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Number the Stars

by Lois Lowry

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Themes and Characters

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Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen is the protagonist of Number the Stars; all the action of the book is seen through her eyes. Annemarie can remember a time when Nazis in shiny boots were not standing on every street corner; she remembers "the music and the brightly colored lights, the carousel and ice cream" at the Tivoli Gardens. Throughout the book, Annemarie worries that she will not have the courage to stand up to the Nazis. When she is tested, however, she instinctively acts bravely.

The Johansens are a close-knit, loving family. Mr. and Mrs. Johansen have lost one daughter to the Nazis, yet they continue to fight for the Resistance. Like the parents in many of Lowry's books, they are loving and wise, and the reader can see their influence on Annemarie's actions. Annemarie's five-year-old sister Kirsti is too young to comprehend the political situation, and is capable of innocently blurting out secrets, a danger that serves to heighten the tension of the book.

Ellen Rosen's father is a schoolteacher and her mother is one of Mrs. Johansen's best friends. When the Nazis announce their plans to relocate Copenhagen's Jews, Lise's fiance Peter Neilson—himself wounded in the raid that killed Lise—leads Ellen's parents into hiding, while Ellen moves in with the Johansens, pretending that she is their daughter.

The Nazis—infuriated that the Rosens have disappeared—arrive at the Johansens' house one morning at 4 a.m., looking for missing Jews. When the Johansens try to pass off Ellen as their third daughter, the soldiers point out that Ellen has dark hair while Annemarie and Kirsti are blondes. In response, Mr. Johansen produces baby pictures of his three daughters, showing them that Lise was dark-haired as an infant. The Nazis reluctantly accept this as proof but spitefully mutilate the pictures before leaving.

The next day Mrs. Johansen takes Annemarie, Kirsti, and Ellen into the countryside to her brother Henrik's farmhouse. Uncle Henrik is a fisherman who has been transporting Jews to Sweden, hiding them in a secret hollow at the bottom of his boat. At the farm Ellen is reunited with her parents, and that night Mrs. Johansen leads the Rosens down a dark trail to the waterfront.

The Rosens reach the boat safely, but have forgotten to deliver an important sealed packet sent from Peter to Uncle Henrik. To complicate matters, Mrs. Johansen breaks her ankle and is unable to carry the packet herself. Because she is familiar with the path to the boat, Annemarie offers to take the packet to Uncle Henrik. When she encounters a party of Nazis with dogs, Annemarie feigns innocence and models her little sister's behavior. Even though she is frightened, she acts impatient—Just as she knows Kirsti would. As Peter planned, the Nazi dogs sniff the packet, which contains a scented handkerchief, and are thrown off the Rosens' scent.

Only later does Annemarie discover the significance of the scented handkerchief. When she finds out that the Rosens have made it safely to Sweden, she realizes that all of her family have been courageous. 'That's all that brave means—not thinking about the dangers. Just thinking about what you must do," she says. Annemarie, Uncle Henrik, Peter, and the entire Johansen family are memorable examples of ordinary people willing to risk their lives for what they know is right.

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