Number the Stars | Study Guide

Lois Lowry

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Number the Stars | Chapter 1 : Why Are You Running? | Summary



Annemarie Johansen and Ellen Rosen, both 10 years old, are running home after school. They are followed by Annemarie's five-year-old sister, Kirsti. They have a girls' race at school the following week, and Annemarie wants to practice. Annemarie is ahead when she is stopped by two Nazi soldiers. They ask why she is running, and she starts to explain. The soldier asks what's in her backpack, and when she tells him, he asks if she's a good student and if Ellen is. One of the soldiers strokes Kirsti's hair and says she reminds him of his daughter. Then the soldiers tell them to go home but not to run.

At their apartment building Ellen and Annemarie decide not to tell their mothers, but Kirsti already has. Mrs. Johansen says to Mrs. Rosen the soldiers "must be edgy because of the latest Resistance incidents." The mothers talk about the news in the illegal paper, De Frie Danske (The Free Danes). Annemarie thinks about the Resistance movement. They speak a little more—Mrs. Rosen asks the girls to walk a different way, and they talk about the lack of butter. There is no butter for bread, and there are no cupcakes, which Kirsti wants. Mrs. Johansen says there won't be until "the war ends" and "the soldiers leave."


The first chapters set the tone of the book. The reader will find it useful to remember this novel was written for teenagers and children, many of whom will not yet be familiar with the extent of the German occupation or the horrors the Nazis inflicted on Europe. In the novel Lowry describes the difficult reality of trying to continue on with the business of normal life while under occupation by a foreign army.

The majority of the story is set in 1943. By this time the Danes were actively resisting the occupying forces. The narrator explains the Danish population and Resistance movement "damaged German trucks, and bombed their factories. They were very brave. Sometimes they were caught and killed." Despite all of this Ellen and Annemarie are still children who must go to school. They talk about school things. Annemarie wants to win "the girls' race this week." Life continues on despite the war that rages all around them. Kirsti, for example, is only five. Her sense of "normal" is only that of life under German occupation. The main characters, Annemarie and Ellen, have memories of life before the war.

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