Tuesday, August 15, 2017
Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry
Or you can read a book and tear your eyes away from the pages now and then to glance at the scene before you.
(I'm terrible like that.)
This Sunday I took Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry with me. It's a slim little book that I'll using as a teaching resource this year, and believe it or not, I had never read it before.
*jaws drop* and you call yourself a bibliophile, schuyler.
It's a beautiful book. And here's what I thought of it.
The Book (cover photo above and description below via Goodreads)
Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen and her best friend Ellen Rosen often think of life before the war. It's now 1943 and their life in Copenhagen is filled with school, food shortages, and the Nazi soldiers marching through town. When the Jews of Denmark are "relocated," Ellen moves in with the Johansens and pretends to be one of the family. Soon Annemarie is asked to go on a dangerous mission to save Ellen's life.
Number the Stars has so many good things going for it that I was enchanted. First of all, the plot is really tightly woven, so much so that even the little, seemingly-random details Annemarie recalls about her family growing up all turn out to be vital and important. It must have been written and re-written to include only the vital details like that. As a writer myself, I am in awe.
Lowry does a beautiful job of contrasting Annemarie's sweet, warm home life with the danger of the Jews and the soldiers in the streets. I enjoyed the relationships Annemarie had throughout the story. Her memories of her big sister, Lise, her little sister Kirsty's toddler moments that Mama deals with so skillfully, and the way Annemarie's mother and father and Uncle Henrik gradually include her in their plans. Annemarie is honest about the emotions she experiences as a child, without thinking she's superior to her parents. I was expecting her to take matters into her own hands and add extra danger to the climax, but that wasn't the way it worked at all. Annemarie's ability to listen and work together with adults was the key factor that helped them call on her when it mattered most.
I was reading this with an eye to stylistic details I'll be pointing out later, so I paid special attention to the adjectives. They were placed lovingly and skillfully, and I enjoyed all the little details about cream in porridge and fish skin shoes and the gnarled apple tree that Lowry included.
And last, but far from least, the overarching theme of bravery--of doing the right thing--was skillfully woven throughout. It starts as Annemarie remembers how all of Denmark stands bodyguard for their king, and she tells her papa she will be the king's bodyguard too. It continues on as Annemarie wrestles with whether or not she could be brave, even to laying down her life for her friend. And it comes to a triumphant, stirring climax that, as the introduction to the book says, would encourage any young reader to be brave, just like Annemarie was.
I would gladly give this book to my children. It will introduce them to bravery and sacrifice and the cruelty of the Nazis in an age-appropriate, valuable, non-scarring way. I am so glad to have made the acquaintance of Annemarie and this beautiful classic, and I definitely want to return to it myself.
Right now I'm reading Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry (for the first time) and loving that one as well. Look out for another book review soon!