The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is a wonderful book. A literary friend lent me a copy of it. “I usually buy books on my Kindle,” she told me, “But I love this book so much, I got a copy of it for my library.” She smiled and handed it to me. I usually read books on my electronic device, too…my iPad. This moment with my reading buddy, though, reminded me how much I love books, how much I love holding a book in my hands, how much I love sharing a book with a friend.
Whenever I ask, “What good are words?” as Liesel Meminger does near the end of the story, this book reminds me that the answer is, “Very good…words can be good in the world, words can do good in the world.”
“Lyrical and moving,” wrote the San Francisco Chronicle about The Book Thief. I agree. The story is a work of fiction but it reads like a poem. I believe we need more poetry in our world…not only stories that tell us how life is but also poems that show us how life can be.
“When he turned the light on in the small, callous washroom that night, Liesel observed the strangeness of her foster father’s eyes. They were made of kindness, and silver. Like soft silver, melting. Liesel, upon seeing those eyes, understood that Hans Hubermann was worth a lot,” says the narrator of the story.
I could tell in the first pages of the book that the story was made of kindness and was worth a lot.
Here are ten acts of kindness I learned from The Book Thief:
- Value kindness. Liesel valued the kindness in Hans Hubermann and discovered within that kindness a father, a teacher, and a friend.
- Pull for the underdog – enthusiastically and fantastically! Rudy Steiner pulled for Jesse Owens the night Owens won his fourth medal in the 1936 Olympics in Germany. Hitler called Owens subhuman and refused to shake his hand but Rudy said, “I am Jesse Owens!” and ran around the Hubert Oval at great risk to honor him.
- Write a story for someone else – even if it is a strange story and you think it should be scribbled out. Max Vandenburg wrote for Liesel and The Word Shaker became life to her.
- Give away your books to people who need them most. Ilsa Hermann, the mayor’s wife, creatively gave away books to Liesel and made her The Book Thief and helped her become a reader and a writer.
- Love the unlovable. Liesel and Hans loved Rosa Hubermann even though her way of showing love involved bashing them with a wooden spoon and caustic words! They nurtured the good in her and helped her become a person who would take in an orphaned little girl and a frightened Jew during the Holocaust.
- Read aloud often and in the most unusual places. Liesel read aloud in the Fiedlers basement during bombing raids and brought comfort to anxiety and order to chaos.
- Teach someone to read. Hans used paint and a wall to build Liesel’s vocabulary and Max used simple sketches and a simple story to create an easy reader for her. Use what you have and who you are to give the gift of literacy.
- Brag about one thing another person does well. Erik Vandenburg, Max’s father, spoke up when everyone else was silent on a day during World War I and told the Sergeant that Hans had the best penmanship. It saved Hans from the battle that day. It saved Hans’ life.
- Be known for your uniqueness. Hans played the accordion! It became the symbol for his life. When he was far away Rosa held it near to remember him. It survived the bombing that took his life…was left for Liesel. What is your symbol?
- Open your life and your heart to someone seeking sanctuary. The Hubermanns and Liesel opened their home and their lives to Max. They saved his life and he enriched theirs.
The Book Thief stole my heart…and gave it back to me kinder and better than it was before.