Study Guide

Number the Stars Friendship

By Lois Lowry


"I'll race you to the corner, Ellen!" Annemarie adjusted the thick leather pack on her back so that her schoolbooks balanced evenly. "Ready?" She looked at her best friend. (1.1)

These are the very first words of the book, and they set a rather ordinary tone, don't you think? Life is totally normal for these best friends. Little do we know (at this point) that they're going to school in the middle of World War II. Instead of bullies, they have to worry about Nazi soldiers.

Then Annemarie thought of something else. "If they can't sell their buttons, how will they earn a living?"

"Friends will take care of them," Mama said gently. "That's what friends do." (3.43-44)

What Annemarie's mother is talking about here is much stronger than ordinary friendship. The friends who will help the shop owners are putting their lives in danger, not just loaning them a few bucks. It's pretty powerful stuff.

"Well," Annemarie said slowly, "now I think that all of Denmark must be bodyguard for the Jews, as well." (4.53)

If Ellen is in danger for any reason, Annemarie is going to protect her. No questions asked. Actually, her friendship with one Jewish girl inspires her to want to help all Jews.

"Go on," Mama told her. "Run ahead and tell the house we've come home."

Then she put her arm around Ellen's shoulders and added, "Say that we've brought a friend." (6.68)

The Johansens are always focused on helping Ellen, rather than saving themselves. They've made it all the way to Henrik's house, but they're mostly just happy that they've gotten Ellen to safety. These sure are some selfless people.

Annemarie had listened and said nothing. So now I, too, am lying, she thought, and to my very best friend. I could tell Ellen that it isn't true, that there is no Great-aunt Birte. I could take her aside and whisper the secret to her so that she wouldn't have to feel sad. (9.31)

Since Ellen is Annemarie's "very best friend," it feels wrong to lie to her. But she knows that she has to take care of Ellen the same way her mother and uncle have taken care of her (Annemarie). She's doing what's best for her friend, not what will give her the most peace of mind.

Annemarie felt a surge of sadness; the bond of their friendship had not broken, but it was as if Ellen had moved now into a different world, the world of her own family and whatever lay ahead for them. (10.4)

The war will pull these girls apart no matter how close they want to be. But do you think they can weather the storm? Will their friendship survive?

One by one the Rosens turned and hugged Annemarie silently. Ellen came to her last; the two girls held each other.

"I'll come back someday," Ellen whispered fiercely. "I promise."

"I know you will," Annemarie whispered back, holding her friend tightly. (12.7-9)

Pass the tissues, please.

"I wonder if I will ever see Ellen again," Annemarie said sadly.

"You will, little one. You saved her life, after all." (16.53-54)

Henrik seems super confident that Ellen will not only survive the war, but will come back to Copenhagen to be with Annemarie again. Do you think he really believes this? Or is he just putting on a brave face to help Annemarie deal with her friend's departure?

For nearly two years, now, neighbors had tended the plants and dusted the furniture and polished the candlesticks for the Jews who had fled. Her mother had done so for the Rosens.

"It is what friends do," Mama had said. (17.3-4)

The kind of pure, loyal friendship that Ellen and Annemarie have isn't just for little girls. It's for grown-ups and even entire communities, too. Annemarie's and Ellen's mothers have a similar bond, and it turns out that the Christians in Denmark feel the same way about the Jews. They all look out for each other.

Her father took it from her and examined the broken clasp. "Yes," he said. "I can fix it. When the Rosens come home, you can give it back to Ellen."

"Until then," Annemarie told him, "I will wear it myself." (17.25-26)

This is more than just your average you-wear-my-clothes-I'll-wear-yours kind of friendship. This necklace is more than just a necklace—it's Ellen. (Intrigued? Check out more in our discussion of the "Star of David" in "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory.")