Lesson Plans Based on Movies & Film Clips!                                         

Terms of Use   



Suggesting a Cross-Curricular Approach Coordinating ELA and History Classes
SUBJECTS — World/Germany, WW-II, ELA (theme, personification,
         symbol, & irony);
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Responsibility, Caring.

Age: 13+; MPAA Rating -- PG-13 for some violence and intense depiction of thematic material; Drama; 2013, 121 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.

HAVE STUDENTS READ THE BOOK! The best selling novel on which the movie is based is truly a wonder and is loved by millions, teenage and adult. The movie retains the remarkable human characters who are the foundation of the story, the setting, and many of the events described in the book. However, no movie can capture the depth of this novel and much has necessarily been lost in the adaptation of 550 pages of text to a two hour film.

This Learning Guide contains materials for teaching the novel as well as the movie. The more students know about pre-WWII Germany, the Holocaust, the Blitz, and the Allies' devastating response, the more they will appreciate Markus Zusak's world-wide best-seller. Thus, TWM suggests cooperation between ELA and history instructors. However, the Guide also provides the basic historical background that can be used by ELA teachers when there is no opportunity to coordinate with a history instructor.

This Guide includes reports of actual events on which a few episodes in the story are based. These increase the veracity of both the novel and the film.

Description: The Book Thief is the tale of a young orphan named Liesel and the people who love her in a small German town just before and during WWII. The story shows that the power of love overcomes tragedy and hardship. Set among civilians living in Nazi Germany, The Book Thief demonstrates that even among a vicious and feared enemy there are valuable people of character. The story leads the reader/viewer to a new understanding of the abrupt and indiscriminate death caused by aerial bombardment of civilian communities.

Rationale for Using the Movie: When shown after the book has been read, the movie allows teachers to confirm lessons taught using the novel and to demonstrate how a book and its adaptation to film can be independent works of art. For classes in which reading levels do not permit students to experience the novel, the movie is an excellent example of cinematic literature from which lessons about a character-driven story, plot, irony, and theme can be crafted.

Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Learning Guide: Students will gain new understanding of the power of love and the horrors of war. In ELA classes students will be exposed to the important themes set out in the story, be able to analyze a character-driven story, derive its themes, and explore the use of irony. Both novel and movie offer good occasions for discussion and writing assignments. For history classes the story will provide a vivid added dimension to events in Germany before and during WWII, especially of the Allies' aerial bombardment of Germany.

Possible Problems: None.



Rationale and Objectives
Possible Problems
Parenting Points

Using The Book Thief in Class

      Before Reading or Watching
      After Reading or Watching
      Discussion Questions


Some Differences Between Novel and Film

Additional Discussion Questions:

      Subjects (Curriculum Topics)
            More on Theme
            Other Literary Elements

      Social-Emotional Learning

      Moral-Ethical Emphasis
            (Character Counts)

Additional Assignments

Other Sections:
      Bridges to Reading
      Links to the Internet
      CCSS Anchor Standards
      Selected Awards & Cast

MOVIE WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following movie worksheets to keep students' minds on the film and to focus their attention on the lessons to be learned from the movie. Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM's Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project and Movies as Literature Homework Project.


Before Reading the Book or Watching the Movie:

Coordination of Classes

The history teacher should take the lead in providing the historical background necessary to fully understand the story. The topics are set out below. If no history teacher is available to pair with, ELA teachers can provide the essential background from the information set out below. This information can also be provided through student reports.

