The Book Thief | Study Guide

Marcus Zusak

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Course Hero. "The Book Thief Study Guide." June 23, 2017. Accessed September 26, 2023.


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The Book Thief | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


A New Home in Molching

The book begins in January 1939 in Nazi Germany with the narrator introducing himself: He is Death. Death says he has seen the book thief, Liesel Meminger, three times. The first time he sees her is the day her six-year-old brother dies on a train. At his funeral, Liesel, nine years old at the time, steals a book from the graveyard and brings it with her to her foster home with Hans and Rosa Hubermann in Molching, a town outside of Munich. World War II will begin later that year.

Liesel gets to know her surroundings, makes friends with neighbor Rudy Steiner, attends school, plays soccer, and helps Rosa deliver laundry. Rosa grumbles, curses, and appears harsh; Hans seems gentler and sympathetic to Liesel's fears and loneliness. Every night Liesel has nightmares about her dead brother, and Hans, her foster father, comforts her. When he finds the stolen book, he learns she cannot read and begins to teach her. Later at a book burning, Liesel steals another book; the mayor's wife, one of Rosa's customers, sees her take it. When Liesel next comes to her house, she offers Liesel a chance to read in her library.

The Boxer and the Book Thief

Hans fulfills a promise made long ago and agrees to hide Max Vandenburg, a Jew and the son of Hans's old friend who saved his life. At first Liesel is unsure about Max, but they become close friends. For Liesel's birthday Max, who must remain hidden in the Hubermanns' cellar, makes her an original book, The Standover Man.

As the war escalates and deprivation increases, the mayor and his wife stop sending their laundry to Rosa; Liesel is furious. When the opportunity presents itself, Liesel steals a book from their library as an act of revenge. Her friendship with Rudy, a good student and athlete, grows stronger as the two spend much time together. Rudy teases Leisel by saying he wants her to kiss him.

Max continues to hide in the Hubermanns' cellar. Liesel does her best to keep his spirits up, even when he gets sick. At one point a Nazi official comes to check whether their basement could function as an air-raid shelter, and he almost finds Max. In the meantime Liesel continues to steal books from the mayor's house. When they are forced to remain in a shelter during an air raid, Liesel reads from her books to comfort everyone.

Max's Departure and Hans's Punishment

Captured Jews are marched through town on their way to Dachau. When Hans tries to help one of the Jewish prisoners, the Nazis beat and humiliate him. He knows now the Nazis will come for him and punish him further; therefore, for his own safety Max has to leave his hiding place. As he expected, Hans is punished by being drafted into the German army, along with Rudy's father, who is also punished because he refused to allow Rudy to go to a special Nazi training program. After they are gone, Rosa gives Liesel another gift from Max: The Word Shaker, another book he wrote for her. Liesel discovers the mayor's wife is permitting her to "steal" the books.

Liesel's neighbor, Frau Holtzapfel, has two sons in the war. One dies in battle; the other, Michael, returns home injured. Liesel tries to be friendly with Michael, but he suffers from feelings of guilt over his brother's death and his own survival. Michael ultimately commits suicide.

Hans Hubermann, in a lucky accident, breaks his leg while doing war work and is sent home. More Jews are marched through Molching on their way to Dachau; this group includes Max. When Liesel tries to help him, a soldier beats her.

Liesel, the Mayor's Wife, and Death

Liesel stops visiting the mayor's library because the world is so awful. Instead, the mayor's wife approaches Liesel. When she suggests Liesel could write a book, Liesel begins to do so. In fact she is writing in the cellar, as she does most nights, when Himmel Street is bombed without warning—and by mistake. Hans, Rosa, Rudy, and many others die in the attack. Liesel is the lone survivor on her street. In her shock, she drops the book she was writing. Death picks it up and carries it.

The mayor's wife takes Liesel in after the bombing, and she lives with the Hermanns until the end of the war. When the war is over, Max returns to find her. At the end of the novel Death informs readers that Liesel lived to be a very old woman. When he finally speaks with her, he shows her how he has carried her book for more than 60 years.

The Book Thief Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction


1 Liesel steals her first book at her brother's funeral.

Rising Action

2 Liesel lives with the Hubermanns where Hans helps her read.

3 The Hubermanns hide Max in their cellar.

4 The mayor's wife invites Liesel to use their library.

5 Max writes and illustrates books for Liesel.

6 Max must leave because Hans is in trouble with the Nazis.

7 Liesel sees Max being taken to Dachau.

8 Liesel begins to write her own book.


9 Bombs hit Himmel Street by mistake.

Falling Action

10 Liesel learns of the deaths of Rudy, Hans, and Rosa.

11 Liesel and Max are reunited at the end of the war.


12 Death presents the now elderly Liesel with her book.

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