Death narrates a poignant tale of collecting lives and stories through Nazi Germany while constantly circling back to Liesel, who survives because of the love she shares and her love of language.
Below are some reading passages that we have hand picked to supplement this book. Be sure to read the passage summaries and our suggestions for instructional use.
In the informational text “Adolf Hitler,” Jessica McBirney discusses Adolf Hitler’s life, his rise to power, and the violence that followed.
Introduce this informational text before students begin reading The Book Thief, to provide them with historical context that will help support their study. The novel is set in Nazi Germany, beginning in 1939 when Adolf Hitler was appointed Fuhrer. As students read, ask them to discuss Hitler’s motivations and identify historical events and details like “Mein Kampf” that will help support their study of the novel.
In the excerpt from Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty: The Autobiography of a Horse, Black Beauty describes being fitted with a saddle and bridle.
Have students read this text after reading part I of the novel, in order to analyze perspective and discuss the unlikely narrators in each text. Each text is narrated by an unlikely character, a horse in Excerpt from Black Beauty: The Autobiography of a Horse and ‘Death’ in The Book Thief. Ask students to track the clues the author gives the reader that help identify each narrator. How does each story benefit from its specific point of view?
In “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers - (254),” Dickinson symbolizes hope as a bird that prevails in a storm.
Introduce students to this poem before they read part III of the novel, where Max talks about ‘his life being saved by a book’ and Liesel has stolen a book that ‘burns inside her chest.’ Use this pairing to help students understand the use of extended metaphor. Ask students to analyze the metaphors in the poem alongside those that they encounter in the novel. How is the sense of hope that the speaker expresses in Dickinson’s poem similar to the hope that Max has?
In this interview from NPR, a reporter speaks to the woman who helped to hide Anne Frank’s family, risking her own life in the process.
Have students read this text after they have read part VI, in order to provide context on the widespread hardships and sacrifices that some Germans had to make. The Hubermanns realize Max is more of a risk dead than alive, as disposing of a dead body would be harder than what it takes to keep him alive. Ask students to compare and contrast the risks the Gieses took when they provided sanctuary for Anne Frank, with the sacrifices and risks that the Hubermanns take with Max. What do the Gieses and Hubermanns give up to protect others? What are their heroic characteristics? How would you describe their relationships with those in hiding?
In this classic fable by Aesop, the ancient Greek storyteller, a tiny mouse proves to a powerful lion that she is greater than she seems.
Introduce this text after students have read “The Word Shaker” in part VIII of The Book Thief, in order for them to discuss allegories. Aesop’s tale thematically addresses underestimated potential and acknowledging every contribution, no matter how small. Max depicts the story of his and Liesel’s friendship. He addresses how Hitler gained power from words, as well as the power of spreading resistance by sharing words (stories). Have students analyze “The Lion and the Mouse” alongside “The Word Shaker.” What are the smaller messages represented in their respective larger texts?
Carl Sandburg's "Languages" is a poem about language and poetry itself. In it, Sandburg uses natural imagery and figurative language to convey the idea that language is changing and fleeting.
Have students read this poem, after finishing the novel, in order to facilitate an understanding of the power and function of language. In The Book Thief, Frau Hermann gives Liesel a diary, the one which Death carries. Sandburg’s poem carries a message on how short life is when compared to language. Have students’ compare the messages about language in the poem and the novel. The poem discusses language as ever-changing and having an unsustainable nature, but it outlasts humans — as do Liesel’s words in the instance of the novel’s plot. In contrast, language connects people in the novel, while in the poem language is presented as intangible. What are the differences in the way that the power of language is depicted in both texts? How does language bring people together? How does language outlast people?