Background to Help Students Get the Most from the Novel and the Film

    Show the locations of Germany, Munich, England, and London. Molching, the fictional town in which the movie is set, is along a major route to the notorious German concentration camp of Dachau.
    The First World War
    WWI, in which England, France, and Russia fought Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey was one of the deadliest wars in history. The war was at a stalemate until 1917 when the U.S. intervened on behalf of the English and French. Jews fought for their various countries on both sides of the conflict.
    The Nazification of German Society
    The Nazi party and Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933. Over time the Nazis thoroughly dominated Germany with all institutions of society being Nazified or disbanded. All dissenters, such as democrats, socialists, communists, and the religious were ruthlessly suppressed. Books which contained writings that did not conform to the Nazi ideology of Aryan superiority were burned. Paintings and other works of art that the Nazis disliked were destroyed.
    The Nazi party used propaganda, including Hitler's autobiographical manifesto, Mein Kampf (My Struggle), to acquire and maintain control over German society.
    Hitler Youth and United German Girls
    All children were required to belong to the Hitler Youth (for boys) and the United German Girls; the boys were prepared to be soldiers and girls were prepared to be homemakers and mothers. In 1933 Hitler stated that:
    My program for educating youth is hard. Weakness must be hammered away. In my castles of the Teutonic Order a youth will grow up before which the world will tremble. I want a brutal, domineering, fearless, cruel youth. Youth must be all that. It must bear pain. There must be nothing weak and gentle about it. The free, splendid beast of prey must once again flash from its eyes...That is how I will eradicate thousands of years of human domestication...That is how I will create the New Order.
    The Holocaust
    In Nazi Germany, Jews, political opponents of the Nazis, socialists, communists, the very religious, the handicapped, and Gypsies were hunted down and placed into concentration camps. The goal of the Nazis was to "purify" Germany of people who were their opponents and of people who didn't conform to the ideal of an Aryan. In addition, non-Jews from Nazi occupied countries, such as Poland, Russia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Ukraine, Holland, and France were killed in the concentration camps. It is estimated that 6,000,000 Jews died in the concentration camps and another 5,000,000 non-Jews died there as well. In addition, the Germans killed millions in the countries that they conquered without bothering to take them to concentration camps.

    The concentration camp at Dachau, which was close to Munich, held clergy, communists and other political opponents of the Nazis, German royals and aristocrats, resistance fighters, scientists, writers and, of course, Jews. The conditions at Dachau were notoriously brutal. In addition, inmates at Dachau were subject to inhumane medical experiments which often caused their deaths. Dachau was also a major slave labor center. Other concentration camps, such as Auschwitz, were established for the purpose of simply killing people.
    Kristallnacht means, in German, "the night of crystal." On November 9 - 10, 1938 the Nazis coordinated attacks against Jewish synagogues and business throughout Germany, Austria, and German occupied areas of Czechoslovakia. The name comes from the shards of glass from the broken windows of buildings owned by Jews. That night Nazi rioters destroyed 267 synagogues and 7500 businesses. Ninety-one people were killed, and there were numerous rapes. The authorities looked on and, in fact, cooperated. 30,000 young Jewish men were arrested and incarcerated for no reason. Fire fighters would not douse the flames on Jewish-owned buildings but only sought to prevent the flames from spreading to structures owned by non-Jews.
    Jesse Owens
    Hitler had planned to use the 1936 Summer Olympics which were held in Berlin to show the superiority of Aryan athletes. It didn't turn out that way, in large part because of Jesse Owens, an African-American. Owens won four gold medals: in the 100 meter dash, the 200 meter dash, the long jump, and the 4x100 meter relay. He was the most successful athlete at the games. Jesse Owens ran track for Ohio State University and held the world record in the long jump for 25 years.
    German Bombing of England and Allied Bombing of Germany
    World War II saw the first sustained aerial bombing of cities as a strategy of war. In those days, there were no precision-guided bombs as there are now. Aerial bombing was very inaccurate and many bombs missed their targets. In the summer of 1940, the German Air Force, the Luftwaffe, started bombing military and industrial sites in England. In September 1940 the Luftwaffe shifted its tactics and bombed civilian areas of British cities, particularly London. The goals were to degrade British industry and military preparedness and to demoralize the population in preparation for a German invasion of England. The bombing of civilian areas lasted for eight months, until the following May, when Hitler gave up on the idea of invading England and turned his attention to Russia. The British called the bombing campaign "the Blitz." The Blitz only stiffened British resolve to fight.

    The German bombing of London was intense. During the first 57 days of the Blitz, London was bombed day and night. In all, 40,000 - 43,000 civilians in London and other British cities were killed by the Luftwaffe between September 1940 and May 1941. Another approximately 46,000 were injured. 1.4 million were made homeless. Later in the war, the British and the Americans repaid the favor with aerial bombing that killed more than 300,000 German civilians, destroying entire neighborhoods. Again, the stated reasons were to degrade war industries, disrupt military preparedness, and demoralize the population. There is no evidence that the air campaign demoralized the German population. While today the indiscriminate killing of civilians from the air would clearly be considered a war crime, no German official was prosecuted for his participation in the Blitz. Some historians contend that this was because the U.S. and British air forces had themselves killed so many civilians from the air.

