Number The Stars is a Historical Fiction children's novel by Lois Lowry.
The novel is about a Danish girl named Annemarie Johansen and her Jewish friend Ellen Rosen. They live in Copenhagen, Denmark during World War II. They are forced to move out into Annemarie's Uncle Henrik's home after Nazi soldiers demand to know the whereabouts of Ellen's Jewish family. Ellen, now disguised as Annemarie's dead sister Lise, joins the Johansen family in Uncle Henrik's home. Annemarie has to face her fears in order to save her friend.
It received the John Newbery Medal in 1990.
This novel provides examples of:
- Adult Fear:
- The whole scenario: Nazi occupation in Denmark; there are some inconveniences like having no sugar or butter. Then there are the soldiers stopping you for any reason, like running on the street. When some soldiers stop the girls and fondle Kristi's hair, their mother obviously freaks out and suggests they take a different way home for a few days.
- Annemarie's older sister Lise died in a car accident, and after she had celebrated her engagement to Peter. Much later, Annemarie's parents reveal that Lise was murdered by the Nazis running her over with a car, due to her being part of the Resistance. The only consolation Annemarie has is that at least Lise was not shot in public, the way Peter was.
- The whole scene where the Johansens lie to intruding soldiers that Ellen is their daughter Lise. Mr. Johansen's Papa Wolf attitude is Not An Act, especially when the soldiers suspect she is not their daughter while looking for the Rosens. Annemarie is relieved that Kirsti is sleeping through it because she would have a tantrum and make things worse. The soldiers when they are convinced tear up the photo of the real Lise.
- Annoying Younger Sibling: Kirsti.
- As the Good Book Says...: The title is taken from Psalm 147:4, in which the psalmist describes that God "tells the number of the stars [and] calls them each by name". During the time that the Johansen family is sheltering the Rosen family in Uncle Henrik's house and staging "Great-Aunt Birte's wake", Peter reads a passage from the same psalm; but as Annemarie hears it, she thinks that it's impossible to number the stars in the sky.
- Bittersweet Ending: Ellen and her family survive the Holocaust, as do other Danish-Jewish families. Peter dies and is shot, however, and the Johansens can only leave flowers at an unmarked grave and hope it's his.
- Bookends: In the beginning, Annemarie is racing with Ellen on the street. Near the end, she is running to deliver a package that will help the Rosens escape.
- Casual Danger Dialogue: Annemarie delivers the handkerchief to her uncle, apologizing that Nazis's dogs ate the "bread" that was supposed to be his lunch. Uncle Henrik is more relieved that she's okay and that the handkerchief means that none of the refugees will be found. He then grins and tells her he hopes that the dogs choked on the loaf.
- Cheating with the Milkman: When the Nazis search the Johansens, Ellen is pretending to be Annemarie's sister. She has dark hair that is different from the others' blond hair, so the Nazis ask if they got her from the milkman.
- Coffin Contraband: A coffin loaded with essential supplies for Danish-born Jewish refugees is used in order to avoid being seized by Nazi soldiers. There was a close encounter with one until the soldier was "advised" that the coffin bore the dead victim of typhus.
- Death by Newbery Medal: Peter dies during the time skip, and Lise died in the backstory when a Nazi car struck her. However, Ellen and other Danish Jews survive and are evacuated.
- Did Not Die That Way: We are told that Annemarie's older sister Lise was killed when she was hit by a car near the beginning of the Nazi occupation of Denmark. At the end of the book, Annemarie's parents tell her the truth: Lise was a member of La Résistance. She was hit by a car, but it was a car driven by Nazis who deliberately ran her down as she tried to flee from them.
- Double-Meaning Title: The title references the Star of David badges used by the Nazi regime to identify Jews, but also alludes to a famous passage from the Book of Genesis about God's covenant with Abraham and the birth of the Jewish people ("Look toward the heavens and number the stars, if you are able to, and so shall your descendants be"). Might be a Triple-Meaning Title because it also references Psalm 147:4 (see As the Good Book Says...).
- Dramatic Necklace Removal: The Nazis are coming, and Annemarie realizes that Ellen still has her Star of David necklace on, so she yanks it off just in time. However, she warns her that it will hurt, and at the end, she asks her father to fix it so she may wear it herself until Ellen comes back.
- Dye or Die: Peter has red hair, so he must wear a hat to keep the Nazis from discovering him.
- Guile Hero: Annemarie's parents are both quick-thinking and brilliant when dealing with the Nazi soldiers. When they ask why Ellen is brown-haired while Kirsti and Annemarie are blonde, Mr. Johansen just shows him baby pictures of his deceased daughter, Lise— who luckily was born with brown hair. Annemarie realizes he even had the foresight to angrily rip the picture out of the album, because the true Lise's birthdate was written on the bottom of the picture and she was much older than Ellen appears to be. Mrs. Johansen later uses a Bugs Bunny-level reversal of opinion to keep from having to open the casket holding the Jewish refugees' supplies, by talking about how much she longed to give "Great-Aunt Birte" a final kiss goodbye even though the doctor advised a closed casket due to her dying of typhus.
- Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: The whole Johansen family, with their blond hair and good-nature. It is however Lise's involvement in the Danish Resistance along with Annemarie and her parents move to help the Rosen family escape the Nazis that cement their status of bearing golden hearts.
- Heroes Want Redheads: Lise's involvement in the Danish Resistance makes her one and she was engaged to Peter.
- Impersonation Gambit: The Jewish Ellen goes under the guise of Lise to avoid capture.
- Kick the Dog: Nazis make a habit out of this. The soldiers that intrude on the apartment tear up the photo of Lise, the real Lise, after they see her dark curls and are convinced that Ellen is her. It especially hurts in that Lise died two years ago.
- La Résistance: The Danish Resistance.
- Make It Look Like an Accident: Lise died because she was hit by a car. In the end, it is revealed that she was intentionally hit by the Nazis, because she was part of La Résistance.
- "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: Lois Lowry in the afterword confirms that the handkerchief used to stop the Nazi dogs was a real invention, of rabbit blood and cocaine, to destroy their sense of smell.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Annemarie and Mrs. Johansen do this when dealing with the Nazis.
- Title Drop: During the fake funeral, Peter reads from Psalm 147, which describes God as "He Who numbers the stars one by one."
- Underground Railroad: Helping the Jews hide or escape from the Nazis.
- You Don't Want to Catch This: A casket is used to hold the supplies of the Jews in hiding. A German soldier comes in and they say that they are holding a funeral for "Great-Aunt Birte". The soldier tells them to open the casket, but Annemarie's mother says that "Great-Aunt Birte" died of typhus, and the doctor warned them against exposure.