Number the Stars

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Number the Stars
Number the Stars book cover.jpeg
Author Lois Lowry
Cover artist Lois Lowry
Country United States
Language English
Genre Historical fiction
Publication date
Pages 138 total number of pages including about the author and afterword

Number the Stars (1989) is a work of historical fiction by American author Lois Lowry. It is about the escape of a Jewish family from Copenhagen during the Occupation of Denmark in Second World War in order to evade the Holocaust.

The story centers on ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen, who lives with her family in Copenhagen in 1943. She becomes a part of the events related to the rescue of the Danish Jews, when thousands of Jews were helped to reach neutral ground in Sweden and avoid being deported to concentration camps. She risks her life to help her best friend, Ellen Rosen, by pretending that Ellen is Annemarie's late older sister Lise, who had died earlier in the war. Lise had been killed as a result of her work with the Danish Resistance. The story's title is taken from a reference to Psalm 147, in which the writer relates that God has numbered all the stars in the universe. It ties into the Star of David, worn by Ellen on her necklace, which is symbolic to the story.

The novel was awarded the Newbery Medal in 1990[1] as the "most distinguished contribution to American literature for children".[2] Lois Lowry traveled to Copenhagen to conduct research and interviews for the book. She took the photo of the girl used for the cover (shown in infobox here). That cover was used on many editions of the book.[3]


The story starts as two Nazi soldiers stop Annemarie Johansen and her friend Ellen Rosen on the streets of Copenhagen and ask them questions.

Peter Neilsen, a man working in the Danish Resistance and Lise's fiance, visits Annemarie and her family. He tells them that the Germans have started closing Jewish stores. The next day, Ellen and her parents go to the synagogue for a Jewish holiday, but find out that the Nazis have demanded lists of names of all the Danish Jews. They plan to arrest and deport the entire Jewish population to concentration camps in eastern Europe. Peter takes Mr. and Mrs Rosen with him into hiding, and Ellen hides among the Johansen family, pretending to be Annemarie's late sister Lise.

Later that night the Nazis come to the Johansens' apartment to search for the Rosens, after failing to find them at their own address. As the Nazi soldiers are searching, Annemarie secretly rips off Ellen's Star of David necklace to conceal her Jewish identity. The Nazi soldiers become suspicious because the sisters Annemarie and Kirsti have blond hair, but Ellen has dark brown hair. Mr. Johansen retrieves baby photos of his three daughters, with their names listed, which clearly show that Lise's hair was similar to Ellen's when she was a baby. Then the soldiers leave.

After the Nazis leave, Mr. Johansen calls his brother-in-law, Henrik. He arranges in code to take Annemarie to him. Mrs. Johansen tells the girls that their Great-aunt Birte has died and there will be a funeral. However, Annemarie knows that Great-aunt Birte does not exist, and confronts Uncle Henrik. He tells her that she is right, and explains that it is easier to be brave when you don't know the full truth.

A brief flashback to September 29, 1943 establishes the background to the rescue of the Danish Jews. Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz, an attache for Nazi Germany, contacts Danish social democrat Hans Hedtoft and notifies him of the intended deportation. Hedtoft warns the head of the Jewish community, C.B. Henriques, and the acting chief rabbi, Marcus Melchior, who spread the warning.

Returning to the main plot, a group of Nazi soldiers arrive and disrupt the funeral. Ellen's parents arrive shortly after. A soldier asks Annemarie's mother to open the casket. She told the soldier she would love to do so, since country doctors were not reliable, but the doctor told them that Great-aunt Birte had died from typhus, and opening the casket would spread the germs. The soldier slaps her and leaves in frustration. Peter reads the beginning of Psalm 147 from the Bible to the group, recounting the Lord God numbering the stars. Annemarie thinks that it is impossible to number the stars in the sky, and that the world is cold and very cruel, like the sky or the ocean. Mrs. Rosen is scared of both.

Peter opens the casket and distributes the warm clothing and blankets concealed inside it to the Jewish families. They depart in smaller groups to reduce attention. Ellen says goodbye to Annemarie and her mother (who were among those attending the funeral). In the morning, Annemarie spots her mother in the distance, crawling because she broke her ankle. When she goes, she sees a package, important to the Resistance, that Mr. Rosen accidentally dropped when he tripped on a flight of stairs. Mrs. Johansen, knowing the importance of the package, tells Annemarie to fill a basket with food and the packet, and run as fast as she can. Annemarie runs off onto a wooded path towards her uncle's boat.

Along the path, she is stopped by Nazi soldiers with dogs. When they ask what she is doing out so early in the morning, she lies, saying that she is taking lunch to her uncle. The soldiers don't believe her, and one of them grabs at the basket. The soldiers eventually let her go, and Annemarie makes it to the boat. She gives Uncle Henrik an envelope that contains a handkerchief. When the Nazi dogs taken on the boat sniff the handkerchief, they can no longer smell Uncle Henrik's hidden "cargo" — the Jewish people whom he's smuggling to safety.

Uncle Henrik returns to Denmark later that evening from Sweden. He tells Annemarie that many Jewish people, including the Rosens, were hiding in his boat. He also explains that the handkerchief in her package had a scent of rabbit blood to attract the dogs, and it contained cocaine. Several revelations are made: Peter was captured and executed by the Germans in a public place.

Two years later, the war ends, and all of Denmark celebrates. The Jews who were forced to leave Denmark return and find that their friends and neighbors have kept up their apartments in hopes of their return. Annemarie learns that her sister Lise died, not in an accident but because the Nazis intentionally hit her with a car. The story does not reveal if Ellen or her parents return to Copenhagen.


  1. ^ "Newbery Medal and Honor Books, 1922-Present". American Library Association. Retrieved 2008-11-22. 
  2. ^ "The Newbery Medal". Powell's Books. Retrieved 2008-11-22. 
  3. ^ Lowry, Lois. "Lois Lowry Interview". Scholastic. Retrieved 22 September 2012. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices
Newbery Medal recipient
Succeeded by
Maniac Magee