A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Readers will get a sense of what life was like in Nazi Germany before and during World War II. Shows what it was like to be in the Hitler Youth, episodes of book burning, and the suspense of a German man hiding a Jewish young man in his basement, in an effort to keep him safe from the Nazis.
People face difficult choices in difficult times. Heroes risk their lives to do what's right. People are more than meets the eye, and what might come out as rudeness in people might actually be intense sadness. In the face of such moral tribulation and drama, it's possible to both maintain your own dignity and peacefully accept and incorporate the fact that people are often far more complex than brief interactions with them might imply.
Positive Role Models
The characters portray the essence of personal sacrifice, heroism, friendship, and courage. Readers will sympathize with Liesel and be struck by her strength as she moves from reader to writer. Her kind foster father, Hans, bravely hides a Jewish man in the basement to save him from the Nazis. One White character reveres African American track and field Olympian Jesse Owens. At one point that character covers himself in mud in crude blackface in an attempt to feel like his hero while running.
Violence & Scariness
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.
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Some swearing, both in English and German, including "s--t" and various religiously themed curses, such as "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph." Characters also make antisemitic comments and racist remarks about African Americans.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Adults and children smoke and drink champagne. There are detailed descriptions of one character rolling his own cigarettes.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Markus Zusak's The Book Thief is a powerful portrayal of life in Nazi Germany before and during World War II, especially as it was experienced by German kids. Main character Leisel is taken in by foster parents in a small town after her younger brother dies. Death serves as both a character and the narrator, and figures in the plot. 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, with all of humanity's complexities and contradictions deeply explored. 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. Adults and children smoke and drink champagne.
Is It Any Good?
This is a devastatingly powerful book that bears several rereadings, and should become a staple of literature discussion groups for sophisticated teen and adult readers. The Book Thief 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. It will educate readers about living under Nazi rule and 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. Set against the brutality of the Nazis, the book's violence is critical to the story's emotional impact.
The participation of Death as a character and narrator is presented matter-of-factly from the start, and Death continues to figure in the plot. Death changes emotionally over the course of the novel, haunted by the humans who have died. And there's a powerful payoff in the Shakespearean ending, when author Markus Zusak wallops you again and again with the fates of these people, good and bad, whom you've come to care about. These are deeply mined characters acting in response to deeply dramatic circumstances.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.