Important Vocabulary for “Number the Stars"

By Keren Perles

Although “Number the Stars," by Lois Lowry, is relatively easy to read, it does include some more difficult vocabulary words. Take a look at this vocabulary list for the definitions of some words in the novel that you may be unfamiliar with.

Background Words

There are two types of vocabulary words that you’ll need to know in order to understand “Number the Stars": background words and basic vocabulary words. This vocabulary list includes both types of words.

It is important to know the meanings of these background words before reading the novel, even though their meanings may be specific to the time period in which this book takes place, and even though some of the words are not commonly used. Some of these words will help you understand the situation between Germany and Denmark during World War II, whereas others are important to understanding the context of various events in the novel. (See this article for more introductory information about the book.)

Occupation (page 6): the control of one country by another country, by force (in this case, the control of Denmark by the Germans)

Resistance (page 7): the Danish underground who fought secretly to bring down the Nazis

Swastika (page 21): the Nazi symbol, which looks like a cross with its arms bent

Synagogue (page 33): Jewish house of worship

Typhus (page 85): a highly contagious disease, usually transmitted by lice or fleas

Vocabulary Words

Many of these vocabulary words are extremely common and can show up in other contexts – from textbooks you’ll study to other novels you’ll read. In addition, these words are often likely to show up on standardized tests, such as the SATs and ACTs. Make sure to look up these words in context in order to understand how to use them. (The page numbers in this article are taken from the 1989 edition, published by Houghton Mifflin Company.)

Lanky (page 1): tall and thin, usually referring to a person

Defiantly (page 4): in a rebellious way

Rapid (page 4): very fast

Disdainfully (page 29): strong dislike or repulsion

Rationed (page 43): given out in specified number or quantity, especially regarding food during wartime or drought

Imprinted (page 49): produced as a visual image by pressing one object into another object

Tentatively (page 50): with some doubt

Distorted (page 55): twisted

Deftly (page 75): skillfully

Dismayed (page 76): strongly disappointed

Reluctantly (page 78): with some unwillingness

Condescending (page 84): in a way that looks down upon someone else

Gnarled (page 97): twisted

Sprawling (page 102): falling in a way that one’s arms and legs are spread out awkwardly

Stricken (page 104): strongly affected by something, such as a piece of news

Donned (page 106): put on (usually a type of clothing)

Brusque (page 110): rude

Insolently (page 117): disrespectfully

Caustic (page 118): biting, harsh

Warily (page 120): in a distrustful way

This “Number the Stars" vocabulary list includes only some of the important words in the novel. As you find more vocabulary words that you are unfamiliar with, consider looking up their meanings and adding them to this list.