Friday, August 11, 2017

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Image result for the book thief

More summer reading homework. I am working with a student who is starting her freshman year in high school and all incoming freshmen are to read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I made a small groaning sound when I discovered that the story takes place in Nazi Germany. 

Oh dear. One of my reading rules: No Books About Nazi Germany. I hate bullies. And mass murderers. But rules are meant to be broken and I agreed to help. We set up the novel noting plan just as I had with the student for Out of My Mind (I wrote about that here). 

If you don't already know, the book concerns 11-year-old Liesel who goes to live with a foster family outside of Munich at the beginning of the Nazi regime. The tale of her friendships, her hardships, her learning to read and discovering the power of words and books is written quite lyrically. The story is narrated by Death. There is the brooding tension and foreboding as the dark cloud of the Nazi horrors builds and begins to affect the lives of Liesel, her family, and neighbors.

My student and I have persevered. We have 100 pages to go. We have had some heartfelt discussions about resilience, forgiveness, the use of propaganda, and loss. 

Please. Lighten up, teachers! Next summer, I hope the students I work with are reading Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys. 


  1. Life comes at children far too soon. I was so happy at that age with my Nancy Drews and Penrod and Last of the Mohicans! I didn't develop anxiety issues until later in life. I'll continue to avoid The Book Thief

    1. Must be our age, Joan. I know many book clubs read the book. The language is really lovely and the characters are likable - well, some of them anyway - it's just that reading about that time in history gives me a stomach ache!

  2. We did read The Book Thief for our book group and had an engaging discussion, but, we are seasoned adults in our group who had our youthful summers with our noses stuck in Anne of Green Gables and such books that you mention. I suspect it is not so much the teachers as the curriculum itself and the powers-that-be that set them. I admire your fortitude, Belle, and the lessons your young student will take through life will be far more than this one book.

  3. Hi, Penny. Thanks for weighing in. My student and I did meet yesterday after finishing the book. I asked her if she thought she would remember the uplifting parts of the story or the dreadful time it was set in. She told me she liked reading about the friendship between the main characters - Liesel and Rudy. I was glad she could take that away.

    Apparently there is to be a test on the book the first day of two days. I will be in touch to see how she did on that! I tried to lead our discussions more toward her thoughts on the themes, seeing a bigger picture, rather than just 'the plot.'

    And now I think I will read Anne of Green Gables! A palate cleanser.

  4. Yes--Anne of Green Gables as a palate cleanser! Anne can heal a lot of ills.

    I think you would be a wonderful reading tutor, Belle. I hope your student does well on her exam. I have mixed feelings about summer reading lists. When my son was in school, I'd dutifully help him read his books (books that didn't especially interest him), only to find they did nothing at all with the kids one year, only to test the bejeezus out of them the next. I tried so hard to help him become a reader, but he just isn't. And frankly, I don't think the school system helped. OK, rant over.

    1. Your rant is perfectly timed, Kathy. School has just begun here. I recall when we didn't return till the day after Labor Day which seemed much more civilized.

      Many parents I have spoken with have the same complaint about summer reading. I don't know exactly when the schools started having entire classes (freshman, 5th grade) read the same book. All books are not going to appeal to all students. When I worked at the bookstore in the '90s we had two or three tables of summer reading selections for the students to choose from. Seemed like the way to go...pick the book or books that interest you. That more than anything helps to foster life-long reading.