The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

“Death tells the story of a young German girl, Liesel, whose book-stealing and story-telling talents during World War II help sustain her family and the Jewish man they are hiding, as well as their neighbors.”

Zusak, Markus. (2005). The Book Thief. New York: Penguin Random House Company. ISBN: 9780385754729. Paperback. $12.99.

This book is about a girl named Liesel who is given up by her mother to live with foster parents Hans and Rosa. She learns to read a book she took at her brother’s burial with the help of her new foster father. At a book burning Liesel lives up to her book thief name and steal a book as observed by the Mayor’s wife Ilsa. Instead of getting into trouble for it, Ilsa eventually invites Liesel to come and read in the library at her house. Hans hides a man named Max, whose father served with Hans in World War I, in their basement as things start to escalate in Germany. Hans helps a Jew by giving him bread while he is on his way to a concentration camp and with suspicion risen, Max is forced to leave. Her foster father is recruited into fighting in the way, Liesel starts to take books from the mayor and his wife, and eventually is given a notebook from the mayor’s wife to write a book for herself. During a bombing, her foster parents, her friend Rudy and many other neighbors are killed but she is rescued from the carnage without her finished book. Only when she passes away does Death reconnect her with her notebook.

It was a very interesting book to me because I hadn’t really read historical fiction, unless you count the best book of all time, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (joking of course). The author did well to seamlessly weave in World War II as the setting and almost another character in the story. I also found it very interesting that the book was written and narrated from the perspective of death, which actually seems rather fitting, given the settings and the time the story took place. This book and other historical fiction, give readers a glimpse into what it would have been families and children during this unimaginable time. It may help serve as a bridge to get teens interested in World War II as well as way to help them understand from a real human perspective rather than through a dry textbook. This book would be well suited for a school library (junior high and high school) as well as public libraries like the one I borrowed it from.

Awards won:

  • Michael L. Printz Award

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