    By the end of the war, the Germans had lost the ability to send bombers to England. However, they fought back with V-2 rockets, the first guided missiles. The V-2s killed about six thousand British civilians and wounded another seventeen thousand. V-2s were more accurate than bombing from airplanes but did not have anything like the accuracy of modern cruise missiles which can hit a specific building. Casualties would have been much worse except for a British disinformation campaign that convinced the Germans that the V-2 rockets were over-shooting London targets by 10 to 20 miles. The Germans fell for it and this limited the V-2's effectiveness. After the war Germans who worked on the V-2 program, including Wernher von Braun, were recruited by the Allies and the Russians and became leaders of the competing American and Soviet space programs. See The Right Stuff. They were not prosecuted for war crimes.

Special Note for Classes That Watch the Movie But Don't Read the Book:

Teachers: The movie could have done a better job of introducing the narrator. To correct for this, simply tell students that the story has an unusual narrator: i.e. Death. He starts and ends the film.

After Reading the Novel or Watching the Movie:

The author has stated that the book includes incidents contained in stories told to the author by his parents. Several are set out below. The fact that scenes in the novel and the movie relate to real-life events, that the author's father had a friend who was mistreated by the Hitler Youth leaders, and that his mother lived with foster parents during the war enhance the story's veracity. Read or relate the following statements by the author to the class.
When I was growing up in suburban Sydney, I was told stories of cities on fire and Jews being marched to concentration camps. Both my parents grew up in Europe during World War II, and although they were extremely young at the time, in hindsight, they were able to understand many things. Two stories my mother told me about growing up in Munich always stuck with me. One was about a burning sky when the city was bombed. The other was about a boy being whipped on the street for giving a starving Jewish man a piece of bread. The man sank to his knees and thanked the boy, but the bread was stripped away and both the taker of the bread and the giver were punished. Markus Zusak talks about the writing of The Book Thief

You don't really think of humor when you think of that time, but there were a lot of funny stories as well. I knew about my dad "jigging" as we say in Australia the Hitler Youth meetings, because he had a friend who suffered at the hands of the leaders. So they just said, "We're not going. We're going to go to the river instead and get dirty enough to fool our parents." Another story I knew was about Hitler's birthday, and my mother's foster father refused to fly the Nazi flag. His wife said to him, "You're going to fly the flag or else they're going to come for us." These are the stories I knew, and I thought, "I haven't seen that on all the documentaries. I'm going to use these because this hasn't necessarily been done a lot." Interview with Markus Zusak, Author of The Book Thief and I Am the Messenger Mother/Daughter Book Club; Posted on February 24, 2010, 3:33 p.m.
The author also stated that ".. . [M]y dad stopped going to Hitler Youth, the same way Rudy did. He was also hand-picked to join a selective school for Nazis and his father was sent to war for refusing to hand him over." Ten Questions with Markus Zusak Politics and Prose Bookstore;

Additional ideas for lesson plans for any movie that is an adaptation for the novel can be found at TWM's Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories or Plays.

All page references without a citation are to pages of the First Knopf trade paperback edition September 2007.

Parenting Points: Your child should be aware of the history of WWII set out in the Introductory Section of this Learning Guide. Before watching the film tell him or her that in this story, the narrator is a personification of death. After watching the film, read the selected quotations from the author about some of the real events that are reflected in the story.

Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.

Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.


Discussion Questions:

The following discussion questions relate to theme. click here for additional discussion questions on theme and for questions regarding some of the literary-cinematic devices found in the novel or the movie, such as irony, personification, and symbol.

1.   Identify a theme from the story that taught you something or confirmed or expanded your understanding of something that you already knew. Suggested Response: Students will formulate the themes in their own way. The substance is what is important. Students may also see additional themes in the film. The following suggestions are not in order of importance. They may overlap.

