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A review of Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

Lois Lowry, an American writer, deals with the plight of the Danish people during the Second World War as they strove to help their Jewish population escape the Nazi death camps. This bleak story, from an age that we hope will never return, is seen through the eyes of two children. This essay is not meant as a study guide but just as an introduction to a wonderful story.

The story

The title of the book is taken from Psalm 147:3-5 which says:
"He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit." Ten-year-old Annmarie Johansen and her friend, Ellen Rosen live a happy life with their families in Copenhagen in 1943. Ellen's family are Jewish and are forced to hide to avoid relocation by the German army. The Johansens take her in and introduce her to people as Annmarie's sister. Annemarie's sister has, in fact, died while working with the Danish Resistance movement. We are introduced to the main characters and the setting of the story through a chilling encounter between three little girls and some Nazi soldiers. This opening scene and the vivid and detailed description of life in wartime Europe in "Number The Stars" grab and hold the reader's attention to the very end.

The writing

This novel was written in 1988. Although separated by time from the events she depicts, Lois Lowry spoke to many people who had lived through the terrors of the Second World War, including a personal friend who was still child in Denmark during the War. The author has great command of language and uses it to blend the plot and the setting skilfully to lead the reader on a journey with the two little girls. Only because the main characters are both ten-year-old is no reason to be put off reading the book if you are older. The story of a girl who does everything possible to support her best friend, transcends age groups. In addition, the tale of how the Danish people helped their Jewish citizens to escape to Sweden is quite fascinating. Number The Stars by Lois Lowry, is an excellent introduction for children to the phenomenon of the holocaust and the possibility that even a seemingly secure and comfortable lifestyle can be destroyed in an instant. The character of Annmarie is also a treat, showing an admirable courage when facing danger.

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