Readers' Guide: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief

by: Markus Zusak

Category: FICTION
Guide Created By: JoanP
Discussion Leader(s): JoanP & Andy
Read our discussion of this book

Book DescriptionBook cover for The Book Thief Yes, this is another World War II story of survival, with Death as the narrator. But it is so much more.

Background Information

"Fortunately, this book isn't about Death; it's about death, and so much else. . . The Book Thief is a complicated story of survival that will encourage its readers to think." (Bookmarks Magazine)
"While it is set in Germany during World War II and is not immune to bloodshed, most of this story is figurative: it unfolds as symbolic or metaphorical abstraction. 'The Book Thief' will be widely read and admired because it tells a story in which books become treasures." (New York Times).

Relevant Links

A Brief History of German Rule


Mein Kampf

Metaphors Used in The Book Thief: identified by participants in our discussion

Questions for Consideration


1. "First the colors." What does the author achieve with the use of the many color metaphors? (Shall we start a list of the favorites you have noted?) What is a dark, dark chocolate colored sky?

2. "Your soul will be in my arms." What do you think he (she?) means by "a color will be perched on my shoulder" as he carries you away? What color will the sky be on that day? Does this narrator make you at all uneasy?

3. How is the book thief introduced? Why does she interest the narrator? On what other occasions did the narrator notice her? What was the significance of the three colors associated with each of these occasions?

Part I & II (the gravedigger's handbook; the shoulder shrug)

1. "One of them called the shots. The other did what he was told." Death, observing the shivering gravediggers, asks "What if the other is a lot more than one?" What is he asking here?

2. Did you notice the mother had a return ticket? "A final soaking farewell." Do you see Liesel's mother - and Rosa Hubermann, for that matter, as victims of circumstance? Do you think "victim" describes Liesel?

3. Do you wonder why Hans and Rosa Hubermann ever married? Opposites attract? How did the author use metaphors to describe Liesel's new foster parents?

4. "Most Germans are very fond of pigs." What does the author mean by this? Did you notice that most of Rosa's foul words referred to a sau, a pig?

5. Do you think all school children were conscripted into the BDM, Hitler's youth group? Do you know if they had a choice?

6. Can you name some of the defining moments for the children on Himmel St. when they realized a larger truth for the first time?

7. Can you think of one reason Hans decided to take Liesel to the bank of the Amper River for her lessons? Was it simply to get her away from Rosa?

8. Why had Rudy Steiner insisted that Liesel take a turn reading before the class? Were you prepared for her extreme reaction to her taunters? What set her off?

9. "Nazi Germany was built on anti-Semitism." Do you agree with this, or was there more to it? How do you understand Hans Hubermann's politics? Was his not joining the party not a mistake?

10. How did Liesel's adoration of Hitler turn to hatred? Liesel steals her second book, The Shoulder Shrug - one of three books that survived the bonfire. It smolders against her chest. Do you think this is significant?

Part III & IV (mein kampf; the standover man)

1. Do you think Hans intended to give that copy of Mein Kampf to Liesel, as his son had suggested he should do, or was he merely trying to get accepted into the Nazi Party membership? Why did he decide to send it to Max Vandenburg instead?

2. Why did Liesel "forget" to deliver the laundry to the the mayor's wife the week following the bonfire? What do you think of this woman who does not speak - or smile? How does Zusak portray her, using very few words? What do you know of her husband, the Mayor?

3.Were you surprised that Ilsa Hermann allowed the unkempt little Himmel Street waif into her house, into her magnificent library? How can you tell that Liesel's reading skills are improving?

4. Why does Fran Diller, the cold, bloodless candy shop lady, regard her paying customers with such contempt? "The triumph before the storm," we're told. How did the children "triumph"? Do you anticipate Fran Diller will take part in the coming storm?

5. How does Max answer Liesel's question whether Mein Kampf is a good book? Have you ever read it?

6. Do you notice how Death's comments give an indication as to who will survive the coming devastation and who will not? How are we made to understand that Rudy Steiner will be among the survivors?

7. Why had Hans not previously joined the NSDAP as the majority of his neighbors had done? How did Erik Vandenburg's accordion save Hans from ostracism? Why does he change his mind and reapply for membership now?

8. The wildcard. Do you think Hans was surprised at mama's reaction to the challenge of hiding a Jew in the house? Were you? Max says he would never die a slow painful death like his uncle did, but isn't that what he's doing now in the Hubermann's freezing cold basement?

