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Number the Stars

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Number the Stars
First edition cover.
AuthorLois Lowry
Cover artistLois Lowry
GenreHistorical fiction
PublisherHoughton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date
Publication placeUnited States
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 revolves around ten-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 in a car crash. However, her former fiancé, Peter, who is partially 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 coincides 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 ten-year-old Anna Caterina Johnson, the Swedish girl used for the cover (shown in infobox), which was used on many editions of the book.[3]


Annemarie Johansen and Ellen Rosen, two ten-year-old best friends living in Nazi-controlled Copenhagen, Denmark, during World War II, and Annemarie's younger sister Kirsti, are stopped on the street on their way home from school by German soldiers. Annemarie tells her parents about the incident when she returns home. She is told to be more careful, especially because Ellen is Jewish. The Germans soon announce that they will be "relocating" Denmark's Jewish population. At the local synagogue, the Nazis take the names and addresses of every Jewish family in Copenhagen. Ellen's parents flee Denmark with Annemarie's brother-in-law, Peter. Ellen is forced to stay with the Johansens and masquerade as Lise, Annemarie's late older sister, despite being half her age. One early morning, three soldiers enter the Johansens' apartment, believing the Rosens might be hiding there. To conceal Ellen's identity, Annemarie rips off her Star of David necklace. Ellen is passed off as Annemarie's sister, with her parents providing old photos of Lise to prove this. The soldiers are suspicious of their story, but leave anyway.

Annemarie, Ellen, and Kirsti leave with Annemarie's mother the next morning for Uncle Henrik's house, which is across the lake from Sweden, a neutral country where Jews aren't persecuted. When they arrive, Henrik tells Annemarie that her Great-Aunt Birte has died, and a huge casket is placed in the middle of the living room. Annemarie doesn't believe she has a Great-Aunt Birte, but Henrik encourages her to be brave and keep this secret to herself, even from Ellen. The next evening, many people come to mourn "Aunt Birte", to Annemarie's puzzlement. Nazis come to the house and see start questioning the family. They explain that Great-Aunt Birte has died, and they are carrying out traditional rituals. When the Nazis order the casket to be opened, Mrs. Johansen lies that Great-Aunt Birte had typhus, a contagious disease, and the Nazis leave without further questions. After they leave, the wake continues. Peter, who is present, reads to the group the beginning of Psalm 147 from the Bible, which describes the Lord God numbering the stars. Annemarie's mind begins to wander since she is unfamiliar with the psalm. After finishing, Peter opens the casket and gives the warm clothing and blankets stored inside it to the Jewish families, were hiding as Great Aunt Birte's "friends.' They leave in smaller groups to avoid drawing attention to themselves. Ellen says goodbye to Annemarie and her mother.

Early 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, which Henrik had 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 that she is bringing a meal to her uncle. The soldiers do not believe her and one of them searches through the basket. However, they eventually let her go, and Annemarie makes it to her uncle's boat. She gives Henrik an envelope that contains a handkerchief, and returns home.

Henrik returns to Denmark later that evening from Sweden. He reveals to Annemarie that many Jewish people, including the Rosens, were hiding in his boat to be smuggled into Sweden. He also explains that the handkerchief in her package contained the scent of rabbit blood, which attracted the Nazi dogs, and the strong odor of cocaine, which numbed their noses and prevented them from tracking the Jews. Several revelations are made, including that Peter is in the Danish Resistance. It also reveals that Lise had not died from a car crash but from being run over by a tank because she was part of the Resistance.

Denmark is liberated two years after the war's end. Since then, Peter has 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 "...like 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]


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. ^ "Newbery Medal and Honor Books, 1922-Present". Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC). November 30, 1999. Retrieved January 20, 2020.
  8. ^ "Past Winners". Jewish Book Council. Retrieved January 20, 2020.

External links[edit]

Preceded by Newbery Medal recipient
Succeeded by