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The Book Thief - tasks

Read the excerpt from the Prologue of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and work with tasks related to the novel.

The author of "The Book Thief"

Based on the resource The Book Thief by Markus Zusack

In the excerpt from the opening of the book the focus is on Death and his explanation of why he was so fascinated by the book thief and how he, for the first time, came across her by the railroad. Death's business is to fetch her little brother who is dead. Even if we do not find any explicit references to war, is there anything in the text that makes you think that war might be a backdrop?

Tasks

Read the excerpt and try the interactive task

Literary Analysis

  1. Jot down connotations that you associate with war.
  2. Thinking of Death in general, what connotations come to mind?
  3. How does this differ from the Death character we meet in the text?
  4. Death is personified in the text. Find examples.
  5. Make a characterisation of Death as we meet him/her in the text. Does Death remind you of anyone you know?
  6. Death's point of view is limited omniscient. Find examples from the excerpt that confirm this.
  7. How would the Prologue have been changed if the little girl (the book thief) was the narrator? Explain.
  8. Describe the setting we are introduced to in the Prologue. How does that support what seems to be the theme, mood and plot of the story?
  9. Why do you think Death becomes so fascinated by the little girl?

Find Out

In this course in International English you are supposed to read a novel. The Book Thief by Markus Zusack might be a good choice as it supports many curricular topics. If you want a study guide for this novel, this site is very valuable
Shmoop Literature Guide

If you go on reading you will see why the little girl that we meet in the Prologue becomes a book thief when she just recently has lost her little brother. In many respects World War II was fought with words as weapons. Nazi Germany used propaganda to spread their message of hatred and fear. Daring voices that attempted to contradict this, were efficiently stifled, e.g. by book burnings. On this site you can read about Hitler's effort to stop the voices of those that he considered "un-German", and even watch historical footage from an infamous book burning on 10 May 1933.
The Holocaust Museum Book Burning

Study the website from the Holocaust museum.
Considering that the setting of The Book Thief is the late 30s up to 1943,

  • what do you think made the little girl steal books?
  • why do you think that to read and keep "un-German" books in Nazi-Germany was a crime?
  • what kind of books do you think were considered "un-German"?
  • can you think of regimes in the past and present, apart from the Nazi regime, that want to obstruct freedom of expression? How do they try to oppress dissidents and opponents?

Discuss

Arrange a debate where you discuss:

How important is it that we defend freedom of expression? Should everyone be entitled to say whatever they want in public?

Before you start the debate you should jot down some clues and ponder issues such as blasphemy, hatred and propaganda and also consider if "public" also includes social media.

Further Work

World War II is a backdrop in these two novels as well:

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (Boyne). Read an excerpt [i]The Boy In the Striped Pyjamas[/i]
Sarah's Key (Tatiana de Rosnay). This novel is adapted to film. You may watch the entire film here