In Nightjohn there were a number of facts, details and incidents that contribute to the historical accuracy of the book. I have outlined some of the more specific examples as follows:
There was a man who risked his life for the sake of teaching the other children in the surrounding plantations how to read and write.
The owner of the plantation whipped his slaves for moving too slow and did go out with dogs and two field hands after any of the slaves if they decide to run. He brings two field hands with him so they can see what happens and retell the story back at the quarters. He does this basically so everyone will be horrified and won’t decide to escape.
Reading and writing was strictly forbidden because the owner wanted to keep them ignorant so they wouldn’t rebel against him.
Once a female got her “troubles” menstrual cycle they would be sent off to the breeding sheds to reproduce.
The “mammy” took care of all the young ones until they were old enough to go out and work in the fields.
The slaves were forced to eat from a trough like animals.
The mammy would pray with her head inside a kettle so that the owners would not hear her pray. Praying, too, was strictly forbidden.
Number the Stars contains even more facts, details and incidents that contribute to the historical accuracy of the book. They are outlined below:
King Christian X was a King during the time of war in Denmark. He also surrendered to the Germans in 1940 because of the fact that “the country was small and undefended, with no army of any size.” (Lowry 134).
“It is true that he (King Christian) rode alone on his horse from the palace every morning, unguarded, and greeted his people.” (Lowry 134).
The German soldiers occupied Denmark for five years.
The Germans controlled the rail system, hospitals, schools, government, and even the newspapers.
The story about the soldier who saw King Christian ride by on his horse one morning and asked a boy “Where is his body guard?” to which the boy replied “All of Denmark is his bodyguard”, is in fact, true.
On August 1943, the Danes did sink their entire navy in Copenhagen harbor before the Germans came to take the ships for their own use.
Also in 1943, anyone who gathered to worship at the synagogue, were warned by the rabbi that they were going to be taken and “relocated” by the Germans.
The Danes took in the Jews and fed them, hid them, protected them and helped them get to Sweden safely.
The handkerchief used to ward off the guard dogs was based in fact. It was made of dried rabbit blood and cocaine.
There really were resistance leaders in Denmark. Peter Nielsen was fictional but Kim Malthe-Bruun was not. He was an actual person and was captured and executed by the Nazis at the age 21.
When I finished reading Nightjohn I could not believe any of this could be true. I could not bring myself to believe that a man could be so heartless as to, not only own people, but whip them and torture them. I could not believe someone would chain a person up and whip their backs until their skin peeled. Then leave them there and let the flies lay eggs in their backs. That literally made me ill. I could not grasp the fact that a human being treated people as if they were wild, untamed animals. Send dogs to find them and once the dogs did he would stand there and watch them tear at the slaves flesh. I respect the fact that a man endangered his own life for the benefit of the younger ones. Nightjohn taught Sarny the alphabet a numbers, which was rigorously forbidden.
Even though, Number The Stars was just a children’s book, this was actually the first book that ever made me feel for the characters, enough to cry. To think, that a small, peaceful country was overrun by the Germans. Everything was taken away from them. Everything was taken, except for their religion. The Nazis were so awful. They were just as bad as Waller. Both the Nazis and Waller stole other people’s freedom. But it seems as if, in both cases they could not steal their religion or their soul.
I really don’t think the intended audiences would understand Nightjohn. Just to give you an example, the language in the book gave me trouble at first and I am a teenager, not a child. However, I feel this book would be a great way for the young reader to get a glimpse of what it was like for children their age, in those days. In particular, children can reflect on the life of African children who had been taken from their homeland and brought to work the fields of America and the abuse and torture they were made to suffer.
Number the Stars on the other hand, was expertly written for the younger child. It seemed all too real. For example, in the beginning, Annemarie and Ellen were running down the street and were stopped and scolded by a soldier. That is an exact example of what kids do and how adults usually respond. It’s written from a child’s perspective, so the child can easily go into the mind of Annemarie, perhaps even for a moment, become Annemarie.