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
Published 1989
Media type book
Pages 138
Awards Newbery Medal: 1990

Number the Stars (1989) is a work of historical fiction by American author Lois Lowry, about the escape of a Jewish family (the Rosens) from Copenhagen during World War II.

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 in order to avoid being relocated to concentration camps. She risked her life in order 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 by the Nazi military as a result of her work with the Danish Resistance. The story's title is taken from a reference to Psalm 147:4, in which the writer relates that God has numbered all the stars and has named each one of them. It ties into the Star of David, worn by Ellen on her necklace, which is symbolic to Judaism.

The novel was awarded the Newbery Medal in 1990[1] as the previous year's "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]

Plot summary[edit]

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.

Annemarie Johansen and her friend, Ellen Rosen, are two ten year old girls, who live in Denmark during World War 2. Annemarie, her 5-year-old sister Kirsti, (K ee rst ee) and Ellen, are 3 girls in a country that is not free. There are Nazis on every street corner in Copenhagen, where they live. Butter, Sugar, Coffee, Cigarettes, and more stuff, are gone. Electricity and many other things have been rationed.

      After an encounter with two German Nazis, Annemarie and Ellen are much more careful. Later on, It turns out that for no good reason, the Germans are getting Jews and only JEWs, and sending them to bad places. At the Synagog, the Nazis have taken the names and addresses of all the Jewish people in Copenhagen. Ellen and her family are Jewish.       Ellens parents have fled with Peter, Annemarie's older sisters fiance. Her older sister Lise, died a while ago. Ellen must stay with the Johansens, pretending to be Lise, even though she is half the age of the real Lise. Soldiers go into the Johansen's house at 4 in the morning, and think that the Rosens are "Paying a visit" to the Johansens. Annemarie and Ellen wake up and Annemarie breaks Ellen's Star of David necklace of Ellens neck. If the soldiers saw it, they would have known Ellen was a Jew. The soldiers see Ellen's dark hair, and start getting satisfied, because the Johansens have blond hair, but Ellen has brown hair. Luckily, Lise had brown hair as a baby, and Mr. Johansen shows the Nazis a picture of baby Lise. They finally leave. 
   Mrs. Johansen, Annemarie, Ellen, and Kirsti leave the next morning to go to Uncle Henrik's  house by the sea. You can see Sweden, a Nazi-free country, right from uncle Henrik's house. Before they had gone to his house, Mr. Johansen had spoke in code to Henrik.  When they get there, Henrik is just like his ordinary self. The next day, Henrik says that Annemarie's Great-Aunt Birte (Birt ee) has died. They have a huge casket in the middle of the living room. Annemarie knows that there is no aunt Birte, but learns from her uncle, that it is easier to be brave if you dont know something, so Annemarie doesn't tell Ellen. 
       Later on, many people come to mourn. Annemarie doesn't understand. Later on, Nazis come to the house and see all the people and start questioning the family. They explain that Great-Aunt Birte had died, and they are doing traditional rituals. The Nazis say to open the casket, and Mama acts fast. She says that Great-Aunt Birte had Typhus, a very contagious and dangerous disease, or so the doctor said. She says, Who cares! And goes to the casket to open it, but one of the soldiers slaps her and says they can open it when the soldiers leave. 
   They leave, but just in case, they continue on with the ceremony. Peter is there. Peter reads the beginning of Psalm 147:4 from the Bible to the group, recounting the Lord God numbering the stars again. Annemarie thinks that it is impossible to number the stars in the sky. She also thinks 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 gives the warm clothing and blankets concealed within it to the Jewish families. They depart in smaller groups to avoid attracting attention. Ellen says goodbye to Annemarie and her mother (who were among those attending the funeral).

In the morning, Annemarie sees her mother crawling in the distance because she broke her ankle. When she gets near her mother, she sees a package that seems of great importance to the Resistance, and that Mr. Rosen dropped when he accidentally tripped on a flight of stairs. Mrs. Johansen 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 in the direction of her uncle's boat. She is halted by Nazi soldiers with dogs. When they question Annemarie about what she is doing out so early, she lies, saying that she is taking a basket with a meal to her uncle. The soldiers do not believe her, and one of them grabs at the basket. However, the soldiers eventually let her go, and Annemarie makes it to her uncle's 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 he is 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 the scent of rabbit blood to attract the dogs, and it contained cocaine. Several revelations are made: Peter was captured and executed by the Nazis in a public place.

Two years later, the war in Europe 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 military car because of her work in the Danish Resistance. It is unknown if Ellen or her parents return to Copenhagen.


Critical and popular reaction were positive. On top of numerous awards the book has been one of the best-selling children's books of all time. According to Publishers Weekly, it was the 82nd best selling children's book of all time in the United States with sales above 2 million as of 2001.[4] Sales have remained solid, even years after publication.[5]


  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 September 22, 2012. 
  4. ^ Roback, Diane; Jason Britton (December 17, 2001). "All-Time Bestselling Children's Books". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved September 22, 2012. 
  5. ^ Silvey, Anita. "Has the Newbery Lost Its Way?". School Library Journal. Retrieved September 22, 2012. 

External links[edit]

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