    A.   The enemy population in war includes many good people and it is a tragedy when they die; thus all civilian casualties are a great loss and a great injustice, as are many military casualties. (As to military casualties, see All Quiet on the Western Front.)

    B.   Human nature has a strong element of duality. As Death said, "I am always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both." p. 491.

    C.   Love is the basis of all that is good and great in the human character: it heals, nurtures and allows the best in others and self to flourish.

    D.   Love is the strongest and most important emotion, having the power to overcome great loss; in other words, the human spirit is strong and can survive many terrible losses through the power of love. [Themes C and D are, of course, related.]

    E.   Words are extremely powerful because they motivate people to act and affect how people see others.

    F.    The good in human nature triumphs over everything, including evil and the inevitability and randomness of death.

    G.    Meeting your responsibilities (as Hans did in hiding Max) is essential for good moral character and self-respect.
2.   Who are the killers in this story? What is the significance of this fact? Suggested Response: There are two sets. It's the American or British airmen who dropped the bombs that destroyed Heaven Street and killed Hans, Rosa, Rudy, and the others. While the Nazis threatened the inhabitants of Heaven Street and in the background were doing their atrocities in the Holocaust, it was the Allies who killed the people who Liesel loved. The significance of this fact is that in an all-out war, like WWII, hundreds of thousands civilians are killed, including people like the characters in this story.

3.   What does this story tell us about death? (Death in this question does not include the character of the narrator in this story.) Suggested Response: Death, especially death in war, is random and senseless. Students might also note that death is a process (verb) and a result (noun).

4.   Some commentators say that the strongest literary element in this story is characterization and that plot is secondary. Describe why they say this and why you agree or disagree. Suggested Response: This is clearly a character-driven story. The characterizations are strong. The climax, the Allied bombing of Himmel Street has nothing to do with the actions of any of the characters or the conflicts described in the story. For the characters and the issues they have been dealing with, the resolution comes, as it were, out of the blue.

5.   Today, the bombing of a street like Himmel Street would probably be considered a war crime. Why is that? What is the implication of your answer to the use of atomic weapons? Suggested Response: There is no one correct answer to this question. Good responses will discuss the advancing civilization of the world, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." (MLK). A good discussion will cover the following areas. Some would say that it depends upon the type of war. Civilian casualties should be very restricted in limited wars, such as the recent wars fought by the U.S. and its allies. A strong response will note the availability of cruise missiles which can guide bombs to targets as small as a specific building. Atomic bombs are indiscriminate weapons that destroy entire cities. Could atomic weapons ever be used in a limited war? What if Iran develops a nuclear weapon and bombs Tel Aviv? Would the Israelis or the U.S. be justified in dropping a nuclear bomb on Tehran? What about all the fabulous innocent people living in Tehran?
See TWM's unit on Mass Casualties and Making Decisions About War which provides an in-depth analysis of the decision to launch a nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Students who have read The Book Thief or who have seen the movie, might be interested in this unit.
For additional discussion questions on some of the literary/cinematic devices relating to the novel or the movie, click here.


For ELA Classes

Most of the discussion questions in this Guide and in the Supplemental Materials can serve as a writing prompt. Additional assignments include:

1.   Write a letter from Liesel to the bombardier on the plane that dropped the bombs that destroyed Himmel Street. In the letter she should tell him what his bombs did to her community. She should discuss whether she can forgive him. She should discuss the German bombing of civilian targets in England.

2.   Write a one paragraph description of the following characters in this movie: Liesel, Hans, Rosa and Rudy.

3.   Write an essay comparing The Book Thief with a story that contains both strong characterizations and a resolution deriving from the conflicts faced by the characters (e.g. Hamlet) or with a story dominated by plot such as (e.g., Romeo and Juliet).
For additional suggested ELA Assignments, see the Additional Assignments Section of the Supplemental Materials.
For Social Studies Classes

4.   Research and write a paper about the use of aerial bombing from World War II to the drones used in modern warfare. Include a section on the ethics of such bombing.


Select questions that are appropriate for your students.

Give us your feedback! Was the Guide helpful? If so, which sections were most helpful? Do you have any suggestions for improvement? Email us!

This Learning Guide written by James Frieden and was published on October 26, 2014.

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