Number the Stars by Lois Lowry.
Number the Stars is a historical fiction (I know, you're shocked) set in Denmark during World War II. The main character, Annemarie, is best friends with a Jewish girl her age, and as the Nazis tighten their grip on the country, Annemarie and her family find themselves having to make hard choices to save their friends. The book opens the eyes of the reader to the horrors and truths of World War II without being too graphic - perfect for young readers' minds. It examines a harsh portion of history, but provides hope, because as long as there are people willing to fight back the evil, there is hope. It also discusses a little-known part of World War II history, that of Denmark's role in the Resistance movement. Denmark managed to save 80% of their Jewish population during the Nazi occupation - a phenomenal feat for that time period. This is a story worth telling, and Annemarie's tale (based on true stories told the author by a friend) is the perfect lens through which to see this perilous yet heroic period of history.
Lois Lowry is one of the great YA authors of our time. Her books range in topic from historical fiction to futuristic dystopia to the trials and tribulations of pre-teen girls. She writes in a style that speaks to readers of all levels; she uses vocabulary that is easily understood, but she never "talks down" to her readers. She assumes her YA have imaginations and is not afraid to put those imaginations to use. The results are delightful books for a range of ages, genders, and interests.
Two years ago I had the privilege of teaching this book to a classroom of students with behavioral disorders, and I discovered that not only was it a great book for the literature itself, it effortlessly led into fantastic character education opportunities. We were able to explore questions like "What would you do?" We transitioned from this into some teaching about the Holocaust in general, and we wrapped it up with one of my favorite projects, Heroes of the Holocaust, where we researched people who had made the decision during the 1940s to fight the Nazi regime by helping the Jews and others that the Nazis meant to exterminate.
The book also gave me a rare opportunity to talk about something almost unknown in the area in which I live - Jewish culture. My own background has Jewish ancestry, and my husband and I believe that, as Christians, it is essential to honor Christianity's Jewish roots and teach our children about them. As a result, I have a lot of information about the Feasts and the Festivals, as well as items that have become important to our family's heritage, such as our Menorah and the candles we use for Shabbat. Teaching this book in the classroom gave me a chance to share that heritage with my students and help open their world to a culture that was unfamiliar to them.
If you are a teacher, I highly recommend you incorporate this book into your curriculum. If you are not a teacher, you should read it, and then you should recommend it to your young friends. If you are a parent looking for a book for your YA reader - pick up Number the Stars, you won't regret it!
***If you are a teacher and would like any of the resources I used for my teaching unit, comment below, I am happy to share!
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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4. The Story of Britain by Rebecca Fraser
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