Published in 1989, Number the Stars by Lois Lowry is a Newbery-award winning historical fiction middle-grade novel. While you may remember it as a favorite from your own childhood, if you’ve never read it before, it’s a story you’ll enjoy hearing for the first time as you read it with your family.
Number the Stars tells the story of Annemarie and her family who help their Jewish neighbors escape the Nazis in 1943 Denmark. This historical fiction book is inspired by the true story of how the people of Denmark worked together to smuggle almost all of the nation’s population of seven thousand Jews safely to Sweden.
We think you’ll appreciate the rich historical details that Lowry weaves throughout the story; you’ll learn a lot about this very specific resistance movement. Over and over as we’ve talked with friends who love this book, the theme that is mentioned is “courage.” The author does a masterful job of discussing bravery in a way that is accessible to children.
Additionally, we think she strikes a good balance between the suspense and danger of a WW2 resistance story and the hope of success and a community working together to protect their neighbors. That said, there are moments of true danger and suspense; only you know your readers well enough to judge their sensitivity to these topics. In our experience, children nine and up are able to handle this material well, but please be aware and make a choice that’s best for your readers.
Our Read-Aloud Poster for this book includes activities that will help your family understand the story itself as well as appreciate the historical and geographical context of the book. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at the poster activities.
Roll Call and Readers’ Ratings
We start and end all our Read-Aloud Posters with the Readers and Ratings activity. Start by having everyone sign their names, then close your read-aloud experience with ratings. Remember to ask WHY they gave the book the rating they did. Don’t skip this opportunity to learn about what your kids are enjoying (and not enjoying) about books right now (it can change pretty quickly!). This is great practice for your kids in giving detail to support their opinions, but it’s also important information for you as you try to recommend independent reading selections that they’ll enjoy.
Denmark: People, Places and Life During WW2
What do your readers already know about Denmark? What is it known for? Who are its famous citizens? Thinking about what you already know (or don’t know!) about Denmark can be a great pre-reading activity. Write down anything you already know about this country, and then be ready to add things you learn as you read Number the Stars together.
Our timeline for this book runs alongside the chapter tracker so that you can add events as you finish reading each chapter. There’s also a portion of the timeline at the top of the poster for you to add events that are told in flashback throughout the story. Flashback can be a difficult narrative technique for some children to differentiate as they listen, and this portion of the timeline helps to make it explicit. You may want to draw attention to time cues on the timeline both before you begin reading and as you encounter these episodes in the text.
My kids always love to know how many chapters there are in a book, how many chapters we’ve read each night, how many there are left to go. Enter, the chapter tracker! We’ve included on one nearly every one of our Read-Aloud Posters, and from what I hear, my kids aren’t the only ones who love to see their progress through a book grow.
Map of Denmark during WW2
The centerpiece of this Read-Aloud Poster is a large-scale map of Denmark and the surrounding areas at the time of WW2. You’ll gain a new appreciation for how the particular geography of Denmark and Sweden enabled the events of the story as you follow directions to add details to the map.
Character portraits are a great way to help kids make a concrete representation of the pictures we’re always telling them to make in their minds. Listen for details to draw each picture, and then add character traits to the surrounding life preserver. What does the character do or say to reveal their character? Do they change over the course of the story?
Quotations and discussion starters
To highlight some of the powerful quotes in Number the Stars, we chose to use them as springboards for discussion. What do they mean in the context of the story? As you read further, revisit the quotes and discuss whether subsequent events shed any further light on their significance. Write your answers directly on the poster, or use sticky notes and stack them on the question spot. It’s up to you!
We hope you enjoy reading Number the Stars with your family! Let us know if you have any questions about the Read-Aloud Poster; we’re always happy to chat about books!
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