Number the Stars

Number the Stars Essay Questions

  1. 1

    How does Annemarie grow over the course of the story?

    As the story progresses, Annemarie realizes that courage is not something that only appears in fairy tales. In an extraordinary time like World War II, ordinary people like the Johansens had to be brave and heroic. Although Annemarie never stops being afraid of the Germans, she learns to manage her fear and use her intelligence to trick them. She also begins to take responsibility for Ellen's safety, and also protects her mother and her younger sister, Kirsti.

  2. 2

    Why is Peter willing to die fighting the Germans?

    Peter Neilsen believes that ensuring a free, decent society is more important than any one person's life. In her Author's Note, Lowry writes that Peter was inspired by Kim Malthe-Bruun, a real Resistance fighter who wrote that fighting prejudice and narrow-mindedness was worth making the ultimate sacrifice. Peter's willingness to fight and die in the Resistance may also be compounded by the loss of his fiancee, Lise. Ever since she died, his life has not been the same, and by continuing to fight, he is honoring her memory.

  3. 3

    How does Annemarie's understanding of pride change over time?

    Even as a young child at the beginning of the novel, Annemarie understands the importance of pride. She sees it all around her––in her father's patriotism, Ellen's pride in her acting, and the Rosens' pride in their Jewish identity. Annemarie notes that the Rosens still maintain their dignity, even as they are about to escape to Sweden, disguised in tattered clothes. They are leaving behind their jobs, their homes, and most of their possessions in pursuit of freedom. At this moment, Annemarie realizes that pride is not reliant on status or material possessions, but rather, it comes from within.

  4. 4

    Describe Annemarie's relationship with Kirsti. Does it change over the course of the novel?

    Annemarie loves Kirsti deeply, but she is often annoyed with her five-year-old sister's immature behavior. Annemarie and her mother frequently tell Kirsti fairy tales to protect the young girl from the dangerous events unfolding around her. It is possible that Annemarie feels maternal toward Kirsti because of Lise's death. After their older sister dies, there is no one to care for Kirsti when Mama is not around. Although Kirsti provides comic relief throughout most of the novel, Annemarie notices that the German soldiers are more lenient with her younger sister because she is so innocent. When she needs to convince the German soldiers to let her see Uncle Henrik, Annemarie tries to behave just like Kirsti would. In this moment, she realizes the importance of childlike naivete - it helps her to disguise her fear. After this experience, Annemarie starts to see Kirsti as less of a burden, appreciating her sister's outspoken innocence.

  5. 5

    Why doesn't Uncle Henrik explain to Annemarie about Great-Aunt Birte? Do you agree with his reasoning? Why or why not?

    Uncle Henrik believes that Annemarie will be safer if she doesn't know the truth behind Great-Aunt Birte's "funeral." He also observes that it will be easier for Annemarie to be brave if she doesn't have to lie to the Germans about what she knows. His reasoning is sound - by keeping the truth from young Annemarie, he protects her from the burden of having to lie to the Germans. It also means that she cannot accidentally spill secrets to the Germans if they pressure her. However, her ignorance about the situation also makes it hard for her to make informed decisions when she is facing certain obstacles.

  6. 6

    How would you describe the tone of Number the Stars? Explain your reasoning.

    Number the Stars has many suspenseful, dark moments and the characters are often in great peril. However, it also features moments of comic relief, such as Kirsti's tantrums and the accident-prone kitten, Thor. These humorous moments show that despite their dangerous circumstances, Annemarie and Ellen are still children who hold onto a certain degree of innocence. This in turn reflects well on their parents, who have successfully sheltered them from the horrors of the war. The novel describes a very dark period of history but also shows the importance of hope and friendship in these troubled times.

  7. 7

    Discuss the German soldiers who appear in the story. Are they all the same, or do they have their own personalities?

    Early in the story, Annemarie and Ellen run into a German soldier they call the Giraffe. They see him every day on their way home from school, and know that he has a family just like they do. Although he is slightly rude to the girls, he ultimately does not act violently towards them, even comparing Kirsti to his own daughter. However, many of the Germans are more sinister. The Gestapo officers who come to the Johansens' apartment looking for the Rosens are by far the cruelest. Their job is to arrest Jews and 'relocate' them to concentration camps. They make lewd comments about Mama and purposefully scare the children. The other soldiers fall somewhere in between on the scale of brutality –– for example, the soldiers with the dogs who confront Annemarie on her way to the harbor clearly enjoy making life difficult for the Danes, but they seem to be much less intelligent than the Gestapo officers. They bully Annemarie and take her food, but leave her with the packet that ultimately enables the Rosens' safe escape.

  8. 8

    Discuss Lise's role in the story. Why do you think Lowry included her?

    Lise's tragic death shows readers the high price of war, even for families that are not directly involved with the military. Lise's decision to join the Resistance at only eighteen also shows the important role that young Danes played in fighting the German occupation. The fact that the Johansens used to have a third daughter also makes it easier to pass off Ellen as their own for a few days while they arrange for her passage to Sweden. In a way, using Lise's identity to rescue the Rosens honors her memory, since she gave her life in the fight to free Denmark. Also, Lise's death at the hands of the Germans serves as an additional motivation for the Johansens to risk their lives in order to help Jewish refugees escape from Denmark.

  9. 9

    How do Annemarie's observational skills help her?

    Annemarie loves to learn about the world around her, and she pays careful attention to what is going on even when she is not part of it. Her observational skills help her notice when her parents and Uncle Henrik are talking in code about rescuing the refugees. When the Germans with the dogs confront her on the way to the harbor, she remembers the way the Giraffe treated young Kirsti back in Copenhagen. Annemarie knows that the Germans would see Kirsti as a silly girl incapable of having any ulterior motive, so she decides to act exactly how Kirsti would. Annemarie is successful in her charade because she has paid close attention to her sister's behavior and knows exactly what she would say if the Germans confronted her in this way.

  10. 10

    What does Ellen's necklace symbolize?

    Ellen's necklace features the Star of David, a symbol of Jewish identity. Because Ellen has continued to wear the necklace even when it is dangerous to do so, it shows that she is very proud of her heritage. She also tells Annemarie that her father gave it to her when she was young and she has never taken it off. This suggests that in addition to Jewish identity, it also represents Ellen's family history. By wearing the necklace herself at the end of the novel, Annemarie shows solidarity with the Jews who suffered and died during the war. She also wears the necklace as a way of staying close to her friend, even though she is far away.