Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Book Thief

Bibliographic Information: Zusak, M.  (2007).  The book thief. USA: Knopf. ISBN: 978-0-375-84220-7

Plot Summary: Set in Nazi Germany, The Book Thief tells the story of a young girl, Liesel Meminger, through the narration of Death who accidentally finds her diary. Liesel, the daughter of communist sympathizers, is sent to Molching, Germany, in order to be distanced from her parents' dangerous reputation. On the way to Molching, Liesel's brother dies suddenly of a fatal cough. Even though Liesel does not read, this event sets Liesel's book thievery into motion as she steals the grave digger's book, The Grave Digger's Handbook, as a memento of her young brother's funeral and untimely death.

Upon arriving in Molching, and being forced to leave her mother, Liesel is introduced to her new foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann. Liesels' transition into Himmel Street (which means "Heaven Street" in German) is a rough one as Liesel deals with nightmares and sorrowful memories of both her dead brother and mother. Soon Liesel forms a bond with Hans, her foster father, who spends sleepless nights with her helping her deal with her nightmares. Soon Hans is teaching her to read and write, feeding Liesel's love for words that is so closely rooted to the absence of her mother and father. Liesel is also enveloped by Rosa, her foster mother, even though Rosa's love is much coarser than that of Hans.

Nazi sentiment continues to increase as Liesel finds her place in her new home. To pass the time Liesel makes friends with Ruddy, a nearby neighbor, who randomly helps Liesel with her thievery. It is not long before the Nazi conflict comes close to home as Hans makes the difficult decision to hide Max Vandenburg, a Jew, in his basement. This decision sets off a series of events that forever changes the lives of Liesel, Hans, and Rosa on their beloved Himmel Street.

Critical Evaluation: Words and language play a significant part in The Book Thief. For Liesel Meminger words become the only memento she has of her mother and brother. An evident truth as she holds on to The Grave Digger's Manual, a book that she is unable to read in the beginning but struggles to learn to read over time with Hans Hubbermann, her foster father. Every time she reads this book, and any book thereafter, she becomes closer to the memory of those she has lost. She then uses this comfort to comfort others in times of distress. Words become a conduit of memory, love, and most of all, a sort of resilience that keeps Liesel together in the most difficult of times. Liesel is even able to understand that she is not the only one that understands the power of words as she witnesses the cruelty that is only made possible by Hitler's rhetoric. 

Liesel has a dual vision of the world around her as she realizes that words are not just a positive thing, but can also be used to wreak terrible havoc. Liesel understands the dangerous side of words as she witnesses Hitler use the words to his advantage as he spews the hate that changes a whole nation. Liesel only understands this more, as she witnesses Max Vandenburg struggle against the guilt of being the only survivor and of having left his family behind. Liesel understands that Hitler's words have poisoned many around her and changed them into heartless monsters. These factors make words even more important to Liesel as she is surrounded by the love of Hans, Rosa, and Max who all encourage her to continue using the words to help those around her. 

Words in the end symbolize a powerful force of change and influence that can be used in so many ways, for joy and hate, for hope and despair. 

Reader’s Annotation:
Liesel Meminger finds power and strength through words as she comforts others through the conflict of Nazi Germany, the Holocaut, and World War II.

Information About the Author: Markus Zusak was born in Sidney, Australia in 1975 where he currently resides with his wife and daughter (Grade Saver, 2012). Zusak found the inspiration to write The Book Thief  from stories her heard from stories he hear from his mother and father who both experienced World War II (Random House, 2012). Zusak intended to write a short novella, but found the subject matter so important that he ended up with a 500+ page story. Zusak cites The Old Man and the Sea, The Outsiders, and What's Eating Gilbert Grape as influencing him as a boy to become a writer (Random House, 2012). 

Some of Zusak's other works include: The Underdog (1999), Fighting Ruben Wolfe (2001), When Dogs Cry (2002), The Messenger (2002), and Bridge of Clay (2009) (Grade Saver, 2012).

Historical, Fantasy, Mystery, Suspense and Horror

Subgenre:  World War II and the Holocaust, The Occult and Supernatural
Curriculum Ties: Ties into lessons on Nazi Germany, the Holocaust, World War II, and conflict.

Booktalking Ideas:

1). What is the importance of the usage of color throughout the book?
2). What does Death mean by saying that he is "haunted by humans?"

3). What do words mean to Liesele?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Lexile Reading Level: 730/YA (Follett's Titlewave, 2012). 

Challenge Issues: This book contains images of war, human cruelty, and violence. I would use the following items to defend this book if it was challenged:

1) Refer to Library Bill of Rights, see items: I, II, and III (
2) Refer to San Diego Public Library collection policy - (  Original site: The American Library Association (ALA) Freedom to Read/View Statement (
3) Refer to California School Library Association (CSLA), Model School Library Standards - September 2010 ( PDF: (
4) Refer t0 American Association for School, Librarians Standards for the 21st Century Learner (
5) Contact Office of Intellectual Freedom for any further support, 800-545-2433, ext. 4223 or
6) Refer to legitimate book reviews, such as: School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Horn Book and others; found on either Academic Search Premier, Follett's TITLEWAVE, or

Why did you include this book in the titles you selected?:
This book tells a powerful story about a girl struggling to understand what is happening in her life through the use of words, reading, and writing. Liesel's experience through war and describe events that many young adults in the U.S will never experience. I included this book as a means of describing to young adults the negative effects of conflict, war, and violence and the boundless spirit of humans to overcome. 

Reference Page:

Follett's Titlewave.  (2012).  The book thief. Retrieved July 21, 2012 from Follett's Titlewave iPhone app.

Grade Saver.  (2012).  The biography of Markus Zusak (1975-).  Retrieved July 21, 2012 from

Random House.  (2012). The author.  Retrieved July 21, 2012 from

Cover art:
Zusak, M. (2005).  The book thief cover art.  Retrieve July 21, 2012 from

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