The Book Thief


Markus Zusak

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Minimum grade level: 


 I am Death, and I am everywhere, I see colors before I see people, and when I see people it is usually for the first and last time.

I met the book thief three times, and she intrigued me to the state that I keep her story to retell to myself. The first time it was white, blindingly so, and I had come to harvest the soul of her brother who had died on the train while her mother was taking the two of them to be raised by someone else.

To Germany, in 1939 When one of the men who buried her brother dropped a book, the girl picked it up and took it with her. It would be the book from which she learned to read, the Grave Digger’s Handbook.

Hitler grew more powerful, Liesel rescued books from the nazi book-burnings and stole from the mayor’s library The second time was black, the darkest moment before the dawn when I arrived early (or he hung on longer than expected and died late) to harvest the soul of the pilot. A boy arrived and took a teddy bear from a box he carried and placed it on the pilot’s chest. The book thief arrived about a half minute later.

Her Foster father taught her to read, hid a Jew in his basement, Liesel learned to play soccer and made friends.

The third and last time I saw the book thief, the sky was red and the sirens came too late for the bombs. Bodies everywhere like driftwood after the flood. I was just about to leave when I saw the book thief there clutching a book, her diary. She dropped the book, knelt and howled. The book, her journal, was thrown aboard a garbage truck at which time I retrieved it for future viewing.

Come with me and I will tell you Liesel’s story.

It's the story of a perpetual survivor --an expert at being left behind.

It's just a small story really, about, among other things:

  • A girl
  • Some words
  • An accordionist
  • Some fanatical Germans
  • A Jewish fist fighter
  • And quite a lot of thievery

I saw the book thief three times.

Discussion questions

Spoiler alert! Some of the questions contain key elements of the plot. Do not read if you don't want to know what happens!

  1. What is significant about having Death as a narrator?
  2. How is Death haunted by humans?
  3. What is ironic about Liesel’s obsession with stealing books?
  4. How is Liesel’s relationship with Hans different from her relationship with Rosa? Why are they different and does that change during the course of the story?
  5. What role do colors play throughout the story?
  6. How does the author using the technique of foreshadowing? What are some examples?
  7. What are the different kinds of courage that are displayed during the course of the story?
  8. How does Liesel’s attempt to write her own book save her life?
  9. Describe Liesel’s relationship with Rudy and Max, how are they different, how are they the same?

If you liked this book, try

  • In My Hands: memories of a Holocaust Rescuer by Irene Gut Opdyke, with Jennifer Armstrong
  • Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli
  • Daniel Half-Human: and the Good Nazi by David Chotjewitz
  • On a Pale Horse by Piers Anthony
  • Night by Elie Wiesel

Created in part with funds granted by the Oregon State Library under the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Oregon State Library.