Study Guide

Number the Stars Fear

By Lois Lowry


"Halte!" the soldier ordered in a stern voice.

The German word was as familiar as it was frightening. Annemarie had heard it often enough before, but it had never been directed at her until now. (1.9-10)

The word "stop," when written on a red octagonal sign, is pretty harmless, right? But put that word in the mouth of a soldier, and everything changes. It's not the words that matter, it's how they're put to use.

When they were almost home, Ellen whispered suddenly, "I was so scared."

"Me too," Annemarie whispered back. (1.38-39)

It's not easy to admit that you're scared, and in this case, it wouldn't have been safe. But if you can't tell your best friend, then who can you tell? Do you think Annemarie was just as scared as Ellen, or do you think she was just trying to comfort her friend?

Ellen interrupted him. "Who might come? Will it be soldiers? Like the ones on the corners?" Annemarie remembered how terrified Ellen had looked the day when the soldier had questioned them on the corner. (4.76)

Annemarie has some major practice comforting people—after all, she's pretty much the best big sister ever. So it's not tough for her to tell when Ellen needs that same kind of comforting. Annemarie is obviously scared of the soldiers, too, but she's able to overcome her own fears and put her friend first.

Ellen's hands flew to her neck. Desperately she began trying to unhook the tiny clasp. Outside the bedroom door, the harsh voices and heavy footsteps continued.

"I can't get it open!" Ellen said frantically. "I never take it off—I can't even remember how to open it!" (5.42-43)

The more scared Ellen gets, the harder it is for her to protect herself. Cue suspenseful music and enter Annemarie.

Annemarie's heart sank and she looked at her mother. Mama's eyes were frightened. "Shhh, Kirsti," Mama said. "Don't chatter so." (6.46)

During a war, fear can spring up in the most unlikely places. Normally, the chatter of a five-year-old like Kirsti wouldn't be cause for fear. But if Kirsti says too much, she might spill the we're-hiding-a-Jewish-girl beans.

Suddenly, here in this sunlit kitchen, with cream in a pitcher and a bird in the apple tree beside the door […] suddenly the specter of guns and grim-faced soldiers seemed nothing more than a ghost story, a joke with which to frighten children in the dark. (8.13)

Having distance from a situation can make it seem totally unreal. In fact, think about how we read Number the Stars. It's scary, sure, but we're detached from it and we can put it down whenever we need a breather. The residents of Copenhagen aren't quite so lucky.

She thought of Papa, back in Copenhagen alone. He would be awake, too. He would be wishing that he could have come, but knowing, too, that he must come and go as always […] Now he would be afraid for them, and watching the clock, waiting for word that the Rosens were safe, that Mama and the girls were here at the farm. (12.14)

Annemarie and her father are in the same boat here. Even though Annemarie is closer to the action and has a better idea of what's going on, both of them are still "waiting for word" about the safety of their loved ones.

Annemarie always tried to prolong this part, to build up the suspense and tantalize her sister. "She didn't know what it was. She stopped on the path and listened. Something was following her, in the bushes. Little Red Riding-Hood was very, very, very frightened." (14.32)

Annemarie is doing a better job of scaring herself here than she ever did of terrorizing her sister with a bedtime story. Annemarie pretends that it's Little Red Riding-Hood who is so "very, very, very frightened," but deep down, she knows that she's the frightened traveler-through-the-woods that day.

He had written a letter to them from prison the night before he was shot. It had said simply that he loved them, that he was not afraid, and that he was proud to have done what he could for his country and for the sake of all free people. (17.8)

If anyone ever had reason to be scared, it's Peter—after all, he knows death is headed his way. Instead, Peter emphasizes that "he [i]s not afraid." He stands by his own actions, giving him courage and allowing him to face any fear.