, and that is even more fascinating – and moving.
One of Lowry’s good friends was a young girl in Copenhagen during the war. From her, from others who lived there at the time, and from the author’s own research in Denmark come a number of little details that make the book even more realistic – things like shoes made from fish skin because leather was scarce. The girls use paper dolls to pretend to be Scarlett, Melanie, and Bonnie from Gone with the Wind, then a recent and popular book (1936) and movie (1939).
Lowry also has many references to the high shiny boots of the Nazi soldiers. Again in her Newbery speech, she said, “I decided that if any reviewer should call attention to the overuse of that image -- none ever has -- I would simply tell them that those high shiny boots had trampled on several million childhoods and I was sorry I hadn't had several million more pages on which to mention that…”
The story is dramatic and suspenseful enough to hold the interest of all ages, boys and girls. The book is written at about a 4th or 5th grade reading level, but appeals to older students as well, and might be an easier novel to introduce the Holocaust than The Diary of Anne Frank, particularly for struggling readers. The book was recommended to me by a college student in the children’s literature class this past summer term.
Actress Blair Brown does a great job with the narration in the audiobook, using believable variations to distinguish between the young girls, adult women, and men, and gives an accent to the German soldiers. This is a Newbery winner that I believe will appeal to both children and adults.