The Book Thief

Written by: Markus Zusak


For parents of independent readers, we provide a set of questions that should give you insight into what your child is reading and help you engage him/her in meaningful conversations about literature. The plot summary is meant to give you a general understanding of the storyline, allowing you to have more meaningful discussion with your child. We recommend using the questions provided here as a springboard for deeper conversation about The Book Thief  and what your child takes away from the book. Enjoy!

Plot Summary

Set in Nazi Germany in 1939, The Book Thief  follows a young girl as she discovers a love of books. On her way to live with her new foster family, Liesel Meminger's brother dies unexpectedly on the train. As she sits by her brother's gravestone, she notices a book nearby and decides to steal it. When she arrives on Himmel Street, she befriends a boy named Rudy, who serves as her partner-in-crime and accompanies her on her adventures. The Grave Digger's Handbook is the book that begins her career as the book thief, sparking a love for words and books. She steals books wherever she finds them, including at Nazi book-burnings and the mayor's wife's library. She learns how to read from her foster father, Hans Hubermanns, with whom she develops a close relationship. While Liesel is living there, Hans agrees to take in Max, a Jew, and hide him in their basement, adding a new level of danger to their lives. The story follows the lives of Liesel and the others living on Himmel Street, told from Death's point of view.

Pre-Reading Activity

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Create a K-W-L Chart on your own and have your child fill in the first two columns. In the "What I Know" column, have him/her write what s/he knows about Adolf Hitler, the Holocaust, and Germany during World War II. In the "What I Would Like To Know" section, have him/her write about what s/he hopes to learn from this story, like more information on Germany in the late 1930s and early 1940s and who the book thief is. S/he can fill out the "What I Learned" portion at the end, before you discuss the story. 

Discussion Questions

1. From whose perspective is the story told? Why do you think the author chose to use this character as the narrator?

2. What is foreshadowing and how is it used in The Book Thief? 

3. What is the first book that Liesel steals? Why does she steal it? How is her continued theft justified in the story? Do you agree? Why or why not?

4. How would you describe Liesel and Rudy's friendship? How does it evolve throughout the story?

5. Why does Hans agree to hide Max in his basement? Why is this dangerous for both Hans' family and Max?

6.  What was your reaction to the chapter "The End of the World (Part II)? Why do you think the author chose to write this part into the story?

7. How do people tend to describe/think about Death? How would you describe Death in this story?   What is ironic about the way that Death feels about humans?

Above all, be sure to engage your child in a discussion about the plot line and his/her thoughts and feelings about the book. Ask what s/he likes, encourage exploration related to the book, and every now and again, offer to read parts of the book aloud, just for fun!