Teacher's Guide: Number the Stars


Set in 1943 when the Nazi occupied Denmark, 10-year-old Annemarie Johansen is asked to perform a heroic deed and aid her uncle in his efforts to smuggle Danish Jews across the sea to Sweden, where they will be safe. She has already lost her older sister, Lise, in the Danish Resistance, and now it appears that her best friend, Ellen Rosen, is in danger. The Johansen’s take in Ellen, while her parents are relocated somewhere outside of Copenhagen. When it becomes apparent that the Danish Jews aren’t safe, Mrs. Johansen takes her children and Ellen to Uncle Henrik’s house on the coast. Until now, Annemarie has accepted the secrets and unusual silence of her parents, but when it falls upon her to deliver a mysterious packet to Uncle Henrik’s fishing boat, she conquers her fears and learns the real meaning of courage.


Lois Lowry first captivated young readers in 1977 with her first novel, A Summer to Die. She has continued to win the hearts of children and young adults with books like the Anastasia Krupnik series, The Silent Boy, Gathering Blue, Messenger, and her two Newbery Medal winners, The Giver (1994) and Number the Stars (1990). In addition to the Newbery Medal, Lowry has received the Boston Globe—Horn Book Award, the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award, and the Mark Twain Award. She divides her time between an apartment on Boston’s Beacon Hill and an 1840s farmhouse in rural New Hampshire.


Pre-reading Activity
Ask students to go on a virtual field trip to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (www.ushmm.org/outreach/denmark.htm) and read about the Resistance Movement in Denmark during World War II. Who were the members of the Resistance? How did they accomplish their work? Write a short paper titled “The Heroic Danes.”


Annemarie and Ellen encounter Nazi soldiers on their way home from school. Why do the girls think it wise to keep this encounter to themselves? How is their decision related to fear? Mrs. Johansen takes her children and Ellen to Uncle Henrik's house where Ellen is reunited with her family and transported by fishing boat to Sweden. Annemarie feels that there is "less danger, but more fear” for those who are waiting. How does she come face-to-face with danger and fear as she delivers the packet to Uncle Henrik?

Ask students to explain the statement, “It is much easier to be brave if you don’t know everything.” (p. 76) Debate whether this is why Peter didn’t tell Mr. and Mrs. Johansen about Lise’s involvement in the Resistance until long after her death. Discuss the relationship between fear and bravery. How is Peter Nielsen fearless and brave? How does King Christian X instill bravery in the Danish people? What does Mrs. Johansen do to help her children conquer their fears and be brave? Discuss how the Johansen’s bravery contributes to the courage of the Rosen family.

Describe Annemarie’s responsibility to herself, her family, and the Rosens. How do Uncle Henrik and Mrs. Johansen communicate their trust in Annemarie and instill in her a sense of responsibility? Discuss how “secrets” and “silence” represent responsible behavior during the time when the Nazi occupied Denmark.

Growing Up
How is Annemarie robbed of her youth? What scene most symbolizes her transformation into adulthood? Discuss why her family waits so long to tell her how Lise died. How does the truth about Lise’s death contribute to Annemarie’s passage into a grown-up world? Ellen must have grown-up during her years in Sweden. How might the girls respond to one another as adults?

The Danish people made many sacrifices during the time that the Nazi occupied their country. For example, they made shoes from fish skin rather than leather. Discuss other sacrifices they made. What was their ultimate sacrifice?


Ask students to discuss how Ellen’s Star of David necklace symbolizes hope. Discuss the significance of Lise’s yellow dress as a hiding place for Ellen’s necklace. How do the citizens of Denmark offer hope to their Jewish friends and neighbors?

Define patriotism. The Danish people seemed especially patriotic during the Nazi occupation of their country. Discuss how they demonstrate patriotism. How does Mr. Johansen instill patriotism in his children? Amid the celebration at the end of the war, Annemarie is still grieving Lise’s death. Debate whether she eventually accepts Lise’s death as a heroic act of patriotism.


Language Arts
The Free Danes was an illegal newspaper that Peter Neilsen occasionally brought to the Johansens. Write an article that pays tribute to Lise Johansen and Peter Neilsen and the Resistance movement for this newspaper after the war ends. Include quotes from Annemarie and Mr. and Mrs. Johansen.

Ask students to write a short paper about the role of fairy tales in the novel. For example, discuss how Annemarie uses the story of Little Red Riding Hood to give her courage to deliver the packet to Uncle Henrik. Who is the wolf? Little Red Riding Hood? The Grandmother? What represents the basket? What is the symbolism of the woods?

Social Studies
Ask students to research the reign of King Christian X of Denmark. How does he demonstrate his love of all Danish people? What is his role in protecting the Jews of Denmark when Germany takes over his country? Write a brief biography of Christian X from the point of view of a Danish Jew.

Find out about the “V” campaign in Denmark. Use the philosophy and codes of the “V” campaign and stage a radio show that might have aired in Demark during the Nazi occupation.

Ask students to use a world map, or a map of Europe, to locate Germany, Denmark, and Sweden. Instruct them to calculate the distance of the Kattegal, the portion of the North Sea that lies between Sweden and Denmark.

During World War II, Swedish scientists did develop a solution that killed the sense of smell in dogs. So the handkerchief that Annemarie delivered to Uncle Henrik’s fishing boat could have really existed. Ask students to find out other ways scientists contributed to the Resistance. The class may also wish to investigate how Hitler used science in the Final Solution.

Design a poster that Annemarie might hang from the balcony of her family’s apartment on the day World War II ended.


The vocabulary in the novel isn’t difficult, but students should jot down unfamiliar words and try to define them, taking clues from the context. Such words may include: rucksack (p. 1), obstinate (p. 4), sabotage (p. 8), resistance (p. 8), trousseau (p. 14), swastika (p. 21), imperious (p. 39), dismayed (p. 76), condescending (p. 77), and permeated (p. 136).


The Rescue of the Danish Jews
Biography of Preben Munch-Nielsen, a courier in the Danish resistance movement.

Nationalmuseet: The Resistance Museum
Official site for the Museum of Danish Resistance 1940—1945

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
A discussion of the Danish resistance movement


The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
by John Boyne
HC 0-385-75106-0
Grades 7 up
Fear, Bravery, Sacrifice

In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer
by Irene Gut Opdyke as told to Jennifer Armstrong
Grades 5—8
HC: 0-679-89181-9
PB: 0-553-49411-2
Fear, Bravery, Sacrifice, Responsibility, Growing Up, Hope

Jacob’s Rescue
by Malka Drucker and Michael Halpern
Grades 4—7
PB: 0-440-40965-6
Fear, Bravery, Growing Up, Responsibility, Hope

by Jerry Spinelli
Grades 5 up
HC: 0-375-81374-8
PB: 0-440-42005-9
Fear, Bravery, Growing Up, Responsibility, Sacrifice, Hope

The Night Crossing
by Karen Sckerman
Grades 2—6
PB: 0-679-87040-7
Fear, Bravery, Growing Up, Responsibility, Sacrifice, Hope


Prepared by Pat Scales, Children Literature Consultant, Greenville, SC.