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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak



WWII Nazi Germany is the setting of The Book Thief written by Markus Zusak.  Young Liesel is sent to live with foster parents in a small village near Munich.  Traumatized by the death of her younger brother, Liesel arrives at the Hubermanns with her meager belongings and The Gravedigger’s Handbook, a book stolen at her younger brother’s graveside.

From the Publisher

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. . . . Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist – books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau. This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.  Knopf Books for Young Readers


Book Club Party Ideas for The Book Thief

Decorations can include a  bowl of apples (remember Rudy and Liesel’s apple orchard adventure?), a poster of Rudy’s idol, Jesse Owens,and a pair of boxing gloves for Max.
Jesse Owens Setting the 200 Meter Olympic Record at the Olympics in Berlin, Germany, 1936


Book Club Menu for The Book Thief

A German menu was in order for The Book Thief party.

Bretzeln (pretzels) and German emmantaler cheese.   I made homemade pretzels.  But, I’ve had some pretty tasty frozen pretzels in my day too.  So if you don’t have time to play with dough, go that route.  But, if  you’ve never had a homemade pretzel it’s definitely worth the effort.   I found the German Emmantaler cheese at Central Market, but for those of you not blessed with a Central Market or deli in the vicinity, regular ol’, Swiss cheese works just fine.

Pretzels-Cheese-Wine

I tried to keep it simple since the Hubermanns were simple people struggling during the war.  I decided on Kartoffelsuppe Mit Wurstchen (potato soup with sausage) and Bier Brotchen (beer muffins). Delicious!!!!

 

Schwarzwalderkirchtorte (German Black Forest Cake).  Uhhhhh, okay, I did splurge here, but when it comes to dessert, I just can’t seem to help myself.  The schwarzwalderkirschtorte was beautiful!  And delicious!

Black Forest Cake

We each brought a bottle of German wineto sip while discussing The Book Thief, eating and visiting.  My favorite was the Trimbach Riesling (actually an Alsatian wine, but close enough, since Alsace was part of the Greater German Reich during WWII) and the Blue Nun which I haven’t had in years.   You can find Trimbach Riesling at Wine.com.

German Wine

Another choice you be to serve some champagne which “exploded in Liesel’s mouth.”


Book Club Resources for The Book Thief

Reviews

  • “The hope we see in Liesel is unassailable, the kind you can hang on to in the midst of poverty and war and violence. Young readers need such alternatives to ideological rigidity, and such explorations of how stories matter. And so, come to think of it, do adults.” — New York Times Book ReviewReviews
  • “The Book Thief has been marketed as an older children’s book in some countries and as an adult novel in others. It could and – dare I say? – should certainly be read by both. Unsettling, thought-provoking, life-affirming, triumphant and tragic, this is a novel of breathtaking scope, masterfully told. It is an important piece of work, but also a wonderful page-turner. I cannot recommend it highly enough.” — Guardian.co.uk
  • “The Book Thief is an extraordinary, heartbreaking book. Like The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-Time, which was initially targeted at young adults in Britain but to adults in the USA, The Book Thief is one of those rare books that really does speak to both young and old alike.” — BookBrowse.com
  • “The Book Thief is unsettling and unsentimental, yet ultimately poetic. Its grimness and tragedy run through the reader’s mind like a black-and-white movie, bereft of the colors of life. Zusak may not have lived under Nazi domination, but The Book Thief deserves a place on the same shelf with The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel’s Night. It seems poised to become a classic.” — USAToday

Discussion Questions for The Book Thief

  1. What did you think of the unusual narrator of  The Book Thief?  Why was the narrator so haunted by Liesel?
  2. The Grave Digger’s Handbook is the first book Liesel steals.  Why do you feel she was compelled to steal that book?  Why does Liesel continue to steal books?
  3. Hans and Rosa, Liesel’s foster parents, are a contrast in personality.  Did your feelings toward Hans and Rosa change as the story progressed?
  4. Rudy, the Aryan ideal with blue eyes and “hair the color of a lemon,” worships the black American track and field star Jesse Owens.  Rudy even goes so far as to charcoal his face and run through town to emulate his hero.  Why do you think Zusak has Rudy do this?  What is Zusak trying to demonstrate?
  5. Max, hidden away in the  Hubermann’s basement, paints the pages of Mein Kampf white, then begins to write his own story on the painted pages.  Why does Max do this?
  6. The mayor’s wife and Liesel form a relationship that has profound effects on both their lives.  In what ways?


Hitler Youth Parade at Allposters.com

Hitler Youth Parade, Nazi Germany, 1933

 

The Author

Visit the Markus Zusak Website

markus zusak

Acclaim for The Book Thief

  • 2006 Booklist Children’s Editors’ Choice
  • 2006 Bulletin Blue Ribbon Book
  • 2006 Horn Book Fanfare
  • 2006 Kirkus Reviews Editor Choice Award
  • 2006 Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Book of the Year
  • 2006 School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
  • 2007 ALA Best Books for Young Adults
  • 2007 Book Sense Book of the Year
  • 2007 Michael L. Printz Honor Book
  • 2009 Pacific Northwest Young Readers Choice Master List

A few of my favorite quotes from The Book Thief:

“Which in turn brings me to the subject I am telling you about tonight, or today, or whatever the hour and color. It’s the story of one of those perpetual survivors—an expert at being left behind. It’s just a small story really, about, among other things: I saw the book thief three times.” (Narrator of The Book Thief)

“For now, Rudy and Liesel made their way onto Himmel Street in the rain. He was the crazy one who had painted himself black and defeated the world. She was the book thief without the words. Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like the rain.”

“I carried them in my fingers, like suitcases. Or I’d throw them over my shoulder. It was only the children I carried in my arms.”

“He does something to me, that boy. Every time. It’s his only detriment. He steps on my heart. He makes me cry.”


We had a great time and I was intrigued by how differently each of us were affected by the book.  We each had our own favorite character, our own favorite part.  We are a wonderfully diverse group!



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Feel free to add your ideas, comments or book review below.

  1. This book made me cry harder than anything I have ever read before. That cake looks so moist!

    Comment by RobinA2

  2. Robin, I think everyone in my book club shed a few tears while we read our favorite passages from this novel.

    Comment by Annie

  3. Loved the book, and all of the food looks delicious!

    Comment by jenclair

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