The Book Thief Summary

  • Last updated on March 25, 2021
"infobox Book "
name The Book Thief
image caption First US Edition
author Markus Zusak
country Australia
language English language
genre(s) Young Adult fiction, historical
publisher Alfred A. Knopf
release date 2005
media type Hardback and Paperback
pages 552
The Book Thief is set during WW II. The main character is Liesel, also known as “The Book Thief.” She given away by her mother to foster parents because she’s poor. Liesel is received by Hans and Rosa Hubberman, otherwise known as Papa and Mama. The town that they live in is Molching, Germany and the street they live on is Himmel Street. The family is not well enough, but doing alright for themselves. Liesel's best friend is a boy named Rudy who really likes her.

Main Character Summaries

Liesel Meminger

The protagonist of the story. Liesel comes to live with the Hubermanns and grows to care about them very deeply.

Rudy Steiner

A German boy whom Liesel becomes close friends with. He is obsessed with track star Jesse Owens. He is considered a little strange by others, but he and Liesel get along very well.


The narrator of the story. He mentions having met with Liesel three times.

Max Vandenburg

A Jewish boy who Liesel and the Hubermanns hide from the Nazis. He is quiet and reserved. He writes Liesel a story about their experiences together.

Hans Hubermann

Liesel's foster father who she calls Papa. He and Liesel quickly become close. He is always trying to do the right thing, and will help Jewish people even at a cost to himself.

Rosa Hubermann

Liesel's foster mother who she calls Mama. Her and Liesel do not get along that well to start with, but she does care about Liesel a lot.

Hans Hubermann Jnr.

Hans is the son of the Hubermanns. He and Hans Snr. don't see eye-to-eye on many things because Hans Jnr. is not concerned with what the Nazis are doing. He is very patriotic.

Ilsa Hermann

The wife of the town's mayor. She lets Liesel into her study to read her books. When Liesel's access to the study is cut off, she knows that Liesel is taking her books but does not stop her.

Alex Steiner

Rudy's father. He gets drafted into service and survives the war while his family dies.


Plot Summary

Liesel Meminger is the book thief and the main character of the story, although Death is the narrator. She is nine years old, with a younger brother named Werner. She and Werner are heading to Munich to live with a foster family, but it soon turns out that Liesel will be going alone, as Werner unexpectedly passes away.

When Liesel and her mother bury Werner, Liesel picks up a book that one of the gravediggers drops. She then continues travelling with her mother, to a place named Molching where she will live with her new foster parents, the Hubermanns. Liesel will be living with them because her father has been taken away for his Communist beliefs and her mother is very ill. Eventually, Rosa, Hans and Liesel get along well. They ask her to call them mama and papa and she does. They have two other children, a son and a daughter, who they don't really get along with. Papa begins to teach Liesel how to read, using The Grave Digger’s Handbook (the book she got from the grave digger when Werner was buried).

Liesel goes to school (although she has to be in a lower grade) and joins the Hitler Youth on her tenth birthday. One day Liesel meets Rudy Steiner, one of her neighbours, when she is helping Mama with laundry deliveries. Rudy is obsessed with Jesse Owens. Everyone else in town thinks he’s a bit weird, but Liesel and Rudy soon become firm friends (although Rudy is interested in being more than friends).

Hitler invades Poland in September, and conditions in Molching start to deteriorate very quickly. Liesel gets another book when she takes it from a book burning in the town.

One of Mama's clients is the Ilsa Hermann, the wife of the mayor, and she lets Liesel look at all of the books in her study. Liesel is allowed to read any of the books in there that she wants. Liesel eventually loses access to the Hermann’s library when they stop using Mama’s laundry service. At first she is upset but then begins sneaking into the library and stealing their books to read. Liesel eventually receives a note from Ilsa Hubermann. The note says that Ilsa knows that Liesel is taking her books. Liesel uses the books during an air raid, when everyone has to hide in the basement until it is safe.

A Jewish boy called Max comes to live with the Hubermann’s as refuge. His father is dead. Max is able to stay with the Hubermann’s because they have made a pact to protect him after Papa and Max’s father served together in the First World War. Liesel and Max become friends and Max writes her a book. Max becomes gravely ill. He is near death, in a coma, and the Hubermanns wonder what they will do with the body – thankfully Max gets better, although he has a narrow miss when Nazis come to inspect the basement where he is hiding.

Max’s safety comes under fire and he has to leave the basement. This is because Hans has aroused the suspicion of the Nazis with his kind treatment of Jewish prisoners. Soldiers come to the town and Hans thinks he is done for, but really the soldiers want to recruit Rudy. They believe he has good leadership material, but his father won’t let him go. The soldiers don’t take Rudy, but they do take his father and Hans, who both have to join the army. Hans becomes part of an air-raid clean-up crew in Essen. Hans is injured in an accident at work caused by a disagreement with another man. This works out in his favour, though, as he gets to go home.

The next time the Nazis bring the Jewish prisoners through the town, Liesel and Rudy help them by giving them bread. Liesel also receives a book from Max that he hand-made. The book is all about their time together, with a promise of reunion in the future.

Another air raid occurs, and Liesel and Rudy find an Allied pilot in a crash, but he dies. One day, as the Nazis march another group of Jewish prisoners through the town, Liesel sees Max and tells Rudy about how they had been hiding him.

Liesel begins writing a story of her own after receiving a notebook as a gift from Ilsa Hermann. She finishes the story, called The Book Thief, just in time, as nearly everyone she knows is killed during an air raid. Liesel goes to live with the Hermanns, and is reunited with Max.

At the end of the story it is revealed that Liesel moved to Australia when she grew up and lived a long happy life. Upon her death, Death shows her the book she wrote as a child.

Categories: Fiction

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