Number the Stars

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Number the Stars
Number the Stars book cover.jpeg
First edition cover.
AuthorLois Lowry
Cover artistLois Lowry
CountryUnited States
GenreHistorical fiction
PublisherHoughton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date
Media typePrint
AwardsNewbery Medal: 1990
ISBN978-0395510605 (first edition, hardcover)
LC ClassPZ7.L9673 Nu 1989

Number the Stars is a work of historical fiction by the American author Lois Lowry about the escape of a family of Jews from Copenhagen, Denmark, during World War II.

The story centers on 10-year-old Annemarie Johansen, who lives with her mother, father, and sister Kirsti in Copenhagen in 1943. Annemarie becomes a part of the events related to the rescue of the Danish Jews, when thousands of Jews were to reach neutral ground in Sweden to avoid being relocated 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 was killed earlier in the war by the Nazi army because of her work with the Danish Resistance. However, her former fiancé, Peter, who is partly based on the Danish resistance member Kim Malthe-Bruun, continues to help them.

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 named each of them. It ties into the Star of David, which is worn by Ellen Rosen on her necklace and is a symbol of 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]

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), which was used on many editions of the book. The Swedish girl used for the cover of the book went by the name of Anna Caterina Johnson, and had been photographed when she was 10 by Lois Lowry.[3]


Annemarie Johansen and her Jewish best friend, Ellen Rosen, are ten-year-old girls living in Copenhagen, Denmark, during World War II. Annemarie has a five-year-old sister, Kirsti. There are Nazis on every street corner in Copenhagen. Butter, sugar, coffee, cigarettes, and electricity are rationed.

After an encounter with two German soldiers, Annemarie and Ellen are told to be much more careful. Later, it turns out that for unknown reasons, the Germans are "relocating" Denmark's Jews. At the synagogue, the Nazis have taken the names and addresses of all Jewish people in Copenhagen. Ellen's parents have fled with Peter, the former fiancé of Annemarie's older sister, Lise, who died because of a car accident. Ellen must stay with the Johansens and pretend to be Lise even though she is half the age of the real Lise. Soldiers enter the Johansens' apartment at 4 a.m. and think that the Rosens are "paying a visit" to the Johansens. Annemarie and Ellen wake up, and Annemarie breaks the Star of David necklace off Ellen's neck. If the soldiers had seen it, they would have known that Ellen is a Jew. The soldiers see Ellen's dark hair and become suspicious because the Johansens have blond hair, and Ellen has brown hair. Luckily, Lise had brown hair as an infant. Mr. Johansen shows the Nazis a picture of the baby Lise, and they leave.

Mrs. Johansen, Annemarie, Ellen, and Kirsti leave the next morning to go to Uncle Henrik's house by the sea. Sweden, a Nazi-free country, can be seen from Uncle Henrik's house. Before they go to his house, Mr. Johansen spoke in code to Henrik. When they get there, Henrik seems like his ordinary self. The next day, Henrik says that Annemarie's Great-Aunt Birte has died. A huge casket is placed 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 without knowing something and so she does not tell Ellen the truth about her "aunt".

Later, many people come to mourn "Aunt Birte" to Annemarie's puzzlement. Nazis come to the house and see all the people and start questioning the family. They explain that Great-Aunt Birte has died, and they are carrying out traditional rituals. The Nazis order the casket opened, and Mrs. Johansen acts fast. She says that Great-Aunt Birte had typhus, a very contagious and dangerous disease, as the doctor said. She goes to the casket to open it, but one of the soldiers slaps her in the face and says that they (the Johansens) can open it when the soldiers leave.

After they leave, the wake continues. Peter, who is present, reads the beginning of Psalm 147 from the Bible to the group, which recounts the Lord God numbering the stars. As the psalm is not familiar to Annemarie, her thoughts begin to wander. She wonders how it is possible to number the stars in the sky and remembers Ellen saying that her mother is afraid of the ocean because her mother thinks that it is cold and cruel. Annemarie thinks that the night sky and the world are also cold and cruel. Peter opens the casket and gives the warm clothing and blankets concealed inside it to the Jewish families. They depart in smaller groups to avoid attracting attention. Ellen says goodbye to Annemarie and her mother.

In the morning, Annemarie sees her mother crawling in the distance because she had broken her ankle. After helping her mother back to the house, Annemarie finds a packet of great importance to the Resistance. Mr. Rosen dropped the packet when he accidentally tripped on a flight of stairs. Mrs. Johansen tells Annemarie to fill a basket with food and the packet and to 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 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 Henrik an envelope that contains a handkerchief. It had traces of cocaine on it to numb the dog's sense of smell. When the Nazi dogs took onto the boat sniff the handkerchief, they could no longer smell Uncle Henrik's hidden "cargo," the Jews that he is smuggling to safety.

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 contained the scent of rabbit blood, which attracted the dogs, and the strong odor of cocaine, which numbed their noses, preventing them from tracking down the Jews in Henrik's boat. Several revelations are made, including that Peter is in the Danish Resistance. It also reveals that Annemarie's older sister Lise had not died from a car accident but from being run over by a tank because she was part of the Resistance.

Several years later, Denmark is liberated after the wars end. Peter has since been executed by the Nazis and is buried in an unmarked grave. Annemarie finds Ellen's Star Of David necklace and decides to wear it until Ellen comes back to Denmark.


Critical and popular reactions were positive. Kirkus Reviews said that " Annemarie, the reader is protected from the full implications of events--but will be caught up in the suspense and menace of several encounters with soldiers and in Annemarie's courageous run as a courier on the night of the escape."[4]

In addition to winning 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.[5] Sales have remained solid, even years after publication.[6]

Film adaptation[edit]

In September 2010, actor Sean Astin announced that he had spent the last ten years attempting to get a film adaptation greenlit.[7]


See also[edit]

  • The Only Way, a 1970 English language film about the rescue of the Danish Jews


  1. ^ "Newbery Medal and Honor Books, 1922–present". American Library Association. Retrieved November 22, 2008.
  2. ^ "The Newbery Medal". Powell's Books. Archived from the original on November 27, 2008. Retrieved November 22, 2008.
  3. ^ Lowry, Lois. "Lois Lowry Interview". Scholastic. Retrieved September 22, 2012.
  4. ^ "NUMBER THE STARS by Lois Lowry". Kirkus Reviews. March 15, 1989. Retrieved January 3, 2017.
  5. ^ Roback, Diane; Jason Britton (December 17, 2001). "All-Time Bestselling Children's Books". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved September 22, 2012.
  6. ^ Silvey, Anita (October 1, 2008). "Has the Newbery Lost Its Way?". School Library Journal. Retrieved January 3, 2017.
  7. ^ "Diahann Carroll Diamond Birthday Arrives, PBS Special Soon to Air | Beck/Smith Hollywood".
  8. ^ admin (November 30, 1999). "Newbery Medal and Honor Books, 1922-Present". Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC). Retrieved January 20, 2020.
  9. ^ "Past Winners". Jewish Book Council. Retrieved January 20, 2020.

External links[edit]

Preceded by Newbery Medal recipient
Succeeded by