Sunday, September 27, 2015

Book Review: Number the Stars (Historical Fiction Novel for Secondary Students)

Number the Stars
By Lois Lowry
April 1989
137 pages

Bibliographic Information
Lowry, L. (1989). Number the stars. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.

Plot Description
Number the Stars follows the story of ten-year-old Annemarie, a young Danish girl who personally experiences the impact of the German occupation of Denmark during World War II. Although Annemarie only knows about the resistance movement through overhearing her adult family members' conversations, she becomes bravely involved with helping to hide her Jewish best friend Ellen. Annemarie questions what it means to have courage as she encounters German soldiers on multiple occasions, leading up to the climax of aiding in Ellen's family's escape by boat to Sweden. The story sheds light on how ordinary people, even a very young girl, can make a difference in other people's lives.

Quantitative Reading Level
Lexile: 670L
ATOS: 4.5

Qualitative Reading Analysis (Medium for Grades 5-7)
Both the Lexile and ATOS quantitative reading levels suggest an upper elementary to middle school audience for the book, and the text matches this same audience qualitatively as well. The text structure is straightforward and language used is very accessible in terms of vocabulary and sentence construction. The most complexity introduced qualitatively is with regard to the knowledge demands posed by the subject matter related to World War II and the Holocaust. There is emotional content related to fear and sadness, although it is positioned within the scope of bravery and hope. Still, it would be helpful for teachers to ensure that students have contextual knowledge about World War II and that they openly address issues related to war and death that are brought up in the book.

Content Areas
  • History-Social Science (World War II, Holocaust)
  • English Language Arts (historical fiction)

Content Area Standards

Curriculum Suggestions
  • Study Guide (The Glencoe Literature Library) - This study guide provides additional background information, comprehension questions, and suggested discussion questions.
  • World War II and the Holocaust - Students may identify details from the story and conduct further research. For instance, the Afterword by the author mentions details from the book that are tied to historical fact. Students may select some of these details (e.g., King Christian X, Danish sinking of ships in Copenhagen harbor in 1943, etc.) to research further.
  • Perspective - Since the story is largely told from the perspective of Annemarie, students may select another character from the story and write an account from the other character's perspective. For instance, how does Ellen feel throughout this whole ordeal? What is going through Kirsti's head? What about Annemarie's mother, father, and uncle or Ellen's parents?

Subjects and Themes
  • World War II
  • Denmark and German occupation
  • Courage and resistance
  • Friendship


Links to Supporting Digital Content

Personal Thoughts
I chose to read this book for several reasons. First, I thought it would be a good pairing with my recent reading of the graphic novel Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocasut. These two books could in fact be good to read together since they both involve the hiding of Jewish children in German occupied countries during World War II. Second, I had never read this book, but I have noticed in this past year that students have had renewed interest in Lois Lowry thanks to the 2014 movie release of The Giver. Also, in 2014, Number the Stars celebrated its 25th anniversary and was re-released, bringing it more freshly back onto readers' radars. Reading the book, I can understand why it was recognized with a Newbery Medal. The book is simple to comprehend, yet gracefully brings to life a serious topic in a way that does not minimize the horror, but simultaneously manages to highlight the potential for hope in humanity. I enjoyed my reading, and plan to recommend it to students who are rediscovering Lowry and also to those who are looking to read more World War II narratives.

Reviewed in conjunction with San Jose State University's School of Information Fall 2015 INFO 237-10 School Library Media Materials course. Fulfills "historical fiction novel (chapter book, middle or high school)" for Subject Area Blog Assignment.

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