Author: Markus Frank Zusak
First published: 2005
Locale: Molching, Germany; Europe
Plot: Historical fiction
Liesel Meminger, a young German girl. Born in 1930, Liesel has blonde hair, brown eyes, and is very thin and wiry; she appears undernourished when she arrives in Molching. At first Liesel is not a particularly happy child, at least outwardly, but she develops empathy toward others as she comes to know and love the people around her. She is fierce and unafraid, which makes her a good soccer player and a strong match in a fight. Although she is tough, she is well liked by the children in her neighborhood and fits in with them outside of school. Coming to Molching without an education, Liesel cannot read, but once Hans begins to teach her, she becomes obsessed with language and the written word. Books become and remain a central part of her life.
Hans Hubermann, foster father to Liesel. Hans is very tall and thin, with excellent posture and silver eyes. He loves to smoke and does so constantly, rolling his own cigarettes. He is a professional painter, but after losing his business for helping a Jewish business owner, his only source of household income is what he makes playing the accordion in pubs around Molching. His extremely warm, caring nature is contrasted by his wife's cold demeanor, and Hans goes out of his way to make sure Liesel feels welcomed and safe in her new home. Hans loves to play music, although he is not great at it. He abides by his sense of morality and fairness, and he will pay off any debt owed. He will help anyone, even in the face of harsh penalties. He is not well educated, but he knows enough to help teach Liesel to read.
Rosa Hubermann, an older woman and foster mother to Liesel. Rosa has brown, graying hair, which she keeps in a bun. She is of medium height but wide. Despite appearing nice and pleasant, her face is creased and mean looking. She appears to be perpetually angry, and her favorite pastime is complaining while she works in the kitchen. She is also rough and often uses a wooden spoon to discipline Liesel, but she also works to help Liesel feel better if she is sick or hurt. Rosa does the laundry for the wealthier families in Molching, which is supplemental income until Hans can find work as a painter. There is little that is caring about Rosa on the exterior, but those close to her occasionally see a softer side. Although she is afraid of the trouble Max may bring, she cares for him. She is willing to make sacrifices for those around her, although she will complain about it afterward.
Rudy Steiner, a young boy and neighbor of Liesel on Himmel Street. With blond hair and blue eyes, Rudy is very athletic, despite his bony and lanky body. He is considered crazy by many on Himmel Street because he once painted himself entirely in charcoal and sprinted around the track of a local playing field pretending to be Jesse Owens. Rudy is Liesel's best friend. He is always hungry, and he will do just about anything to get free food. He is in love with Liesel.
Max Vandenburg, a young Jewish man taken in by the Hubermanns. Being twenty-four years old when he first reaches the Hubermanns' doorstep, Max is very thin with black hair and a feathery appearance. Although he feels intense hatred toward Hitler, the Nazi party, and the people of Germany for his situation, he cares deeply for the Hubermanns and is very grateful that they are helping him. He acts selflessly and offers to starve so as not to put them out. He is a fighter and even when beaten, he never fully gives up. When he feels that his presence may jeopardize Liesel's safety, he takes his life into his own hands again.
Ilsa Hermann, a middle-aged woman and wife of the Molching mayor. With a chalky, pale complexion, Ilsa is so slight that she looks frail. She is a sad, withdrawn woman who takes refuge in her library after the death of her only son in World War I. Ilsa sees something in Liesel that was lost with her son, and so she allows her to come to the library even when she knows Liesel is stealing books to read. Ilsa welcomes Liesel's presence and leaves cookies out around Christmas. Ilsa adopts Liesel after the bombing of Molching.
Alex Steiner, a middle age man and Rudy's father. Alex looks much like his son with blonde hair and blue eyes. He is a member of the Nazi party, but he has no hatred toward people of any race or ethnicity. He is relieved when the Jewish shops are closed down because this means less competition, but he does not want them removed completely.
Frau Holtzapfel, an older woman and neighbor in Molching. Frau Holtzapfel is about the same age as Rosa and the two women carry a fierce but unknown grudge against one another. The only mitigation in their fierce hatred is after Liesel agrees to read to Frau Holtzapfel.
Frau Diller, older, sharp-edged woman and town neighbor. Frau Diller is the owner of a small shop and is a fiercely loyal member of the Nazi party.