The officer tore the photograph in half and dropped the pieces on the floor. The he turned, the heels of his shiny boots grinding into the pictures, and left the apartment. Without a word, the other two officers followed. Papa stepped forward and closed the door behind him.
Annemarie relaxed the clenched fingers of her right hand, which still clutched Ellen's necklace. She looked down, and saw that she had imprinted the Star of David into her palm. (from Number the Stars, pages 48-49)
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, the Newbery medal winner for 1990, tells the story of a 10-year-old girl in Copenhagen during World War II. Annemarie knows what it's like to live freely, but the Germans now occupy Denmark. Her younger sister doesn't know any life other than this, and she doesn't know to fear the German soldiers on every street corner.
Annemarie's best friend, Ellen, is Jewish, and when her parents flee the city to avoid "relocation," Annemarie's family takes Ellen in. A late-night visit from the Germans looking for Ellen's family brings memories of Annemarie's older sister to the surface. Lise died several years prior, and her death is a mystery to Annemarie, whose family remains friendly with Lise's fiance Peter, a member of the resistance. When Annemarie's mother takes the three girls to her fisherman brother in an effort to protect Ellen, things heat up, and Annemarie must find the courage to complete a dangerous mission to keep her best friend alive.
When my daughter put Number the Stars aside for a different summer reading book, I thought I'd give it a try. It's a quick read for an adult, as it's a middle-grade book spanning less than 140 pages. Lowry is a talented writer, and I can see why this book won the Newbery. Her characters are compelling and real, and there is plenty of tension and suspense to keep you on the edge of your seat. Since Annemarie is just a year older than my daughter, I kept wondering how my daughter would react in Annemarie's shoes. It was interesting to view the war through the eyes of a child -- a child who might not think herself brave normally but is willing to go the extra mile when it counts. Many heroes during wartime are ordinary men, women, and children.
It's important to remember that Number the Stars is written for children ages 10 and up. While I know what is meant by "relocating" the Jews and what would happen if those in hiding were discovered, children reading about this period in history for the first time might not. Lowry does a good job presenting the truth while leaving out the horrific details. Annemarie and Ellen are told that the relocations are not a good thing, and the adults only give Annemarie (and thus, the reader) the information they need to understand the story.
Lowry includes an afterword explaining her inspiration for the story (a close friend of hers was a child in Copenhagen during the German occupation) and separating fact from fiction. I was pleased that I learned something new about a scientific development used to smuggle Jews out of Denmark, but I don't want to give anything away. I highly recommend Number the Stars for older children (ages 9 to 11) interested in stories set during WWII and adults looking for a lighter read about the German occupation of Denmark and the role of the resistance in saving the lives of many Jews.
Number the Stars is the 11th book I've read for the WWII reading challenge I'm co-hosting at War Through the Generations.
Disclosure: I borrowed Number the Stars from the library.