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The Book Thief



Powerful testament to humanity in Nazi Germany.
Parents recommendPopular with kids

What parents need to know

Educational value

Readers will get a sense of what life was like under the Nazis. Historical teachings range from what it was like to be in the Hitler Youth to episodes of book burning.

Positive messages

Through the powerful stories of these well-drawn characters, readers get a sense of the times and the difficult choices that people were often faced with. They will be moved by heroes who risk their lives to do what is right.

Positive role models

The characters portray the essence of personal sacrifice, heroism, friendship, and courage. Readers will find themselves quickly sympathizing with Liesel and struck by her strength as she moves from reader to writer.


Set against the brutality of the Nazis, the book's violence is critical to the story's emotional impact. In addition to the violence of the war, which causes the deaths of many major beloved characters, there are also beatings, whippings, fights, and a suicide.

Not applicable

A fair amount of swearing, both in English and German, including both "s--t" and various religiously themed curses, such as "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph." Characters also make anti-Semitic and racist remarks about African-Americans, but this certainly isn't glorified.  

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Adults and children smoke and drink champagne.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this book is a tremendously powerful portrayal of life under the Nazis, especially as it was experienced by German youth. Characters suffer cruel fates but also are great examples of the power of personal sacrifice, heroism, friendship, and courage. This is a tough story told about a horrendous time, so there's plenty of grief and sadness, as well as violence and cruelty. But ultimately the book is a portrait of the triumph of spirit and humanity.

What's the story?

Death himself narrates the story of Liesel, a German girl left with foster parents just before the outbreak of World War II. Along the way to her new home with her younger brother, he dies; after the funeral, Liesel steals The Gravedigger's Handbook, though she cannot yet read. It's only the first of what will become a series of book thefts. As she settles in with her harsh but caring foster mother, Rosa, and kind foster father, Hans, Liesel gets to know her poor neighborhood and learns to read. Her obsession with books grows as the war closes in, rationing is put in place, air raids begin, and Hans hides a Jewish man in the basement. Through it all, Death travels the Earth, taking in more and more souls every day.

Is it any good?


This is a devastatingly powerful book that bears several re-readings, and should become a staple of literature discussion groups for sophisticated teen and adult readers. This book has won many awards, including the ALA Best Books for Young Adults, Michael L. Printz Honor Book, and the School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly Best Children's Book of the Year. And it deserves every one of them. This book will educate readers about living under Nazi rule, and it will inspire them to think about human nature and why some heroic people are able to put their lives on the line to do what they know is right.

The participation of Death as narrator is first seamless and then essential, as his care for the humans haunting him comes shining through. And there's a powerful payoff in the Shakespearean ending, when Zusak wallops you again and again with the fates of these people, good and bad, whom you've come to care about. 

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about what makes this book a Young Adult title, even though it's also very popular with adult readers. What separates young adult literature from being either a children's book or an adult novel?

  • Liesel steals books that the Nazis have banned or tried to burn. Why were the Nazis concerned about book content? Is it ever appropriate to ban a book?

Book details

Author:Markus Zusak
Genre:Historical Fiction
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Alfred A. Knopf
Publication date:March 26, 2006
Number of pages:552
Award:ALA Best and Notable Books

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Teen, 14 years old Written byLisa88 June 16, 2011

A breathtaking, one of a kind novel

This is a stunningly beautiful novel of a girl living in Germany during the holocaust, suitable for both teenagers and adults to read. Zusak left me breathless with his descriptions and I always felt connected to the characters in some way or another. It is educational but does not lack strong characters with which you can connect with emotionally. You are taken on a heartbreaking journey through the lives of several characters, many of which you grow to love and feel for. Several times in the book I was bawling my eyes out or crying for pure joy, it really gets to you on an emotional level. It has holocaust themes (obviously) but I would say that they are quite mild. People who are sensitive to these themes can quite easily skip over the details and continue reading on as the book will still make total sense. The way in which Zusak writes is quite inspiring and just reading the descriptions with no storyline or plot would be enough for me! This is one of my favourite books.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 15 years old Written bybookkeeper September 3, 2010

Beautiful and sad

Markus Zusak has a way with words, and it shines in The Book Thief. At once hopeful and devastating, it's an observation of humanity from an outsider who sees it all; Death says things bluntly, and at one point spoils a bit of the plot early, because he doesn't see the point in keeping anything a secret. A real tear-jerker, The Book Thief keeps a steady pace to the end, if not with plot, then with words. I've read it many times, and each time I notice something new and amazing.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Teen, 13 years old Written byheyjessie March 13, 2010

A bit intense for preteens

I read this when I was eleven on a cruiseship, and it was seriously awesome. I loved it. Still do. In fact, I have the book next to me right now. It's one of my favorite books of all time, and even though there's a lot of things that I shouldn't know about, well, most people these days are more mature than they used to be. I did flinch at a few words, however.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking