Number the Stars | Study Guide

Lois Lowry

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Number the Stars | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


The Nazis Close In

In Copenhagen, Denmark, in September 1943, 10-year-old Annemarie Johansen runs alongside her best friend Ellen Rosen. On their way home from school, the girls, along with Annemarie's five-year-old sister Kirsti, are stopped and questioned by soldiers. The Nazis have just recently occupied Denmark, and the citizens suffer from cold and hunger, but the Danish Jews have not yet been targeted and transported to camps.

As the month passes, a Jewish-owned button shop closes, and the family has disappeared. The closed store has a swastika painted on it.

The Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) celebrations fell on September 29 that year. As the Rosens were going to the synagogue for services, they learned the Nazis had collected the names and addresses of the Jewish population in Denmark and were planning to round them up and deport them. The Rosens leave their daughter, Ellen, with the Johansens, who will pretend she is their daughter, and the Rosens go into hiding. However, the soldiers arrive in the late hours of the night and question the Johansens. Annemarie quickly rips Ellen's Star of David necklace off of her neck and hides it in her hand. The family lies successfully, pretending that Ellen is their daughter Lise, who had died three years prior.

Reuniting the Rosens

The next morning, Mrs. and Mr. Johansen, Annemarie, Ellen, and Kirsti make plans for everyone except Mr. Johansen to go and see Annemarie's Uncle Henrik, Mrs. Johansen's brother.

Henrik, a fisherman, agrees for them to come, and they all take the train to the shore where he lives. They sleep there, have a heartier-than-usual meal, and prepare for the funeral of Great-Aunt Birte. However, there is no such relative. The funeral is a ruse.

At the "funeral," which takes place at Uncle Henrik's house, people arrive, but they do not bring food or share stories. The Rosens arrive, and Ellen is reunited with her parents.

The Soldiers Arrive

The German soldiers also arrive. They ask why the casket is closed, and Annemarie's mother spins a story about Great-aunt Birte dying of typhus. She offers to open the casket, but a soldier strikes her and says to open it after he leaves. Inside the casket are clothes and blankets for the people assembled there, who are all Jews being secreted out of the country to safety in Sweden.

The blankets and clothes are passed out, as are packages of food. Someone reads a prayer. In the midst of this, Peter Neilsen, a young member of the Danish Resistance, gives a packet to Mr. Rosen to carry to the ship. However, unbeknownst to anyone, Mr. Rosen drops it when he stumbles outside the kitchen door on a loose step. Mrs. Johansen escorts a group to the dock. They leave in the dark, traveling through the woods. Night continues, but she does not return. When it's almost dawn, Annemarie sees her mother slumped on the ground outside. She goes to help her, and they discover the packet.

Annemarie's Journey

Annemarie's mother is injured from a fall and cannot take the packet to the ship, so Annemarie volunteers to go. Her mother has her prepare a basket of food, and then instructs her to pretend to be a silly girl taking her uncle's forgotten lunch to him and tells her to run quickly.

Annemarie runs through the woods, thinking of the fairy tale of "Little Red Riding Hood." She is almost at the dock when she is stopped by four German soldiers with dogs. They question her, go through her basket, and take the bread from it to feed their dogs. They leave the cheese and apples, and they mock her family for the pretty handkerchief she is carrying to her uncle. Nonetheless, they let her go, and she delivers the basket to her uncle. He is greatly relieved because that handkerchief is coated in drugs that will lure the dogs and temporarily impair their ability to smell. This is how the fishermen are able to hide the human cargo in their ships. By use of this drug-laden cloth, they confuse the dogs so they cannot detect the scent of the human cargo the fishermen are carrying to Sweden.

Afterward, Uncle Henrik praises her for bravery and tells her why the handkerchief mattered. He lets her know the Rosens and others are all safely in Sweden.

After the War

The close of the novel is two years later, when the war has ended. Annemarie learns her sister, Lise, had died because she was going to a meeting for the Resistance and was purposely run over by a car driven by Nazi soldiers. The war is over, and the Rosens and many others are coming home to Denmark. Annemarie retrieves Ellen's necklace, asks her father to fix the clasp, and tells him she will wear the Star of David necklace until she can give it directly to her friend, Ellen.

Number the Stars Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 Annemarie and Ellen are stopped by German soldiers.

Rising Action

2 The Johansens learn a Jewish family suddenly vanished.

3 The Nazis collect the names of Jews on Rosh Hashanah.

4 Soldiers come to the Johansens' house; Ellen hides there.

5 The Johansens and Ellen journey to the coast.

6 Uncle Henrik hosts a fake funeral for Great-aunt Birte.


7 Annemarie faces the soldiers and lies to them.

Falling Action

8 Annemarie delivers the drug-laden handkerchief to her uncle.


9 Two years later, Annemarie now wears Ellen's Star of David.

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