Sunday, February 22, 2015

What We're Reading: Number the Stars

I have my sister Grace to thank for this fantastic read-aloud because she gave it to Delaney for Christmas.  Delaney read it herself first, and then asked me to read it at bedtime.  She then made sure to correct me on every part I misread or that she thought I'd misread (for example, she did not easily accept that "Kirsti" was not really "Kristi").  I first read this 1990 Newberry Award winner when I was about 12.  I know I enjoyed it but didn't remember a whole lot about it all these years later.  I never would have thought to read it with the kids because I mistakenly remembered it as being more of a Young Adult novel.  I soon discovered that Delaney's at the perfect age for this fictional story of a 10-year-old Danish heroine who along with her family, helps smuggle her Jewish best friend and her family to Sweden during World War II.

The story moves quickly and the chapters are very short which is perfect for those nights when bedtime happens a little later than it ought to.  But every chapter ended leaving us wanting more, and many ended with cliffhangers, making it nearly impossible to read just one chapter at bedtime.  Delaney was always disappointed when we had to end for the night, and a lot of times so was I.  We got sucked right in.

The story opens in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1943, as Annemarie and her best friend Ellen are racing home from school with Annemarie's five-year-old little sister trailing along behind.  Then they are ordered to halt by one of the Nazi soldiers patrolling the city, and are interrogated.  We never again see the girls acting like carefree kids.  The presence of the soldiers is becoming ever more oppressive, and the girls and their families are growing more fearful as the first few chapters progress.  They've seen their country taken over, good food and new clothes have become scarce, and the people tiptoe around trying to avoid angering the increasingly edgy German soldiers.  Sometimes Annemarie wonders just how far her family and she herself would go to protect the Jews of their country from the Nazis.  She feels scared when she thinks about that, but then she remembers that she's just an  "ordinary person who would never be called upon for courage."  

One day, word gets out that all the Jews of the city are to be rounded up and taken away.  Annemarie must be brave and help her family as they help Ellen and her family escape.  Annemarie learns quickly about the bravery and sacrifice that ordinary people like herself are capable of.  This is based on the true story of the Danish Resistance and how they smuggled thousands of Jews to safety in Sweden.

Throughout the book, Delaney would sometimes interrupt with questions such as, "Who were the Nazis?"  I tried to explain to her about what happened back then, with Hitler and the Holocaust.  This book is an appropriate introduction to that subject for kids since the focus is on how the good people fought back, and does not go into gory details of Nazi atrocities.

We also talked about what it means to be courageous.  At one point Annemarie said to her uncle who had praised her courage, "But I was so scared!"  And he said that they all were scared, but basically, being courageous means you do what you have to do anyway.  It definitely got Delaney thinking, and she said to me, "Do you think I'm courageous?"  I could have said, "Sure!" but instead I said, "What do you think?"  She just looked thoughtful.  It is hard for anyone to know what kind of courage they'll have when they need it, and when you're a seven-year-old who spends half your life in the back of your mom's SUV, it's pretty tough to imagine being in the scenarios that Annemarie was in.  But I know she's got a big heart for her friends and is developing ideas of good and bad, right from wrong.  I liked having the opportunity to talk about these things with her.  As far as Annie and Timmy go.. they probably just enjoyed extra time to wrestle before bed.  I think Annie was listening maybe some of the time.

Bring on the next great read-aloud!

1 comment:

  1. Good choice- I forgot about that book from when I was a kid! I'll have to write that down for when Allie is a little older.