It is 1943, and ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen’s ordinary life in Copenhagen, Denmark is forever changed when Nazi troops start to “relocate” Danish Jews. Annemarie’s family takes in her best friend, Ellen Rosen, and pretends that she is Annemarie’s sister. Ultimately, more must be done to save Ellen, and Annemarie demonstrates incredible bravery in helping smuggle Ellen, her family, and other Danish Jews across the sea to Sweden.
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In the informational text “Learning About the Holocaust,” Michael A. Signal discusses the persecution and violence Jewish people suffered during World War II.
Read this text before starting Number the Stars to build students’ background knowledge about the Holocaust. Keep in mind that elementary students learn history best through individual accounts and may have difficulty connecting stories to their larger historical context. As such, this article is intended to start a discussion about the importance of diversity in society and the dangers of hatred and discrimination. To ensure students understand the key details in this text, we suggest a few tips. First, preview the vocabulary words defined within the text before reading. Second, turn on Guided Reading Mode to help students monitor their comprehension as they read. After reading the text, use Discussion Question 1, “In the text, the author discusses how Jews were targeted during the Holocaust. How is this an example of prejudice? How did this prejudice lead to the persecution of Jews? How do you think discussing this example of prejudice from the past can help us today and in the future?” to solidify students’ understanding.
In Sandra Havriluk’s short story “The Sign of the Cat,” a boy’s grandmother opens their home to people who were left jobless by the Great Depression.
Read this text after chapter 3, “Where Is Mrs. Hirsch?” to have students think about community and helping others. In this chapter, Annemarie and Papa agree that all Danes must be bodyguards for their Jewish neighbors and friends. Have students discuss the events that lead to this conversation between Annemarie and her father. Then, have students discuss what Chet thinks about Grandma’s actions in “The Sign of the Cat.” Ask students to consider Annemarie’s, Papa’s, Chet’s, and Grandma’s perspectives. Ask, “Why do Annemarie and Papa say they will be bodyguards for the Jews? How is their reasoning similar to why Grandma invites guests to stay in her home? How is Annemarie’s thinking at the end of the chapter similar to Chet’s thinking at the beginning of the text?” Students may describe the importance of choosing to help others in need.
In Dick Donley’s short story “Tornado Coming!” a boy decides to help an elderly neighbor when there’s a tornado warning.
Read this text after chapter 4, “It Will Be a Long Night,” to have students build on their ideas about helping others. In this chapter, Annemarie’s father explains why Ellen will be staying with the Johansens. Have students discuss why Ellen’s parents flee their apartment and why Ellen will pretend to be Annemarie’s sister. Then, have students discuss why Matt went to check on Mrs. Laney. Have students compare the decisions characters made in emergency situations. Ask, “Why do Annemarie’s parents take in Ellen? How is their reasoning similar to why Matt leaves the safety of his house to help Mrs. Laney in ‘Tornado Coming?’” Students may draw on themes of bravery and the importance of helping others.
In Maurine V. Eleder’s short story “Black Blizzard,” a girl braves a dust storm to help bring her horse to safety.
Read this text after chapter 15, “My Dogs Smell Meat!” to have students think about courage. In this chapter, Annemarie is stopped by Nazi soldiers while delivering the mysterious package to Uncle Henrik. Have students discuss Annemarie’s choice to act like “a silly little girl” in front of the Nazis. Then, have students discuss Betty’s decision to go into the dust storm to get her horse. Have students consider the young girls’ bravery in the midst of scary situations. Ask, “How did Annemarie act courageously in the face of danger? How are Annemarie’s decisions and actions similar to Betty’s in ‘Black Blizzard?’” Students may describe how both girls acted calmly under enormous pressure.
In the fable “Do What You can,” retold by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey, one raindrop wants to help a farmer with his dying crops.
Read this text after finishing Number the Stars to have students add to their conversation about helping others. Have students discuss the ways various characters, including Annemarie, her mother and father, Uncle Henrik, and Peter, helped the Rosens and other Jewish families escape to Sweden. Then, have students discuss the theme of “Do What You Can.” Have students consider how a few people can make a huge difference. Ask students, “How did the characters’ individual actions add up to make a difference for the Rosens and the other Jewish families they wanted to help? How are their choices similar to how the raindrops help the farmer in ‘Do What You Can?’” Students may draw on themes of community and compassion.