9. How does Hans convince Liesel of the need for absolute secrecy about Max? What of his threats convinces her most of the need for absolute secrecy?

10. Is Max beginning to take Hans' place as Liesel's "standover man." How are her 12th birthday gifts from Hans and Max similar?

Part V & VI (the whistler; the dream carrier)

1. Will you share with us some of the images and metaphors that captured your attention and made you pause while reading these two sections?

2. Did Death spoil the story for you by revealing in advance "the three stupid things" that will be Rudy's downfall in two years' time? Why do you think he did that?

3. Can you explain what was meant by "the seventh side of a die?" How do you think Germany's invasion of Russia would affect the people on Himmel Street? Do you detect a change?

4. Can you forgive Liesel for the way she retaliated against the Mayor's wife? How can her anger be explained in the context of the growing tension between the poor and the upper class at this time?

5. What is it about the the second drawing in Max's book that frightens Liesel? What is he trying to express?

6. Death searches for beauty in Germany at this time, 1942. Do you think he succeeded? Is that what this book is all about?

7. Who do you see as the "Whistler" in Liesel's stolen book? What is it about this book that makes Liesel shiver when she reads it? Whose book do you think it had belonged to?

8. Do you believe the library window was left open on purpose? Why did Liesel want to steal "The Dream Carrier"? Do you remember what it was about?

9. Max and Liesel dream often in these chapters. Are they premonitions? What happened to Max in Liesel's dream?

10. Death's diary - Auschwitz, Mauthausen - June 23, 1942 Your comments on Zusak's writing in this chapter?

Part VII & VIII (complete duden dictionary; the word shaker)

1. Summer of 1942. Why does Liesel regard the days spent with Hans painting blackout blinds as "the best of times"? Do you remember blackout shades and blinds?

2. Why do you think Rudy false-started on purpose to disqualify himself from earning the fourth medal he wanted more than anything?

3. Why does Ilsa Hermann put the Duden dictionalry in her window for Liesel to steal? Was it a gift? Are you familiar with the Duden Dictionary?

4. "The stars set fire to his eyes but not before he saw the shadow of Hitler coming towards the basement on Himmel St." Why did Max risk everything to leave the basement the night of the first raid?

5. What was the real reason for the long forced walk to Dachau? What does this tell us of the mindset of the young German soldiers?

6. Why did Hans to offer bread to the old man who was obviously dying? Was his offer of bread for naught? Who calls him an "idiot" for doing this? Does Liesel blame him for Max's departure?

7. What was the significanace of the dominoes game in the Steiners' living room? Do you know why dominoes are called "bones"?

8. Hans leaves his accordion in Liesel's care Do you believe he will come back to keep his promise to play it again?

9. Why does Rudy tempt fate by offering the Jews bread as they are marched through town to Dachau? Why include Liesel?

10. What is a "word shaker"? What is the moral of the fable or fairytale Max writes about? Does Liesel know where Max is now?

Part IX & X (the last human stranger; the book thief); EPILOGUE

1. Do you think the story would have been different if Liesel didn't keep having nightmares about her brother? Did you understand why she stopped dreaming about him after she returned the cookie plate to Ilsa Hermann?

2. What brought Ilsa Hermann down to 33 Himmel St? Why did she give the lined notebook to Liesel? What was her warning to Liesel?

3. Liesel wrote a book that was divided into 10 parts, each telling of how books and stories affected her life. Liesel is the author of this book then?

4. How does Liesel answer Rudy when he asks her how it feels to steal a book? Is her answer the reason he left the teddy bear with the dying pilot? (Why had he packed that teddy bear in his toolbox?)

5. Did you notice Death's explanation why he has been offering us a glimpse of the end before it actually happens?

6. Was Liesel ready to die when she joined Max in the road? How did Rudy save her? After she told him about Max, was it significant that he didn't kiss her then?

7. Why did Death carry Rudy's soul "with a salty eye and a heavy heart"? Rudy got to him. Can these be Liesel's thoughts? Why did she later tell Rudy's father that she had kissed him?

8. Now how did Liesel get to Sydney? What happened to Max? Dare we imagine they went together? Can you find a reason to support this?

9.. Death meets Liesel on her last day and wants to tell her about the beauty and the brutality of war. Do you think she knows this already? Did you see beauty in this story?

10. Everything considered, how would you rate this book on a scale of 1 * - 5 ***** What will you remember about this book?. Would you recommend it to a friend? To a teenager?