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Young readers book reviews for ages 8 to 12 years old

*Number the Stars (Newbery Medal winner)* by Lois Lowry - young readers book review

Also by Lois Lowry:

The Giver


Number the Stars (Newbery Medal winner)
by Lois Lowry
Ages 9-12 144 pages Laurel Leaf February 1998 (reprint) Paperback    

Snuggled up in my bed at home, my seven-year-old curled up beside me, I asked, “What should we read tonight, David?” David looked around, saw the cardboard box filled with books for me to review, and peeked inside. Pulling one thin book from the box, he stared hard at the cover, flipped it over to read the blurbs on the back, then flipped it back to gaze at the troubled child, not much older than he, on the front.

Climbing back onto the bed, he said, “Let’s read this one. It’s about the Nazis.” The book he handed me was Lois Lowry’s Newbery Award-winning Number the Stars. Having never read anything before by Lois Lowry and having qualms about opening a frightening door like this, I had hoped to read this book alone first, to decide by myself if it was meant for the eyes of my dear child. David, sensing what I was thinking, pushed the book further into my hand and waited patiently for me to begin.

Together he and I opened the door—disguised as the cover of a book—that frightened me so. We peeked inside, slipped between the pages, and fell into a story that captured us in even its earliest moments. While I read out loud, David imagined himself running carefree through the streets of Copenhagen with three charming and promising girls: Annemarie, her little sister Kirsti, and their friend Ellen. He smiled to think of their race across the city, to guess who might win. He laughed to hear the youngest, Kirsti, yell, “Wait for me!” And he waited breathlessly as the three girls—two Christians and one Jew—were bid by a Nazi soldier to “Halte!” As I described the actions of the little girls, David mimicked them, tried to imagine what their lives were like, empathized with their fear and situation. Together, Annemarie and David looked up to find “ two helmets, two sets of cold eyes glaring...and four tall shiny boots.”

As Lowry describes the events that unfolded in Denmark in 1943, she deftly creates a window into the past that helps her reader to understand both a time long gone and the need to never forget it. Even as she does this with apparent ease, Lowery keeps her writing fingers on the pulse of childhood, acknowledging the anxiety that accompanies the brave acts of these children. As Annemarie talks with her Uncle Henrik, a participant in the Danish resistance against the Nazis, he explains the nature of her bravery, saying, “brave means—not thinking about the dangers...Of course you were frightened...But you kept your mind on what you had to do.”

Observing David’s reaction to and interaction with the story Lois Lowry tells in Number the Stars reminded me of my own experiences with The Diary of Anne Frank and The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. As a child not much older than David, I had stayed up late night after night to read these two books, finally falling asleep with tears glittering against my cheeks. Their stories were both beautiful and terrible, pulling a catharsis from me like no other books of my youth ever did. They left me with strong ideas of human worth and perseverance, but also revealed the farthest lengths of human depravity and cruelty that any child—reading about it rather than living it--could imagine. Somehow, I had hoped to protect my son—at least for a little while—from the understanding that human beings are not only capable of love and kindness, but also of hatred and cruelty. What I found, though, is that he was prepared to hear the tale in Lois Lowry’s terms and to envision it through the lenses of these three little Danish girls who prove that sometimes the good do win.

Both Lois Lowry’ s beautifully told Number the Stars and David’s honest and heartfelt understanding of it surprised me and re-educated me a bit. In relatively few pages, Lowry delivers a tale that surprises her readers with joy and heartache and reminds them of the universality of both. In the end, what the reader is left with is the understanding that none of us is alone. We are all part of a bigger picture and purpose, even as we, like stars, are “number[ed] by one.”
Young readers book reviews for ages 8 to 12 years old

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