Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

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Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A missed opportunity in that it probably only speaks to girl readers, this tale of a young heroine in Nazi-run Denmark is still too important to be dismissed.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 224 Date: September 2011
Publisher: HarperCollins
ISBN: 978-0007395200

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Copenhagen, 1943, and everyone from schoolgirls like Annemarie up are suffering from shortages, fear and loathing - all caused by Nazi occupiers. But it's always been an open country, has Denmark, and no less than the King takes a daily horse ride, protected in plain view by every single loyal subject. But when, on the Jewish New Year, word gets out that Jews will have to be hidden more discretely, things kick into action. Annemarie and her family take her best friend, Ellen, to the country for safety. But it seems death will even follow them there...

Approaching this book knowing less than the above, I had to examine the 'essential modern classic' tag it's received from its publishers. Is it modern? Well many of the target audience of 8-12 year olds (more or less) would think anything dating, like this, from 1989 would have come from prehistory. But by being set in a realistic WWII setting that hardly matters, and nothing is lost for outdated contemporary concerns, as all its concerns are timeless.

Is it, though, a classic? Surely any classic children's fiction can transcend that to appeal to any and all audiences? Well, here, it doesn't. It's just too short, at two hours long, too guessable, and while Lowry has an economical and effective drive to her story (and a heck of a lot of important veracity if her postscript is to go by) there's not the danger, substance or emotion to carry this firmly into the hearts of anyone but young readers - and probably mostly female ones at that, due to sisterly concerns and a cutesy kitten.

But that doesn't mean it's not essential, however easy it is to fail to engage. If you can tell me of more books that put you in the mind and into the actions of a young, female righteous gentile against Nazi Jew-hunters, I'd like to hear of them. You'll notice John Boyne's name on the book, as for this edition he provides a spoilerific prologue, purely because of his The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, but whereas he got it perfectly right, a straight-styled fable to wrench the heart of all, concerning a kid in Nazi times, this only got halfway for me. But even to start on that path - to show the horrors of civilian life in wartime, to convey real-life ethnic cleansing with the truth to back you up - is better than to never try to walk that line at all.

So it would have been even more essential in 1989, yet is still important now. So I failed for once to engage with my inner tween girl self - this still has a necessary tale to tell.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy. We also have a review of Lowery's The Giver.

A similarly themed story from the same year, no less, was I Am David by Anne Holm.

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