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 the 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.

Summary of Number the Stars

Key Facts

  • Publication Date: 1989
  • Length: 156 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 670
  • Recommended Grade Band: 8-10
  • Awards
    • Newberry Medal (1990)
    • Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children's Book Award (1991)
    • National Jewish Book Award for Children's Literature (1990)

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.

Content Warning: Number the Stars contains scenes of violence committed by the Nazis.

What Your Students Will Love About Number the Stars

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

Potential Student Struggles With Number the Stars

  • 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

Learning Objectives for 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 establishes 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.

Literary Elements in Number the Stars

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

Major Themes in Number the Stars

Bravery — This novel focuses on individual acts of bravery and the courage of the Danish people as a whole as they defy the Nazis.

Related Works:

Friendship — lthough 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.

Related Works:

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:

Other Resources for Number the Stars

Order Number the Stars Resources from Prestwick House

Resource Format
Number the Stars Paperback Student Edition
Number the Stars Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Number the Stars Response Journal Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set

This free guide was originally posted in April 2016. It has been updated as of January 2020.