Movie Wednesday: The Book Thief
by Amy Frantz, Brave Writer alum
Liesel Meminger is sent to live with foster parents on Himmel (Heaven) Street in the time just prior to World War II in Germany. Her brother dies on the journey and Liesel arrives shaken and traumatized…and with a book which might not be hers. Things worsen when she is sent to school and it is discovered that Liesel cannot read.
But her new foster ‘Papa’ begins teaching Liesel to read one night and she soon enters a world of words and maybe a few stolen books. However, the real world outside of Liesel’s books is churning towards cruelty and war, and one day the reality of that war arrives at her new family’s door in the form of a Jewish young man seeking shelter.
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Published in 2005, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak follows the young life of Liesel Meminger through the spectral eyes of Death as the book’s narrator, who chronicles her growing pains and book thievery amidst the backdrop of Nazi Germany. Inspired partially by the stories told to him as a child by his parents about the war, Zusak’s novel has gained widespread acclaim.
In 2013, The Book Thief was adapted into a film directed by Brian Percival and starring Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, and Sophie Nélisse as the book thief, with an Oscar nominated and Grammy Award winning score by John Williams. Amidst lavish cinematography and gripping acting performances from the cast, the movie explores both the extreme light and darkness held in contradiction within humanity as seen through the eyes of a child whose burgeoning literacy becomes the lens through which she processes and makes sense of the turbulent world around her.
A note to parents: The Book Thief is rated PG-13 and contains some highly disturbing content for younger audiences. We recommend looking up the film on sites like Commonsense Media before deciding if it is appropriate for your family.
- How do you feel about the choice to have Death narrate the story? Do you think it adds or detracts from the emotional impact of the events that unfold?
- In the book Rosa physically beats Liesel multiple times. This is largely omitted from the film. Why do you think the filmmakers made that choice? Does it change the relationship between Rosa and Liesel?
- Throughout the course of the story, Liesel famously steals several books. What might the story be saying about literacy as something to be taken when it is not given?
- At the end of the film, Death says that he is haunted by humans. What do you think he means by this?
Markus Zusak discusses the inspiration, themes, and writing process of the Book Thief (parents should be aware that violence and the Holocaust are discussed in this video)
Learn language arts with the Book Thief Boomerang!
The Boomerang is a monthly digital downloadable product that features copywork and dictation passages from a specific read aloud novel. It is geared toward 8th to 10th graders (ages 12—advanced, 13-15) and is the indispensable tool for Brave Writer parents who want to teach language arts in a natural, literature-bathed context.