Lesson Ideas

***One of the major challenges that educators will face in teaching this novel is its length; 550 pages is a sizable amount for a student to read and process. One suggestion is to use a plot diagram (such as the one below). Students will fill out the diagram as they read the novel, and can refer to it during group and class discussions. Additionally, educators check students’ diagrams as a way to assess comprehension.
***Another way to assess comprehension is to have students work in pairs to design a cover based on one of the story’s sections. Assign one of the ten sections to each pair. Explain that the importance of this assignment is not artistic competence, but the ability to defend how the cover they create relates to their particular section. After the students complete their covers, they will present briefly what they created and explain how it fits in with their assigned section.

***In The Book Thief, Death narrates Liesel’s story. After reading the first chapter aloud as a class, discuss the personification of Death. Have students answer the following questions on a piece of paper:
  • How does the author personify Death?
  • What is the tone of this piece? 
  • Does Death like its job? Why or why not?  
Then, have students read Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death,” and answer the same questions as before. Discuss students’ answers to both texts. Also discuss how Death is similar/different in the texts. Have students refer back to these questions after finishing the novel. Has their perspective of Death changed? Discuss.

***After reading about Max’s first experiences in hiding (p.138-141), take time as a class to read and discuss Jeannine Burk’s story of being a hidden child during WWII. How does Max’s and Jeannine’s stories compare? How about Jeannine’s and Liesel’s? What struggles do the two girls share?

***Before reading The Standover Man, have students look at the drawings only. Then, discuss these questions:

• What story do you think the pictures are telling?
• Who are the two characters?
• What is their relationship?
• What are they talking about or discussing?
• What is the significance of the last page?

After the discussion, have students write their own text to accompany the drawings. Read the original text together as class. Ask students to compare their texts original. How are they similar? different? What was the message that Max was trying to make?

Then, have students write and illustrate their own story by altering pages taken out of old books. Have them choose a major theme or a message, write a simple text, and then paint, draw over, highlight, etc. the pages to create illustrations in their own unique style.Have each student briefly present their story to the class.

 *** Colors: Death repeats frequently the state and color of the sky during important events. As a class, discuss what the colors signify and how they relate to what is happening in each part of the novel. Have students research the ideas and significance psychologically attached to colors (both conscious and subconscious) and share with the class.

***A good film companion to The Book Thief  is the 1993 film “Swing Kids.” Based on true events, this movie tells the story of students living in pre WWII Germany who resist the growing Nazi regime through listening to American-style jazz and dance. This movie works well with The Book Thief because it shows youth, like Liesel, actively resisting. Additional historical information can be found here: http://www.return2style.de/amiswhei.htm.Here are some questions to discuss after the film:
  • What values are held by the Swing Kids?
  • In what ways do the values of the Swing Kids and Hitler Youth clash?
  • Choose one of the characters from the film. What does he or she represent? How does he/she connect to a character from The Book Thief?
  • Hitler said, in addressing the Hitler Youth, that: “the youth lead the way.” Do you agree with this, in relation to your ability to influence those around you? the world? Explain your answer from your own life, from history, or from current events.
  • What were the Nazis' reasons for resisting the Swing dance and the movement? What was the significance of condemning degenerated art and condoning the burning of books?