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The Book Thief

Module 6 – Historical Fiction/SLIS 5420


Zusak, Markus. (2005). The Book Thief. New York: Borzoi/Knopf.


I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, and I wasn’t disappointed, either.  Unusual and powerful, lyrical and poetic, this book is nothing short of a masterpiece.  The book is narrated by Death, and he is an unusual character who doesn’t think like we do; nor is he cruel or frightening.  He is an observer and at times whimsical lover of humanity, perplexed by them and fascinated.  Death is drawn to a girl named Liesel.  She lives in Germany during WWII with a foster family and the book chronicles her learning to read, her theft of books (which are profoundly magical objects to her), and her experiences of loss and love.  This beautiful novel is dense and at first difficult to get into, but once you become engaged in the story you will not want to put it down until the end. Liesel is a beautiful creation of Zusak’s, as is his prose and his view of the human spirit.  Zusak drew upon his parents recollections for background material.  A haunting story written in an unusual and literary style, The Book Thief is nothing short of a classic novel of endurance and the strength and goodness that can be found in people even in the most horrible circumstances.


Gr. 10-12. “Death is the narrator of this lengthy, powerful story of a town in Nazi Germany. He is a kindly, caring Death, overwhelmed by the souls he has to collect from people in the gas chambers, from soldiers on the battlefields, and from civilians killed in bombings. Death focuses on a young orphan, Liesl; her loving foster parents; the Jewish fugitive they are hiding; and a wild but gentle teen neighbor, Rudy, who defies the Hitler Youth and convinces Liesl to steal for fun. After Liesl learns to read, she steals books from everywhere. When she reads a book in the bomb shelter, even a Nazi woman is enthralled. Then the book thief writes her own story. There’s too much commentary at the outset, and too much switching from past to present time, but as in Zusak’s enthralling I Am the Messenger (2004), the astonishing characters, drawn without sentimentality, will grab readers. More than the overt message about the power of words, it’s Liesl’s confrontation with horrifying cruelty and her discovery of kindness in unexpected places that tell the heartbreaking truth.”

Booklist. (2006, January 1). Review of The Book Thief. Retrieved from


It would be great to see this novel on the high school reading list for eleventh or twelfth graders.  The insight into history from a personal perspective gives the book a power to transcend the dry recounting of facts of WWII and allow readers to see through the eyes of a child the effects of politics and war. A bookstudy for teens featuring this novel would be ideal for allowing readers ample time to enjoy and analyze the book’s layers of meaning and insight.  For a history block about WWII, excerpts chosen carefully (chapters taught as a short story) could work in tandem with other books about the holocaust and the War (such as The Devil’s Arithmetic, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas).

Of note:

Honor Book: Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books starred 5/1/06

Horn Book starred 10/1/06

Library Media Connection starred 3/1/06

Publishers Weekly starred 1/30/06

School Library Journal starred 3/1/06


About mary's summer bookshelf

I'm studying to be a librarian at the University of North Texas and loving it. This blog is a class project and the first one I've ever written. The world of children's literature is diverse and rich. This class is opening up many worlds for me to traverse - I am a total YA fan now.

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