Monday, February 12, 2007

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

I have fond memories of waking up early nearly every Saturday morning and going downtown to Cincinnati's library with my family. Books were an important part of my childhood early on. Even before we could read, my brother and sister and I would pick out books for my mother to read to us each night before bed. Oddly enough, I had not heard of Number the Stars until this year. I was discussing favorite books over dinner, and Number the Stars was the first book Ann mentioned. Although she had read it as a kid, it wasn't until recently, when she read it again for a class on children's literature that she realized just how good the book was. (I wonder how much her love for the book hinges on the fact that she essentially has the same name as the protagonist.)

I took Ann's recommendation to heart; and it was indeed a great story. The book centers around the Johansen's, a Danish family living in Copenhagen during the Nazi occupation of Denmark. The family becomes involved in smuggling Jewish families over to Sweden, where they would be safe from Nazi aggression. The main character of Number the Stars is ten-year-old Annemarie, a young girl who faces her greatest fears in order to save her best friend's family. While Annemarie and the rest of the characters are fictional, many of their experiences are grounded in personal accounts from that time. In the afterword, Ms. Lowry shares excerpts from some of the documents on which her story is based. Just like the characters in the story, these real-life figures display strength and courage in the face of overwhelming adversity.

While reading the book, I was reminded of a quote by Martin Niemoller, a German Lutheran minister who spoke out against the nazification of the world around him. His powerful statement has stuck with me.
"First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist, so I said nothing. Then they came for the Social Democrats, but I was not a Social Democrat, so I did nothing. Then came the trade unionists, but I was not a trade unionist. And then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew, so I did little. When they came for me, there was no one left to stand up for anyone."
Number the Stars is a book about standing up--not for yourself, but for others. If you have not read this book, read it. Sure, it's written for children, but don't let that stop you. And who knows, maybe walking through the kid's section of the library will bring back a few good memories.

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