SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.
Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Page Count: 552
Genre: WWII fiction, coming-of-age stories
Tone: Haunting, lyrical, leisurely-paced
1. Why do you think Markus Zusak chose to use Death as the narrator?
2. Did you see Death as a certain gender?
3. Did you have any preconceptions about Death? Did the character match or differ from these notions?
4. Would you consider this book as a Young Adult or an Adult title?
5. Do you think teens and adults have differing reactions to The Book Thief? What elements might appeal to teens? Are those elements different than what would appeal to an adult?
6. Has reading a book considered by some to be a Young Adult title made you more inclined to read other YA titles?
7. How did you feel about the bold interruptions in the story? (Ex: lists, characterizations, Death occasionally setting the scene)
8. What are some examples of foreshadowing in The Book Thief? It seems like Death is constantly letting the plot out of the bag. Did this bother you? Did you like it? (Ex: Knowing Rudy was going to die hundreds of pages before it happened)
9. The Book Thief is divided into 9 sections each titled with a book Liesel received. The section title pages list the chapters within each section. Some of these reveal parts of the plot. Did you notice? How did you feel about it?
10. The Gravedigger’s Handbook, Shoulder Shrug, The Whistler, Dream Carrier, Word Shaker - these are some of the fictitious titles Liesel received. Do you think there is significance to the titles?
11. The text is broken in several places by Max’s picture books to Liesel. What do you think these stories added to The Book Thief? Could you have done without them?
12. What did you notice about the language Zusak used?
13. What do you think the symbolism of the cover is? (Re: dominoes about to be pushed over)
14. What characters seemed most developed? Were there any throw away characters you could do without?
15. There was an emphasis on words and literature. What was the difference between how Hitler used his words and how Liesel used hers?
16. Were there any scenes in the book that overwhelmed you? What scenes stood out?
17. Hitler’s burning of books was a form of censorship. Is the censorship of books ever acceptable?
18. How do you feel about the relationship between Max and Liesel?
19. This book continuously alternates between great sorrows and small joys. As an example, Max is forced to hide in Liesel’s basement, but Liesel builds him a snowman inside. What are other examples of the ups and downs of The Book Thief? Do you think Zusak had a purpose in this alternating?
20. How does The Book Thief add (or subtract) from the wide variety of literature already written about WWII? Do you think it stands out?
Markus Zusak’s website
Greenwich Library book discussion questions
One Book, One Chicago resources
Random House readers’ guide
Part I, Part II, and Part III of Markus Zusak at the Sutherland Library
New York Times review of The Book Thief
The Guardian interviews Markus Zusak
If you liked The Book Thief, try…
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
Maus by Art Spiegelman
Briar Rose by Jane Yolen