Year of Publication: 1989
Genre: Historical Fiction (Middle Grade)
Format (How I Read It): Paperback
Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen and her best friend Ellen Rosen often think of life before the war. It’s now 1943 and their life in Copenhagen is filled with school, food shortages, and the Nazi soldiers marching through town. When the Jews of Denmark are “relocated,” Ellen moves in with the Johansens and pretends to be one of the family. Soon Annemarie is asked to go on a dangerous mission to save Ellen’s life.
“It is much easier to be brave if you do not know everything”
Themes: Bravery. Friendship. Doing the right thing. Bravery means doing the right thing even if it scares you.
Character Development: The character development in this book was really well done. The main character, Annemarie, grows a lot throughout the story. The book is set during WWII, so she was forced to rapidly go from an innocent child to a mature and brave one in a very short amount of time. All of the minor characters are great too. It’s a relatively short book, but it packs a punch. Each character serves a purpose in the story and contributes to Annemarie’s development. And since we don’t get to spend much time with each character due to the short length of the book, this just goes to show how strong the characters in this story are because you really do feel connected to all of them.
Plot/Pacing: The story moves at a quick pace and is very suspenseful (though I worry it may feel less suspenseful for kids who may not have a lot of background knowledge on WWII). The short chapters make it difficult to put down. I also appreciated that, although the plot is intense and dark, it wasn’t overly dramatic or over-the-top. It presents delicate subject matter in a very tasteful way.
“Ellen had said that her mother was afraid of the ocean, that it was too cold and too big. The sky was, too, thought Annemarie. The whole world was: too cold, too big. And too cruel. ”
Writing Style: Simple but powerful. I appreciated how there were smooth inclusions of historical background information embedded throughout the story. This is something that is often hit-or-miss for me with middle grade historical fiction. Sometimes, too much information is included, which makes it feel didactic and tedious. And other times not enough background information is included, which can make it feel confusing and overwhelming. The inclusion of historical background information in Number the Stars was seamless and served the story well.
“Bingeability”: High. The intense plot and short chapters make it nearly impossible to put down.
Emotional Investment: High. Reading about children during WWII is emotional, and you’ll feel for the families in this story with your whole heart as you’re reading.
Windows and Mirrors: WWII. Denmark. Being Jewish (during WWII).
“She fell asleep, and it was a sleep as thin as the night clouds, dotted with dreams that came and went like the stars.”
Overall Thoughts: This was a perfect model of middle grade historical fiction. It has a great story, compelling characters, and is informative about a really important time in history. The author’s note at the end is fantastic because it clarifies what in the story was fact and what was fiction. I also had never really learned specifically about Denmark during WWII, and both the story and the author’s note taught me a lot about this history. And it’s incredible! My only minor issue was that, while I loved the simplicity of the straightforward storytelling and how it wasn’t overly detailed or bloated, I did feel that it could have been a little bit darker. It’s a really dark time in history, and I don’t know if that totally came across in the story (and I think kids could handle it). However, that is truly a really minor issue. It’s a fantastic book!
Recommendation: I think you could maybe do this as a read-aloud, but it would depend on your class (or child). For teachers and guardians, I would recommend reading this yourself first to see if it would be the right fit. Otherwise, this would be the perfect expert model for learning about the historical fiction genre. The author’s note at the end does a great job of distinguishing between fact and fiction, so you could easily do an anchor chart or an activity where students compare and contrast what’s fact and what’s fiction in a historical fiction text (i.e. the character of Annemarie was fictional, but the king of Denmark was real/factual). In general, I’d recommend this book for adults and children alike! It’s a great book that can be enjoyed by people of all ages!
Thank you for reading my review! Leave a comment letting me know if you’ve read this one or have any questions about it, and keep an eye out for my next review!