Number the Stars is an extremely well-written, moving story about a girl, in World War II, who helps her parents smuggle a family of Jews out of Denmark to safety in Sweden. The main character, like Lowry herself, has lost her older sister and is still reeling from the empty space she has left behind. Lowry manages to convey all the emotion of sibling loss with the even greater depths of emotion brought on by the difficulties of war.
When Annemarie Johansen's best friend, Ellen Rosen, comes to stay for a night, Annemarie is aware that the situation is perilous and they must pretend that Ellen is really her older sister, Lise, who died in a car crash a few years before. Ellen is a Jew and the Nazis are preparing to relocate the family. Soldiers do indeed come knocking, wanting to know if the Johansens know the whereabouts of their neighbors, the Rosens. Papa, thinking quickly on his feet, presents the soldiers with photos of his three daughters at birth. Thankfully, Lise had dark hair, just like Ellen, at birth, though both Annemarie and her younger sister, Kirsti, are fair-haired. The danger is not yet over. They must travel by train and attempt to fool the guards in order to get the Rosens safely across the sea to the shores of Sweden. Annemarie must be very brave and mature quickly in the face of these threatening times.
It was, by far, the best children's book I have read so far this year. Lowry's writing is enchanting. It is a perfect introduction for larger discussions with children about the harsh realities of war and ways people triumph over adversities. I especially appreciated the final track, where the author spoke of how much of the story was based in fact and how much came from her imagination. This would make an excellent read-aloud for older elementary students and will appeal equally to children and adults.