Thursday, February 7, 2013

Number the Stars as performed at the Coterie Theatre

Lois Lowry won her first Newbery Award for this book set in Denmark during the Holocaust. The book explores many universal themes including bravery, friendship, and human decency as well as Holocaust topics including rescuers, hiding, perpetrators, resistance, and antisemitism. While the book’s focus is on the two young friends, Annemarie and Ellen, the play is often focused on a young member of the Resistance. Peter (who would have been Annemarie’s brother-in-law had her sister not been killed in her work with the Resistance) provides important details about the history of Denmark and the work of the Resistance members there.

The play is well-acted. Actresses a bit older than their characters convincingly play the three young girls. The supporting cast is believable in their roles as either perpetrators or rescuers. The set is a simple but fascinating one. On the stage are a table, chairs, and a trunk. But the backdrop is constantly changed to show a variety of settings using wall-sized Etch-A-Sketch-like drawings. The audience of middle-school students was fully engaged in the action. The hour-length play was well-written and represented the key concepts and characters in the book very closely.

Like Laura Patton (see her January 17 post), I would prefer to use non-fiction over novels or historical fiction. But there are many effective ways to use a book like Number the Stars (a quick, engaging read for most 6-8th grade students). Students can study the literary aspects of the book, how the author researched and incorporated the history of the Holocaust in Denmark, and then research the historical aspects themselves. Once students research events presented in the book, they become interested in knowing about other, related events and people.

MCHE, as the education partner of The Coterie Theatre for this play, provides Number the Stars Educational Materials.

There are dozens of online sites providing educational activities to use with the book. Carol Hurst's Children's Literature Site provides discussion ideas, activities, and related books. This is one site that shows creative ways to incorporate a novel into historical curriculum.

Lois Lowry's Blog provides useful insights about the book and her research.

In the Afterword of the book, Lowry addresses the question “How much of Annemarie’s story is true?” This is a wonderful section to use with students to pique their interest in the history portrayed in the book. The playwright (Douglas W. Larche) uses this section to create a moving letter from Peter read at the end of the play:

            “… the dream for you all, young and old, must be to create an ideal of human decency, and not a narrow-minded and prejudiced one. That is the great gift that our country hungers for,   something every little peasant boy can look forward to, and with pleasure feel he is a part of — something he can work and fight for.”

I think there are many teachable moments and valuable concepts in this book and in the play that can easily lead to a study of the history of the Holocaust and the memoirs, poetry, and artwork of its victims.

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