I'm a big believer in reading aloud to older kids and we still read aloud with our tween at bedtime. We are currently in the middle of a wonderful book, Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. It takes place at the time of the Jewish New Year and it seems to fitting to post about it on Rosh Hashanah, which this year begins at sundown tonight and lasts until nightfall on September 6.
Number the Stars is a Newbery Award winning historical fiction novel set in Denmark in September 1943, when the country was occupied by Nazis. It tells the story of 10 year-old Annemarie Johansen, who is Christian, and her best friend, Ellen Rosen, who is Jewish. When the German troops begin to relocate the Jews around the time of Rosh Hashanah, the Johansen's make Ellen a part of their family and protect her. The Danish Resistance works to smuggle almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark, nearly seven thousand people, across the sea to Sweden. How they do so is ingenious.
This is a very moving tale of heroism and bravery exhibited by an entire nation as seen through the eyes of a tween.
The evacuation of Jews from Nazi-held Denmark is a fascinating, inspiring chapter of the history of World War II that is largely unknown. This book was a wonderful way for my husband, my daughter and myself to learn about it.
Number the Stars got two thumbs up from all three family members and we all agreed that we would highly recommend it to anyone, of any age.
The book is broken down into relatively short chapters of 10 pages or less which worked well for us reading at night. My daughter would beg to read more no matter how tired she was. I also hated to put it down each night. Lowry does a wonderful job of building suspense and tension without the book becoming overly scary. That suspense and tension, however, may not have always made for the most relaxing bedtime reading.
If I had it to do over again, we would read the book individually and discuss it as a family book club read. The chapters pull the reader along and it's so seemless that I think this would suck in even a reluctant tween reader. I suspect that my tween would have devoured the book in a sitting or two, and I certainly would do the same.
That said, being able to talk about the chapters each night was beneficial. There's a lot to discuss, and tweens are now old enough to begin really comprehending the horror of this dark period of history and to appreciate the light that shone through the darkness, which is especially bright in this book. Breaking that down into smaller pieces night by night was probably best for my sensitive tween.
The book is recommended for ages 9 and up and, given the serious subject matter, I'd say that sounds right and with sensitive kids, waiting a year or two is not necessarily a bad call. I've seen it on a lot of sixth grade or middle school reading lists. I think my child is better able to truly appreciate it now that she's in sixth grade.
You also do not need to be a tween to appreciate this book. It doesn't seem like a tween book any more than The Diary of Anne Frank does. I am urging all kinds of adults I know to read it - it's short but full of impact. It's historically accurate, moving and inspiring.
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