One option: In The Book Thief, words have the power to both destroy and save lives. Examine how characters in the novel (for example, Liesel, Max, Ilsa Hermann, Hitler, Rosa and/or Hans) use words to destroy and to save. What are some of the effects of their words? Discuss at least two characters’ relationships with the power of language.
Another option: The Book Thief is, on one level, the story of Liesel Meminger’s relationship with books. At the beginning of Zusak’s novel, Death advises the reader, “All told, she owned fourteen books, but she saw her story as being made up predominantly of ten of them. Of those ten, six were stolen, one showed up at the kitchen table, two were made for her by a hidden Jew, and one was delivered by a soft, yellow-dressed afternoon. When she came to write her story, she would wonder exactly when the books and the words started to mean not just something, but everything” (30). Near the end of the novel, Liesel confesses her conflicting emotions about the major’s wife’s library, “I love this place and hate it because it is full of words” (522). Discuss at least two of Liesel’s books, and the significance of those books to her developing appreciation of the power of language.
A utopia is an imaginary place, situated in a particular time and space, that is socially, morally, and politically ideal. A dystopia is an imaginary place, also situated in a particular time or place, but which is socially, morally, and politically terrible, a state in which people are dehumanized, oppressed, terrorized, or completely dominated. While these are imaginary places, all societies display some characteristics of both. Find and discuss utopian and dystopian moments throughout The Book Thief. Is there a connection between the two? Are they dependent upon one another?
Each character in The Book Thief played a role in World War II Nazi Germany. Some were victims, others were perpetrators of evil and injustice, and many others (who chose to take no action) were bystanders. Among them, however, were rescuers or upstanders who acted against the evil and injustice they saw around them. Describe the roles that characters in The Book Thief fit into, and how they came to play each role. What qualities did the characters possess to fit into these roles? Did some characters play more than one role at a time? Did they change roles? Why? What inspired or invited or compelled characters to move from bystanders to upstanders/rescuers?
Compare and contrast two characters in The Book Thief. Focus on personality traits, where the characters fit in the upstander triangle, whether they perceive their world as more utopian or dystopian, and their perspectives on the power of language. How are these characters important to a core message (theme) that Zusak expresses through his novel?