Thursday, March 8, 2007
The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, has leaped to the top of my list of favorite young adult books. This is a great one for both adults and adolescents. It is even published in two different versions, one for adults and one for adolescents, in the United Kingdom.
Like Sonya Hartnett, the author of Surrender, Zusak is from Australia. But he has written a timeless book that is sure to generate big audiences everywhere (The Book Thief even was on the NY Times bestseller list not too long ago, among other bestseller lists).
What captures my imagination the most is the narrative perspective we get on Nazi Germany in this book. Zusak uses Death as a narrator to tell the story of a young girl named Liesel and her community; the attitude and language of this narrator is unmatched in the history of young adult literature, and always keeps the reader guessing and intrigued.
Both history and English teachers should consider incorporating The Book Thief into their curriculums; in particular, it would pair nicely with The Diary of Ann Frank, or provide a useful substitute for those teachers experiencing Ann Frank-fatigue. Another great pairing would be with Maus, by Art Spiegelman. Students in grades 8 and up would learn a lot from The Book Thief about the ideologies that prevent human beings from acting with kindness and integrity; they also would learn about the power of words and stories to break through these ideologies and create more generous worlds.
My rising 6th grader is in the middle of reading this book, and he says it is terrific so far. The Book Thief is an ambitious read for someone this young (its a long book), but the short chapters, compelling action, and creative storytelling (a picture book is contained within the larger narrative) makes this a tough one to put down, no matter what the age.
Like the other books I am reading right now, The Book Thief is a 2007 Printz Award Honor Book, recognizing outstanding writing in young adult literature. I'm surprised this one didn't win the actual award; there must be a lot of good young adult novels out there.