A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What 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.
Talk to your kids 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?
For kids who love history
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