The Book Thief



Emotional WWII drama explores loss, literacy, and love.
Parents recommendPopular with kids
  • Review Date: November 8, 2013
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2013
  • Running Time: 125 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The movie, as with the book, has positive messages about the power of literacy and books; the importance of unconditional friendship; the relationship between parents and children; and the necessity of standing up for other people in need. The presence of Death also encourages the viewer not to squander their lives, because you never know when the end will arrive.

Positive role models

Liesel is curious, kind, and willing to work hard to learn how to read. Liesel's foster father Hans is patient, loving, and kind. He helps out Max when it would be much easier to denounce him, and he resists getting involved with the Nazi Party, even though it's the ruling government. Rosa comes off as harsh, but she does love Hans and Liesel and shows it in her own way. Rudy Steiner defends and protects Liesel.


The violence ranges from the deaths of various characters to scenes of Nazis terrorizing Jews in front of their homes and businesses and other occasions. Every scene with a Nazi officer is fraught with anxiety, and the character deaths (or near deaths) will upset even adult viewers. There are also a couple of scenes of schoolyard bullying and fights. During a couple of bombing raids, the entire town evacuates and is worried, anxious and afraid. A Nazi officer strikes Liesel and then Hans.


Rudy repeatedly asks for a kiss, and by the end of the movie, when Rudy and Liesel are about 14, it's clear they have feelings for each other. One kiss.


Insults are used, but sometimes as terms of endearment and usually in German, like the expletives "Saumensch" and "Saukerl" ("dirty swine"), "Arschloch" ("a--hole"). Rosa often uses insults: "good-for-nothing"; "dreckigs" ("dirty"); "know-nothing," "stupid," and "idiot."


One shot of an Apple computer and logo in the closing scene.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Some adults smoke cigarettes.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Book Thief is a historical drama set in WWII Germany based on the bestselling young-adult novel by Australian author Markus Zusak. There are many scenes of violence, from the way the Nazis treat Jews, to schoolyard fights, to recurring bomb threats. There are many character deaths and near-deaths that will affect even the most jaded of viewers, though there's almost no blood and zero gore. Language includes German insults that translate to "a--hole" and "dirty swine" as well as "stupid" and "idiot."

What's the story?

THE BOOK THIEF, like the book on which it's based, is narrated by Death (Roger Allam), who explains that he rarely cares about the stories of the living, with the exception of young Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nelisse). In 1938, Liesel is shown on a train with her frightened mother (rumored to be a Communist) and sick little brother, who dies before they reach their small town destination. At his impromptu funeral, Liesel steals The Gravedigger's Handbook as a memento. She's soon delivered to childless foster parents, gentle painter Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and abrasive laundress Rosa (Emily Watson). At home, Hans discovers the book and begins to teach Liesel how to read, and at school, Liesel befriends her neighbor, the fast-running Rudy Steiner (Nico Liersch). Liesel's life changes even more when Hans and Rosa agree to hide a young Jewish man, Max (Ben Schnetzer), in their basement. Liesel, now a voracious reader, forms a sweet secret friendship with Max -- but as the war progresses, all of them are put in danger again and again.

Is it any good?


Markus Zusak's book is unforgettable: How many books are narrated by Death? The movie doesn't pull off the Death narration quite as seamlessly as the novel (plus, Allam's voice is stereotypically deep and knowing), but the at-times heartbreaking story will still resonate with viewers, who will grow to love young plucky Liesel. Nelisse is lovely as the curious Liesel, who despite losing her entire immediate family, is open to love -- whether it's from her parents, her new friend Max, or her best friend Rudy.

The film may not steal your heart quite as powerfully as Zusak's novel, but it is faithful enough to show moviegoers why the characters are so beloved. Take Rudy, he's a "boy with hair the color of lemons" who doesn't care that his Olympic idol Jesse Owens is black -- he just wants to run fast and convince Liesel to give him a kiss. Then there's Max, who shows Liesel how to resist hate, and who paints over the pages of Mein Kampf to give Liesel a place for her words. And class actors Rush and Watson are fabulous as the bickering but loving Hubermanns, who really love their new daughter. This is a movie that will make you cry, make you laugh, and make you hold your books close to your heart.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the importance of literacy and books. How does learning to read change Liesel's life? Why does she "steal" books? How can books make an impact on even a horrible situation?

  • What makes a movie or a book "young adult" -- the age of the protagonist, the intended audience, or something else?

  • How is this movie different from others about WWII? Do you believe there were Germans who weren't fond of the Nazi regime or of Hitler's anti-semitic laws?

  • In the movie, like the book, Death is the narrator, but he doesn't reveal things the same way. What did you think of the narrator in the movie? For those who've read the book, did you like and understand the changes between the page and screen versions?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:November 8, 2013
DVD release date:March 11, 2014
Cast:Emily Watson, Geoffrey Rush, Sophie Nelisse
Director:Brian Percival
Studio:Twentieth Century Fox
Topics:Book characters, Friendship, History
Run time:125 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:some violence and intense depiction of thematic material

This review of The Book Thief was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Teen, 15 years old Written byImeremin December 1, 2013

Movie will leave you in a good way

I just saw this movie last night with my family, and it left us all in tears. I have not read the book so I can't compare but the movie was excellent. The acting was great, the plot was great, the setting was great. Overall, it was a very well done movie. The only issue that parents might not want their kids to see is the violence. There are a couple scenes in which people are being beaten to the ground by Nazis and one scene where 2 boys are fighting. All in all this is a must see movie!
Teen, 14 years old Written bySouthoftheBear November 8, 2013

Great Message and Educational

I'm 14, and having read the book at least 3 times, I can say that this movie, although may have a few questionable sevens, does come with an excelent message. This book was one of my favorites of all time. The movie will hopefully not only be entertaining, but will also give viewers a good picture of how horrible WWII really was.
Parent Written bydianepgd November 30, 2013

Wonderful Actors - Moving Story

My husband, 12-year old daughter and I thought this was a beautiful film. There were so many thought and conversation-provoking aspects, it's hard to mention them all - standing up for what is right; the importance of books and literacy; and perseverance in the worst of circumstances. The characters were wonderful and very well developed by amazing actors. Examples of courage, love, and friendship throughout. It is a beautiful, moving film. Take some tissues with you!
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Star Wars Guide