Number the Stars is about Nazi-occupied Denmark and the treatment of Jews during World War II, so it would be both helpful and appropriate to provide historical background on World War II and the Holocaust. Denmark's geographic proximity to Sweden is also significant to the story, so students should have access to maps of this area of Europe. They should also learn about the constitutional monarchy of Denmark and practices of the Jewish religion. While this novel is about the Danish Resistance, it is best for students to initially learn about the bravery of the Danish people from the story itself and from the Afterword. After finishing the novel, further lessons on the Danish Resistance, with particular focus on Kim Malthe-Bruun, the inspiration for the character Peter, will add to class discussion on how much of this historical fiction is true.

Students can also discuss the allusions in the book. They can examine how references to fairy tales enhance the novel and reveal theme and characterization. The title of the book itself is also an allusion to a psalm. The class can talk about what the title means and how it connects to the Jewish people.

Content Warning

This book involves some violence committed by the Nazis.

Summary

Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen lives in Copenhagen, Denmark during the Nazi occupation. She is best friends with Ellen Rosen, a Jew. As the Nazis threaten the Danish Jews and start to close their shops, the Rosens are forced to flee, but leave Ellen, disguised as Annemarie's sister, in the Johansens's care. Annemarie soon discovers her family's involvement with the Danish Resistance when she helps smuggle her friend to safety.

Objectives for Teaching
Number the Stars

  • Discuss the hardships Danish families endured during the Nazi occupation.
  • Infer qualities and information about characters and events when the meanings are not explicitly stated.
  • Explain "stream of consciousness" and analyze how Lowry uses it to create mood and characterization.
  • Analyze Lowry's use of fairy tales and how it established theme and character.
  • Relate details from the story on the importance of the Danish Resistance in saving Jews from the Nazis.
  • Explain the allusion and symbolism of the title of the book.
  • Describe the geographic advantages of Denmark and the political structure of the Danish government.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Allusion
  • Comic Relief
  • Flashback
  • Foreshadowing
  • Inference
  • Personification
  • Stream of Consciousness
  • Symbolism

Themes and Motifs

  • Bravery — This novel focuses on individual acts of bravery and the courage of the Danish people as a whole as they defy the Nazis.
  • Friendship — Although the Nazis forbid friendships between Christians and Jews, the Johansen and Rosen families, especially Annemarie and Ellen, remain close and risk their lives for each other.
  • Coming of Age —  This is a coming-of-age story for Annemarie, who matures as she witnesses Nazi tyranny and the adults in her life begin to trust her with serious matters.

Related Works

Theme of Bravery

 

Theme of Friendship

 

Theme of Coming of Age

Key Facts

  • Length: 156 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 670
  • Publication Date: 1989
  • Recommended Grade Band: 6 – 7

Awards

  • Newberry Medal (1990)
  • Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children's Book Award (1991)
  • National Jewish Book Award for Children's Literature (1990)

Your students will love:

  • Learning about the Danish Resistance
  • Annemarie's personal, relatable voice

Students may have problems with:

  • The primary focus on Annemarie instead of on other intriguing characters like Lise and Peter
  • The story not being as action-packed or in-depth as it could have been

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