The books we’ve been reading for middle school literature lately (I teach a co-op class) have been so short that the students have actually asked for more reading suggestions. Not all of the students, but still. After Animal Farm and then War Horse, we landed on another super-short novel (which we’re not going to call a novella because it’s middle grades), Number the Stars. By Lois Lowry, the author of The Giver and the Anastasia Krupnik books, Number the Stars is a Newbery Award winner about World War II from the unique perspective of the people of Denmark. Since I loved The Giver, I expected more of the same, but it’s not at all the same. (Also, I had no idea until just now that Lowry also wrote the Anastasia Krupnik books! I would never have pegged one author for these three books/series.)
Number the Stars makes for good, school-sanctioned reading for middle grades students. The writing is clean and the story interesting. From a grown-up perspective, hearing about the War experienced by the Scandinavians from their almost-neutral position and from a population that embraced the Jewish people… it was fascinating. (I liked the five-page afterword with the history as much as the book itself.) The main characters are lovable and even honorable. The insight is nice, especially for middle grades. There’s not much to complain about in this book, though I didn’t find that much to sing from the rooftops, either. While I was reading it, I just couldn’t decide if I liked it. I didn’t not like it. Perhaps the people are a little one-sided, just good without complication. And perhaps this book is best along with a history lesson, at least for kids. I mean, it’s so gentle that it glosses over the Holocaust so that kids could entirely miss the gravity of the situation without some explanation.
AnneMarie lives in Copenhagen, which has been under Nazi occupation for two years. She walks the same roads home from school where the King takes his daily ride on his favorite horse, waving to the people who adore him. But as the war wears on, the word gets out that the Jewish citizens are being rounded up and the Danish grown-ups, already mysterious and secretive, rise up with a plan. Suddenly AnneMarie’s Jewish best friend is pretending to be her sister while Ellen’s parents are missing. AnneMarie wants to know what is going on that the adults aren’t telling her, but she sure doesn’t feel brave. Could she be brave if she had to be?
This is an interesting story and I am glad that Lowry found this largely otherwise-untold piece of history and shared it with middle graders through the eyes of a little Danish girl. The characters and the setting are gentle while the story deals with more serious themes of injustice, fear, and bravery in the face of adversity. I would definitely recommend it for a language arts class from fifth grade through eighth and also as a family audiobook selection. It is excellent to teach both English and history, though perhaps more history. I also would recommend it to adults interested in history and especially in World War II, including lots of tidbits of interest, like how the Danish fisherman used a scientist to dupe the German search dogs. It would take that adult an afternoon to read it.
“If Mr. Rosen knew, he might be frightened. If Mr. Rosen knew, he might be in danger. / So he hadn’t asked. And Peter hadn’t explained” (p91).
There is no movie of Number the Stars. However, it is widely accepted that the Disney movie Miracle at Midnight (1998) is a great movie to screen after reading Number the Stars. It deals with the same piece of history and is also meant as family viewing. I wonder if it wasn’t made because the rights to Number the Stars couldn’t be procured. It is currently available streaming on Disney Plus and I will be watching it with Eamon after he reads the book. I will review it for you then.