"Number the Stars," Vocabulary from Chapters 5-8

A little girl shows bravery and ingenuity in "Number the Stars" by Lois Lowry, a fictional account of the rescue of the Danish Jews from the fate of the Holocaust.

Learn these word lists for the novel: Chapters 1-4, Chapters 5-8, Chapters 9-13, Chapters 14-17, Introduction and Afterword

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. imperious
    having or showing arrogant superiority
    Ellen stood on tiptoe again, and made an imperious gesture with her arm.
    Unlike the haughty or disdainful attitude of Kirsti or the sneering, scornful, and contemptuous attitudes of the soldiers (all the adjectives are semi-synonymous), Ellen is neither a somewhat spoiled five-year-old who doesn't know any better nor an armed invader of a country whose king had surrendered. Rather, Ellen is joking with Annemarie and repeating a role she'd performed in a school play.
  2. intone
    speak carefully, as with rising and falling pitch
    “I am the Dark Queen,” she intoned dramatically. “I have come to command the night!”
  3. abruptly
    quickly and without warning
    It was hours later, but still dark, when she was awakened abruptly by the pounding on the apartment door.
  4. urgent
    compelling immediate action
    “Ellen,” she whispered urgently, “take your necklace off!”
  5. desperately
    with great urgency
    Desperately she began trying to unhook the tiny clasp.
  6. frantically
    in an uncontrolled manner
    “I can’t get it open!” Ellen said frantically.
  7. crumple
    gather something into small wrinkles or folds
    As the door opened and light flooded into the bedroom, she crumpled it into her hand and closed her fingers tightly.
  8. harsh
    unpleasantly stern
    These three uniformed men were different from the ones on the street corners. The street soldiers were often young, sometimes ill at ease, and Annemarie remembered how the Giraffe had, for a moment, let his harsh pose slip and had smiled at Kirsti.
    Compare to the synonymous "stern." "Harsh" also means "unkind or cruel or uncivil"--these adjectives apply less to the street soldiers who are simply doing their job and more to the soldiers who pound on the door at four in the morning, order Annemarie and Ellen out of bed, suggest that Mrs. Johansen had an affair with the milkman, and tear Lise's photograph in half to throw on the floor and grind with his boots.
  9. tense
    taut or rigid; stretched tight
    Her parents were standing beside each other, their faces tense, but Kirsti was nowhere in sight.
    "Tense" also means "in a state of physical or nervous strain"--both definitions apply to the parents; while their faces are physically rigid ("fixed and unmoving") in an attempt not to reveal Ellen as the daughter of the Jewish Rosens, they are also nervous about what could happen if the soldiers were to discover the truth.
  10. grim
    harshly uninviting or formidable in manner or appearance
    The officer stared at them grimly.
  11. scornfully
    without respect; in a disdainful manner
    He laughed scornfully. “You have a blond child sleeping in the other room. And you have this blond daughter--” He gestured toward Annemarie with his head. “Where did you get the dark-haired one?”
  12. delicate
    marked by great skill especially in meticulous technique
    Mama had written, in her delicate handwriting, the name of each baby daughter across the bottom of those photographs.
  13. unwavering
    marked by firm determination or resolution
    “Lise Margrete,” he read finally, and stared at Ellen for a long, unwavering moment.
  14. clench
    squeeze together tightly
    Annemarie relaxed the clenched fingers of her right hand, which still clutched Ellen’s necklace.
  15. imprint
    mark or stamp with or as if with pressure
    She looked down, and saw that she had imprinted the Star of David into her palm.
  16. tentative
    hesitant or lacking confidence; unsettled in mind or opinion
    Ellen and Annemarie both smiled tentatively. For a moment their fear was eased.
  17. distort
    twist and press out of shape
    One of them had something stuck in his teeth; he probed with his tongue and distorted his own face.
  18. massive
    imposing in size or bulk or solidity
    She had been talking about Kronborg Castle ever since they had seen it, sprawling massive and ancient, beside the sea, from the train.
  19. apparently
    from appearances alone
    It pretended to ignore the girls, but looked back often to be certain that they were still there, apparently pleased to have playmates.
    "Apparently" also means "unmistakably"--since "it" refers to a kitten whom the girls do not know and who is acting the opposite of its feelings, they cannot unmistakably figure out it is pleased to have playmates. They can assume that's the case from its sudden appearance and following of them, and they can confirm later when the kitten purrs at being held in Ellen's arms.
  20. hazy
    filled or abounding with fog or mist
    They squinted into the hazy distance, as if they might see Swedish children standing there and looking back.
  21. applique
    a decorative design made of one material sewn over another
    “I wish I knew where my parents are,” Ellen said in a small voice as she outlined one of the appliqued birds with her finger.
  22. relocate
    move or establish in a new place
    “Don’t tell me the soldiers try to—what’s the word?— relocate butter, too?”
    Annemarie is trying to joke with her question and her mother laughs in her response: "They relocate all the farmers' butter, right into the stomach of their army!" But both realize that there is nothing funny about the relocation of the Jews, which as Mama's words suggest, does not simply mean moving into a new place.
  23. rueful
    feeling or expressing pain or sorrow for sins or offenses
    But it wasn’t a joke at all, though Mama laughed ruefully.
  24. distracted
    having the attention diverted especially because of anxiety
    The kitten darted away when Kirsti’s attention was distracted, and settled on the windowsill.
  25. specter
    a mental representation of some haunting experience
    Suddenly, here in this sunlit kitchen, with cream in a pitcher and a bird in the apple tree beside the door--and out in the Kattegat, where Uncle Henrik, surrounded by bright blue sky and water, pulled in his nets filled with shiny silver fish—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.

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