About the Book
Liesel Meminger is only nine years old when she is taken to live with a foster family, the Hubermanns, on Himmel Street in Molching, Germany, in the late 1930s. She arrives with few possessions, but among them is The Grave Digger’s Handbook, a book that she stole from her brother’s burial place. During the years that Liesel lives with the Hubermanns, Hitler becomes more powerful, life on Himmel Street becomes more fearful, and Liesel becomes a full-fledged book thief. She rescues books from Nazi book-burnings and steals from the library of the mayor. Liesel is illiterate when she steals her first book, but Hans Hubermann uses her prized books to teach her to read. This is a story of courage, friendship, love, survival, death, and grief. This is Liesel’s life on Himmel Street, told from Death’s point of view.
For more information about the Holocaust and lesson ideas, check out the following articles:
- Discuss the symbolism of Death as the omniscient narrator of the novel. What are Death’s feelings for each victim? Describe Death’s attempt to resist Liesel. Death states, “I’m always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both.” (p. 491) What is ugly and beautiful about Liesel, Rosa and Hans Hubermann, Max Vandenburg, Rudy Steiner, and Mrs. Hermann? Why is Death haunted by humans?
- The Grave Digger’s Handbook is the first book Liesel steals. Why does she take the book? What is significant about the titles of the books she steals? Discuss why she hides The Grave Digger’s Handbook under her mattress. Describe Hans Hubermann’s reaction when he discovers the book. What does the act of book thievery teach Liesel about life and death? Explain Rudy’s reaction when he discovers that Liesel is a book thief. How does stealing books from the mayor’s house lead to a friendship with the mayor’s wife? Explain how Liesel’s own attempt to write a book saves her life.
- Liesel believes that Hans Hubermann’s eyes show kindness, and from the beginning she feels closer to him than to Rosa Hubermann. How does Hans gain Liesel’s love and trust? Debate whether Liesel is a substitute for Hans’s children, who have strayed from the family. Why is it so difficult for Rosa to demonstrate the same warmth toward Liesel? Discuss how Liesel’s relationship with Rosa changes by the end of the novel.
- Compare and contrast the lives of Liesel and Max Vandenburg. How does Max’s life give Liesel purpose? At what point do Liesel and Max become friends? Max gives Liesel a story called “The Standover Man” for her birthday. What is the significance of this story?
- Hans Junior, a Nazi soldier, calls his dad a coward because he doesn’t belong to the Nazi Party. He feels that you are either for Hitler or against him. How does it take courage to oppose Hitler? Discuss how they demonstrate courage throughout the novel.
- Liesel Meminger lived to be an old woman. Death says that he would like to tell the book thief about beauty and brutality, but those are things that she had lived. How does her life represent beauty in the wake of brutality? Discuss how Zusak’s poetic writing style enhances the beauty of Liesel’s story.