The Book Thief

Markus Zusak

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Book Summary

The setting is Nazi Germany in 1939. The book thief is a nine-year-old foster girl. The narrator is Death and he has never been busier. Liesel enjoys stealing books. She steals her first book at her brother’s graveside. From there, she travels to Munich where her foster family offer her a home in the midst of a war-struck city. As the political situation in Germany deteriorates, she and her foster parents are put in a dangerous situation while hiding a Jewish man, Hans, in their home. Hans and Liesel become close as he teaches her to read late at night. Recognizing the power of books, she steals books from Hitler’s burning pile of book and the mayor’s library. This is a tale of courage, defiance and love. As expected, many of the characters meet Death and he fulfills his job by carrying their souls into another realm. In the end, it is the survivors in the book that expose the price of war.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Publication date: 2007

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf

IBSN number: 0375842209


• 2006: Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best Book

• 2006: School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

• 2006: Daniel Elliott Peace Award

• 2006: Publishers Weekly Best Children's Book of the Year

• 2006: National Jewish Book Award for Children's and Young Adult Literature [8]

• 2006: Bulletin Blue Ribbon Book[9]

• 2007: Michael L. Printz Honor Book2007: Book Sense Book of the Year Award for Children's Literature

Classroom Instruction

The Plot

One of the major challenges concerning this novel is its length. Instruct the students to use a plot diagram as they read the novel. This can be referred to during group and class discussions. The plot diagram can be used to assess comprehension.(SOL 9.1)

Parallel Book Study

After reading The Book Thief, students will read and discuss Jeannine Burk’s story of being a hidden child during WWII. They will compare Max’s and Jeannine’s stories and the lives of Jeannine’s and Liesel’s. As a class, complete a Venn Diagram comparing the two books. (SOL 9.5)

Auditory Media

Pair student and distribute copies of the book and voice recorders. Students will select,read and record passages narrated by Death. (SOL 9.2)

1939 Newspaper

Have students research event from 1939. Using digital resources, student will create a newspaper with articles about events that took place during WWII. Students will print, distribute and present their newspaper to the class. (SOL 9.1, 9.2, 9.8)

Book Pairs

Unlikely Warrior: A Jewish Soldier in Hitler's Army - Written by Georg Rauch, this story is a true account of his part in helping his mother hide Jews from the Gestapo in their home. At age nineteen, Rauch is drafted into Hitler’s army despite,his Jewish heritage. He describes the unimaginable hardships of labor camps, starvation, and prejudice. This book is written from the viewpoint of a Nazi soldier forced to fight in a war that he does not believe in.

Rauch, G. (2015). Unlikely Warrior: A Jewish Soldier in Hitler's Army. New York: Farrar, Straus and Girou.

My Mother's Secret: A Novel Based on a True Holocaust Story

Franciszka and her daughter, Helena, risk their lives as they hide a Jewish family in their barn. The year is 1938 and the story is told from prospective of four people: Helena and her mother, the Jewish doctor hiding in the pigsty, Mikolai, who with his parents are hidden in a cellar; and Vilheim, a German soldier defector, hidden in the attic. The characters in the book show strength in their courage, sacrifice and love despite the horrors of the events surrounding the Holocaust.

Witterick, J.( 2014). My Mother's Secret: A Novel Based on a True Holocaust Story. New York: Penguin.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas – This vividly descriptive tale takes place in Berlin in 1942. When Bruno’s father receives a promotion, he finds himself living in a new house surrounded by a tall fence. He sets off to learn more about his new environment and befriends Shmuel, a Jewish boy with the same birth date. As the friendship grows, Bruno has to face the reality of who his father is and what that means to Shmuel.

Boyne, J. (2007). The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Oxford,UK David Fickling Books.

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit? – Anna wakes up one morning and finds out that her father has secretly left Germany. She comes to realize that she must leave everything behind because she is Jewish The author tells her own story about reuniting with her family in Switzerland and learning how to survive as a refugee. Even though this book has been enjoyed for decades, students will find it difficult to put down.

Kerr, J. (2009), When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. Oxford,UK: Puffin Books.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

Anne’s diary tells the story of hiding with her family in an attic for two years from the Gestapo. As a thirteen year old Jewish girl, she faced the horrors of hunger, boredom and the fear of being discovered. After her death in a concentration camp, her dad returns to the attic and finds her diary. This classic will forever document Anne’s courage during a time of injustice and suffering.

Frank, A. (1993). Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. New York: Bantam.

About the Author

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Look Between the Lines. ( n.d.)

Book Club July: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Retrieved from

Reading is Fundamental.(2013), Markus Zusak. Retrieved


The Book Thief. (2011). Lesson plans. Retrieved from