On My Bookshelf: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

October 14, 2019

In The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, set during World War II, Liesel has a rough start with her foster family. She's been abandoned by her mother, her father is an unknown and her younger brother is dead. Her foster mother is as loud and brash as her foster father is quiet. But as the war progresses, Liesel finds friendship is some unexpected places. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.
The basic plot from Amazon: When Death has a story to tell, you listen.

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

Why I liked it: The Book Thief  is one of those books that can restore your faith in humanity because despite the terrible conditions of the time period, many of the characters are still able to be truly good people. Liesel has a rough start with her foster family. She is unsure where her mother is now and her brother died on the journey to their placement. Her new "mama" is gruff and takes no nonsense, while her new "papa" is quiet and seemingly subservient to his wife. Liesel has had little education and is embarrassed by her teacher for her inability to read on her first day of school.

But not all is dark. Liesel's new next door neighbor, Rudy, takes her under his wing, walking with her to and from school and including her in the neighborhood soccer matches. Liesel's papa begins to teacher her how to read. Liesel finds a friend in the mayor's wife, who allows her to take books from her personal library, and in Max, the Jewish young man Liesel's foster family is hiding in their basement.
In The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, set during World War II, Liesel has a rough start with her foster family. She's been abandoned by her mother, her father is an unknown and her younger brother is dead. Her foster mother is as loud and brash as her foster father is quiet. But as the war progresses, Liesel finds friendship is some unexpected places. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.

And not all is light. Rudy and Liesel draw the ire of other members of the Hitler Youth group for not bending to their will. Max is forced to leave his hiding place when Liesel's papa interferes with a march of Jewish prisoners through the town. Rudy's father is conscripted and shortly after Liesel's papa is as well. More and more frequently, air raids are forcing the people in the town to spend their nights huddled in shelters. I won't give away the ending, but it is filled with much sadness, but also some happiness.

Classroom application: We chose The Book Thief as one of the six options for our literature circles this spring. All of the texts were set during the Holocaust and WWII and connected to the theme of "decisions that matter." The Book Thief was our most challenging choice of our six options because of the text complexity as well as the length, but I didn't dissuade any student who wanted to read it because it is such a beautifully written story. There is some violence and death, but because the book is set outside of a ghetto or concentration camp, the content is overall less disturbing than some other Holocaust books. Our students enjoyed watch the film version of book

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of The Book Thief for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

Note: The Literary Maven is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

In The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, set during World War II, Liesel has a rough start with her foster family. She's been abandoned by her mother, her father is an unknown and her younger brother is dead. Her foster mother is as loud and brash as her foster father is quiet. But as the war progresses, Liesel finds friendship is some unexpected places. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.

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