In Number the Stars, young readers learn about the horror of the Holocaust through the eyes of Annemarie Johansen, a 10-year-old from Denmark who is forced to find the bravery and courage within herself to save her family and friends. Throughout their reading, students will learn the importance of symbolism as a literary device and what it means when a young person, just like themselves, is forced to grow up too fast.
To help students fully reflect upon the reading, encourage them to focus on how Annemarie’s experience in the world is distinctly different from their own and to keep an eye out for symbols, and their significance, as they appear in the story. In this way, they’ll better comprehend the sophisticated themes presented and will be well-prepared to effectively discuss and write about what they’ve just read.
To help increase students' understanding of Number the Stars and the complex ideas the story introduces to students, here are five writing and discussion prompts to inspire student writing and conversation:
1. Drawing conclusions
What kind of risk did the Johansen family take by letting Ellen stay at their house?
2. Synthesizing ideas
What did the symbolic statement "Is the weather good for fishing?" mean?
3. Understanding sequence of events
What happens to Mama on her return from bringing families to Peter's boat? What does Annemarie find on the ground after helping Mama?
4. Making predictions
At the end of the story Annemarie retrieves the Star of David necklace from the trunk in which it was hidden. She puts it on and says she will wear it until Ellen returns. Do you think she will see her friend Ellen again and, if so, what clues in the story help you draw that conclusion?
5. Thinking critically
In the course of the story, the Star of David appears several times. What are some of the symbolic meanings of this star?
After students have successfully answered these questions, inspire even greater reflection by encouraging them to craft a letter of recommendation for Annemarie to receive an award for bravery. In this writing exercise, they’ll show how she displayed her bravery and give reasons why they think she should receive the award. The final piece will ultimately be one that persuades readers to agree with their point of view.
Additionally, to help them dive deeper and develop their skills of persuasion, ask students to research exhibits and collections at Holocaust museums or memorials to create a graphic poster that would inform viewers and persuade them to visit the museum or memorial.