Key Plot Points

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Death Introduces Himself As The Narrator (Prologue): The narrator, Death, introduces himself as an amiable entity. He reminds us that everyone dies, and tells us that we should not fear it. He admits that dying is a difficult process, and he tells readers that he copes with it by envisioning each death as a series of colors. He introduces us to Liesel Meminger, whom he calls “the book thief,” and describes each of the three instances in which he has encountered her. 

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Liesel Arrives to Himmel Street and Meets the Hubermanns (Part One, Chapters 1–8): Part One begins in January 1939, when Death witnesses “a spectacularly tragic moment”: Liesel’s six-year-old brother, Werner, dies on a train and Liesel and her mother must bury him by the side of the railway line. During the funeral, Liesel steals her first book, The Grave Digger’s Handbook. With a mother who can no longer care for her, Liesel takes the train to Molching where she meets the Hubermanns, her new foster parents. Her foster mother, Rosa, frequently denigrates her and calls her a “saumensch,” or filthy pig; her foster father, Hans, whom she soon calls Papa, is much more nurturing and gentle. While living on Himmel Street, Liesel gets acquainted with her neighbors, including Rudy Steiner, a thin blonde boy who tries to kiss Liesel. Rudy admires American Olympian Jesse Owens and once tried to imitate Owens by covering himself in charcoal. By September 1939, the war begins. While most demonstrate support for Hitler, Hans does not and questions whether it would be wise to join the Nazi Party for the family’s sake. One night, Hans discovers The Grave Digger’s Handbook in Liesel’s room. Liesel expresses that she would like to learn how to read, and Hans gives her midnight reading lessons for several months. 

Liesel Steals her Second Book (Part Two, Chapters 9–16): Several months after the start of the war, Liesel has learned how to read. She finishes The Grave Digger’s Handbook and receives two more books for Christmas, which she discovers Hans acquired by trading his cigarettes. Money is tight; Rosa loses her jobs cleaning for some families in town and Hans continues to trade his cigarettes for food. On April 20, 1940, Hitler’s birthday, Liesel attends a Nazi assembly, where she falls sick. She stumbles upon a book burning and notices that there are some books that have been untouched by the fire. She grabs The Shoulder Shrug from the pile and hides it under her Hitler Youth uniform, where it burns against her skin. 

Liesel Discovers a Beautiful Library (Part Three, Chapters 17–24): On the way home from the book burning, The Shoulder Shrug burns Liesel’s skin and she must pull it out from under her uniform. She reveals to Hans that she stole it but he does not get angry. Instead, he tells her he won’t reveal her secret if she doesn’t reveal any of his, and he offers to teach her how to read the new book. Later, Hans goes to the Nazi recruitment office to enroll for the military so as not to arouse suspicion and receives a copy of Hitler’s book Mein Kampf. Liesel is paranoid that someone will learn that she stole another book. When Rosa tells Liesel to deliver laundry to the mayor’s home, she considers it a punishment. However, Liesel’s paranoia vanishes when she comes upon “the most beautiful thing she has ever seen.” Frau Hermann, the mayor’s wife, brings her into her library; Liesel admires the room and all of the books. Over the course of the summer, Liesel reads The Shoulder Shrug and continues her visits to the mayor’s library. Liesel and Rudy resort to stealing food at an apple orchard when food rations run low. Meanwhile, a Jewish man, Max Vandenburg, sits on his suitcase in a dark room in Walter Kugler’s home in the city of Stuttgart. Walter can no longer safely keep Max, and both must flee. Walter brings Max an identity card, a...

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