Caroline the Future Librarian

Caroline Davis | LIBR 265-10 | SJSU | Wrenn-Estes

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Date: September 2007
ISBN-13: 978-0375842207

Plot Summary: When she is nine-years-old, Liesel Meminger is brought to a suburb of Munich to be raised by strangers, Hans and Rosa Hubermann.  It is the last time she sees her mother, and her younger brother dies on the journey.  Liesel settles into her new life on Himmel Street, making friends with Rudy Steiner, a good-natured neighborhood troublemaker, helping her foul-mouthed foster mother with her laundry business, and learning to read from her gentle foster-father, who comes in and comforts her every night when she wakes from nightmares.

When a mysterious man appears in the middle of the night, Liesel is warned to never tell anyone about him – in 1940s Germany, it just means trouble to have a Jew found in your basement.  Max also suffers from nightmares, and Liesel is a kindred spirit that helps him through his confinement.  Money is scarce, so Liesel occasionally resorts to stealing food – and books.  Her books become her companions, and she eventually writes her own about her experiences on Himmel Street.

Critical Evaluation: The plot of The Book Thief is strong enough to create a powerful novel on its own, but the real achievement is the narration.  The novel is told in the first-person, and Death is the narrator – a narrator who knows everything about the story and sometimes skips around in history, sometimes giving away the end before explaining the events leading up to it.  He is fond of making interjections in bold – with titles such as ***THREE SMALL BUT IMPORTANT FACTS*** that add important information about the situations and characters, or even just share his opinion.  The most significant part of the narration is the beauty of the language – Death seems to be quite a poetic writer.  For instance, this excerpt describes a Nazi book-burning: “The orange flames waved at the crowd as paper and print dissolved inside them.  Burning words were torn from their sentences” (Zusak, 112).  If we are going to see a glimpse inside Nazi Germany, Death will describe it for us beautifully.

Reader’s Annotation: During World War II, Liesel Meminger lives with her foster parents on a poor street outside Munich, where money is scarce so she has to resort to stealing food – and books.  Her books become her companions during the war, and she eventually writes her own about her experience.

Author Information: Markus Zusak is an Australian author of young adult novels. The son of an Austrian father and a German mother, Zusak grew up hearing stories about his mother’s experiences in Nazi Germany, and the bombing of Munich – which inspired his most popular work, The Book Thief.

Zusak was inspired to become a writer after reading The Old Man and the Sea and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.  Of his experience trying to get published, Zusak says, “It took seven years to get published and there were countless daily failures, but I’m glad those failures and rejections happened. They made me realise that what I was writing just wasn’t good enough – so I made myself improve.” (Source)

Genre: Historical Fiction

Curriculum Ties: World War II

Booktalking Ideas:
1) Compare Liesel’s relationships with Rudy and Max.
2) Why would the mayor’s wife allow Liesel to steal her books?
3) Talk about the meaningful objects in the book – the accordion, The Gravedigger’s Handbook – what do they symbolize beyond their perceived uses?

Interest Age: 14 and older

Challenge Issues: violence, death, some profanity (mostly in German)

Challenge Defense Ideas:

• Become familiar with the book and its content.

• Refer to the collection development policy of the library, if none, see here to develop one right away.

• Refer to reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, and The Washington Post available for viewing on Amazon.com.

• Try to get reviews of the book from teens who have read it.

Selection: I work in a bookstore, and first heard about The Book Thief because several adult book clubs were reading it.  I wasn’t even aware that it was originally a young adult book.  Having witnessed the response that many had to it (one woman earnestly told me it was one of the best books she had ever read), it seems to be a young adult book that has crossed over to an adult audience.

Extras:

Markus Zusak’s website.

Teen Book Video Award winning trailer for The Book Thief:

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March 1, 2010 - Posted by | Books |

2 Comments »

  1. I really love the video! I wold love to know who made it. I recently finished the book. I found it very moving.

    Comment by Eliary | January 3, 2011 | Reply

  2. Thanks for your comment! It really is a wonderful book.

    I don’t know much about the origin of the video, but the filmmaker was Jon Haller. Here is a link with some information about it from his website:
    http://www.jonhaller.com/randomhouse.htm

    Comment by Caroline | January 3, 2011 | Reply


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