Annemarie lives in Copenhagen, Denmark. It is 1943. Her best friend, Ellen Rosen, is Jewish.
This is a beautifully told story appropriate for fourth graders. It is sweet in it’s own way, and pulse-poundingly adventurous, though not in a way I’d ever want to experience for myself. It is a deadly serious look at how Nazi occupation changed the lives of so many people. Though I’ve read this book a half dozen times now, every time I like it more. It won the Newbery in 1990. It would have won the Squeaky Award as well but for two OMGs and one mild profanity.
“How brave are you, little Annemarie?” he (Uncle Henrik) asks suddenly.
She was startled and dismayed. It was a question she did not want to be asked. When she asked it of herself, she did not like her own answer.
“Not very,” she confessed.
“I think that is not true,” Uncle Henrik said. “I think you are like your mama, and like your papa, and like me. Frightened, but determined, and if the time to be brave came, I am quite certain that you would be very, very brave.”
That time does come. Annemarie never thought it would. Copenhagen, though German soldiers stand on every corner and pink-frosted cupcakes are a thing of the past, still seems like a safe place. Even after occupation, King Christian continued to ride his horse, Jubilee, through the streets and the Danes remain fiercely loyal to him. They would give their lives to protect him. “All of Denmark is his bodyguard.” But one day soldiers do come come after Jewish families like Ellen’s, and Annemarie is called on to be very, very brave.
“Now she–and all the Danes–were to be a bodyguard for Ellen, and Ellen’s parents, and all of Denmark’s Jews.”
Number the Stars is a remarkable book that should certainly be read with a pink-frosted cupcake in honor of all those who found the courage to stand against the Nazi regime.
I read Number the Stars with my boys as part of a social studies curriculum in conjunction with two other books of note that I would like to mention. The first is an adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank which is appropriate for a young audience. It’s called Anne Frank, written by Susanna Davidson, and put out by Scholastic. Though only 65 pages in length, it is extremely well done and filled with real pictures, timelines and facts. There also happens to be an excellent BBC dramatization of the original title that streams on Netflix. It’s done in a series of five half hour segments.
The second book is called The Secret Room and is available through Amazon, but it’s also free online. It’s a condensed version of The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom. Religious in nature, it’s the powerful story of a Dutch family who hides Jews in their home and is discovered the the secret police. It tells of the time Corrie and her sister spend in a concentration camp, but it is written at a child’s emotional level. There is a movie called The Hiding Place, which we watched as well. It was made in the late 70′s, I believe, and is a bit slow in places, but it’s another visual tool to help kids learn about this period in history.
All three books and both movies are appropriate for age 9+. In fact, my seven-year-old listened in.