War Through the Prism of Children’s Perception


Markus Zusak, an Australian author, presented his novel The Book Thief in 2006. This book almost instantly became one of the most discussed both in the author’s homeland and in many other countries. Such an interest in The Book Thief was easily explained – the novel was devoted to the events of the Second World War, and Zusak describes them from the German people’s side. It is not quite traditional, so this work has aroused keen interest. Another unusual feature is the identity of the narrator: the narration in the novel goes from Death.

In this case, the author also uses an excellent approach. He presents events as if the mass death of people during the Second World War is an unloving, unpleasant and overly hard work for Death. However, the most significant idea of the novel is to provide the reader with the opportunity to see military events from a new perspective. In this regard, in this research paper, it is necessary to show that the essence of The Book Thief is revealed through the prism of children’s perception, from the point of view of which the world seems especially cruel and, at the same time, magical.


The novel The Book Thief by Markus Zusak caused a stunning storm of emotions in both the young and the older generation. The extremely precise vision of the author largely predetermined the subsequent attitude of readers to his extraordinary, startlingly grim and exciting story about the tragedy of human destinies during the Second World War. Of course, the theme chosen by Zusak is not new.

On the contrary, it repeatedly appeared in the works of writers of the last century, whose terrible memories, along with parents’ stories about the horrors of the Nazi regime, often shocked teenage readers. However, his story about the survival of a nine-year-old Liesel Meminger in Nazi Germany from the beginning of 1939 brings the tragedy to a new level.


To prove the proposed hypothesis, it is necessary to analyze the primary document, namely, the novel The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Also, additional resources in the form of book reviews conducted by researchers on this work will be a great help in achieving this goal. Subjective analysis of the plot, when comparing it with the central ideas of other critics, will help to identify the main idea of the novel and prove the thesis.

Brief Description of the Plot

The story narrated by Death. The main character is Liesel Meminger, a nine-year-old girl growing up as the plot progresses. The girl’s life is hard since childhood. Her father, associated with the Communists, was missing, and her mother had to give Liesel and her brother to a foster family due to lack of money. On the way to a new home, the boy dies in front of the girl, which leaves an imprint on her mind. Her childhood passes in an atmosphere of hunger and total scarcity, fear, and danger, as well as all those essential attributes of war, which, as it turns out, are familiar to both the defenders and the aggressors. Nevertheless, in this period, many pleasant, childishly naive, bright and sincere moments also fall to the share of Liesel.

Friendship, playing with other children, admiration for the step father – all these factors allow her to remain a child, even though she has to see things that are not intended for children at all. The step mother is not very happy with the newly arrived member of the family, but later Liesel recognizes her kind soul. Her relationship with her step father develops perfectly from the very beginning, and they find complete mutual understanding. It turns out that the girl does not know how to read, and he decides to help her to solve this problem, so they arrange a real reading classroom in the basement. Reading turns out to be a fascinating activity, and she begins to steal books. She takes the first from the ashes in the square. Later the wife of the burgomaster allows the girl to visit her library and borrow books.

Soon Liesel realizes that the books are the only consolation in her life. The culmination is the appearance of Max Vandenburg, a runaway Jew who settled in their house. Max and Liesel become friends and remain attached to each other for life. In the epilogue, Liesel is already an elderly woman, whom Death visits and shares his main secret with her.

Analysis and Findings

The author shows the criteria for children’s perception by describing Liesel’s personal growth and the formation of her character traits. Learning to read in the cellars of the house on Himmel-Strasse, the girl gradually becomes attached to books that help her to satisfy her need for self-development. They feed her soul, thereby helping her to maintain optimism and humanity even in the most difficult circumstances, as Green points out in his article.

The initial distrust and fear of Nazi cruelty are gradually growing into hatred of the “book thief” against the Hitlerite’s, who deprived her of both families, native and then adopted, which later makes Liesel and her peers treat life differently in a society divided into followers and opponents of Hitler’s ideology. The latter hate Nazism as much as the main character: the majority of citizens are forced to live in constant fear with hiding their true attitude to the regime, while the rest are not afraid to resist the Führer Inquisition and remain brave people with kind and loving hearts.

Zusak shows the child’s original view of the world through a narrative form from the face of Death itself – a metaphysical figure that takes souls by his arms, who is really unusual and is perceived by Liesel as a fairy tale. The author personifies the seemingly most terrible enemy of humanity, thereby reinforcing the impression of a terrifying reality, from which it is impossible to hide. However, the paradox of The Book Thief is quite different: Zusak gives the narrator the ability to love and empathize, which manifests itself in the relationship between the main character and Death, who seems to accompany Liesel through her life by watching her throughout the novel.

The description and characteristics of the lives of people, among whom the little girl lives, play an important role in the novel. Many of them are very hard to live, they are starving, their loved ones are at war, and they do not always know what is happening there. However, at the same time, life goes on. Even in such harsh conditions, they remain people, to whom compassion, mercy, and a desire to help their neighbor are not alien, which also demonstrates the psychological characteristics of children’s perception of the world. Ardagh believes that this book is intended for both younger and older generations because it helps to see the reality another, unusual for the average person.


It is possible to note that the author writes a lot about what the life of children and adolescents was during the war years by focusing on their worldviews. Street football, fights, school. Children’s likes and dislikes, friendship and conflict, generation idols, fear of bombing, loss of loved ones. In all these events, the drama and the magical world of childhood intersect.

Among all this chaos, the author highlights Liesel with her special love for the word. He slowly leads readers along the path of a girl who steals books, learns to read, and then begins to write as well. Liesel’s strong friendship with her adoptive father (and then, with the Jewish youth Max, whom their family hid) develops precisely on the basis of reading and understanding what is read. In this way, Zusak shows that the world of death and fear may be different. Adults have a tougher view of the situation, and they have little hope for the future.

However, other feelings move the children. They know how to find joy where people do not look for this feeling. Liesel manages to preserve her childlike spontaneity and benevolence amid tragic and dramatic events. For this reason, The Book Thief is perceived differently, not standard. Hypothetical enemies become friends, and the scope for looking at good and bad changes. Even Death turns into a positive character.


In this regard, The Book Thief is a unique composition of children’s outlook and perception of wartime events. In the novel, tragic events seem more acute. However, at the same time, the described world seems fabulous and full of hope for a happy future. The Book Thief is not just another story about the growing up of a child and the formation of a person in the war conditions. It is a soul-stirring narration about the strength of the children’s spirit and ability to deal with their own fears and overcome difficulties, which not all adults can comprehend and understand.

Works Cited

  1. Ardagh, Philip. ‘Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak’. The Guardian, 2007, www.theguardian.com/books/2007/jan/06/featuresreviews.guardianreview26. Accessed Dec 11, 2018.
  2. Green, John. ”The Book Thief,’ by Markus Zusak – The New York Times Book Review’. The New York Times, 2006, www.nytimes.com/2006/05/14/books/review/14greenj.html. Accessed Dec 11, 2018.
  3. Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief. Random House US, 2007.