Literature Analysis for Children: Part 3 Chapter 5 of The Book Thief

I feel like I want to play catch up and go back to the beginning. I have not the time, nor the emotional stamina for that task currently, however. So we will begin with Part 3 Chapter 5 of The Book Thief.  

I am using this book as an example of teaching literary devices and grammar through read alouds because it is overflowing with strong representations. Hopefully you are using novels as both entertaining read alouds and the go to place for your daily lessons. We don’t need excessive amounts of money in the classrooms (if you are a traditional teacher) or at home (if you homeschool). A good book and a knowledge of literary analysis and parts of speech that sits slightly above your student’s is all it takes. No need to look much further than a library or book store when choosing reading and language arts curriculum.

So … Let’s begin.

Chapter title – “The Attributes of Summer”

We have been discussing two terms up to this point in the novel quite diligently and frequently. Those two terms are 2nd person point of view (when the narrator speaks directly to the reader) and dramatic irony (when the audience/reader knows more than the character(s)). This chapter begins on par by speaking directly to us. Let’s take a look at the first sentence to get this thing rolling.

Death tells us, “So there you have it. You’re well aware of exactly what was coming to Himmel Street by the end of 1940.”

There’s so much to unpack in this one sentence that can aid in academic growth. Death, being personified, is laying the groundwork for something that is coming. Right there, we can discuss point of view, foreshadowing, and historical relevance. We are given a year; 1940. We know the setting: Germany. Lead your students to do a little research to see how far into World War II these characters are. With just a little digging, your students can find that the concentration/extermination camp, Auschwitz (largest of the German camps) opens during this time. This helps with predicting and inferring. We can infer and predict from this sentence alone that the character, who we found in hiding in the previous chapter, will encounter some uncertain and scary moments. We can also discuss the use of dramatic irony here. Max, our character in hiding, certainly doesn’t know what is to come.  Although this dramatic irony is implied rather than directed, it is apparent by the next three sentences

  1. “I know.”
  2. “You know.”
  3. “Liesel Meminger, however cannot be put into that category.”

The next passage we looked at today –

“Later on, as an adolescent, when Liesel wrote about these books, she no longer remembered the titles. Not one …. What she remembered was that one of the picture books had a name written clumsily on the inside cover …. The name of a boy. Johann Hermann. Liesel bit down on her lip, but she could not resist it for long. From the floor, she turned and looked up at the bathrobed woman and made an inquiry. ‘Johann Hermann,’ she said.  ‘Who is that?’ Liesel apologized. ‘I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be asking such things …’ She let the sentence die its own death.

Okay, let’s pause here for a bit. There’s a lot to chew on with this passage. First we see some really great foreshadowing happening. Not only does death announce that there is a later on; he also tells us that Liesel will be writing about these events in her life.  We can also discuss schema in this passage. Schema provides the lens we use to look at something based on our own personal experiences. We use schema to relate. This is one of those moments to seize upon in a classroom or with your homeschooler.  We can all connect to Liesel here. There are moments in all our lives where the main happenings were not the main memory. Think about a time when something was going on around you or in your presence, but all you can remember now is something unrelated or that would mean something only to you. Let your student(s) ponder that as well. That could be a writing prompt to later revisit.Talk about the importance of this being added by our author. I always tell my students that whenever an author puts something like this into a story, it’s usually for good reason. There’s most likely something coming that will allow us to refer back to this moment in the story.  Moving along in this passage, we get a glimpse into this writer’s style. A writer’s style is what sets it apart from other writers. It is what makes it unique and poignant and beautiful. It’s what draws us in. It sets a stage and makes a particular event seem significant rather than mundane. How many times as a teacher have you told your student(s) to show not tell in their writing? This passage lends itself perfectly, with just one sentence, to drop the mic! Case in point: “Liesel bit down on her lip, but she could not resist it for long. From the floor, she turned and looked up at the bathrobed woman …”  Here is what the author said in boring language: “Liesel was apprehensive but couldn’t resist. So she asked.”  Now, which sentence provides beauty, style, imagery, importance? Take sentences like these and have the student(s) change them to boring sentences. Work backwards to show them how style means substance.  A final pause in this passage is when our narrator tells us that Liesel let her “sentence die its own death.” A sentence can die? Because of personification it can. And because of this personification, we see more of our author showing rather than telling.

Further along, but not much further, we have another moment to stop and think aloud… to discuss and ponder. Here’s the passage:

“The mayor’s wife was just one of a worldwide brigade. You have seen her before, I’m certain. In your stories, your poems, the screens you like to watch. They’re everywhere, so why not here? Why not on a shapely hill in a small German town? It’s as good a place to suffer as any. The point is, Isla Hermann had decided to make suffering her triumph.

Well, there’s that second person point of view again. I think the reason I love this viewpoint so much is because it gives the story a more casual feeling. I tend to write in an informal voice… typing words as they come … as is.  I feel this informality connects the reader to the writer in some really great ways. This passage is important because it allows us to discuss archetype. An archetype is a character who represents a very typical stereotype. You’ll find archetypes aplenty through literature. There’s the hero, the villain, the rebel, the martyr, the victim, the overcomer. So many archetypes to discover and learn from. In this passage, Death actually tells us that Isla Herman is an archetype and that she is specifically the type of character who makes suffering her triumph. I think that makes her a martyr… or maybe a victim… or possibly she’ll become an unlikely hero. We will have to wait to see. But at least we have some direction from Death. He lets us know what to be looking out for. We can even pause here to discuss characterization and the many facets of that device – minor, major, static, dynamic, round, flat, and so on.

Another moment to pause and digest.

“When Liesel left that day, she said something with great uneasiness. In translation, two giant words were struggled with, carried on her shoulder, and dropped as a bungling pair at Ilsa Hermann’s feet. They fell off sideways as the girl veered with them and could no longer sustain their weight. Together they sat on the floor, large and loud and clumsy.”

The two giant words the above passage refers to are: I’m Sorry.  It’s the weight of these words that makes these sentences so usable. Use these sentences to refer back to showing rather than telling. Use these sentences to refer back to personification. I mean, goodness… Liesel is sitting on the floor here with her words right beside her. Those words are so heavy she can barely hold them up. In fact they are so heavy that she has to pretty much hurl them and drop them at the feel of Isla. I’m thinking this would be a great time to discuss some character development, and how important it is to be able to recognize mistakes and apologize for them. See what books can do?

Almost done.

The last passage we paused for today was this:

“At times, Liesel wondered if she should simply leave the woman alone, but Ilsa Hermann was too interesting, and the pull of the books was too strong. Once words had rendered Liesel useless, but now, when she sat on the floor, with the mayor’s wife at her husband’s desk, she felt an innate sense of power. It happened eve time she deciphered a new word or pieced together a sentence. She was a girl. In Nazi Germany. How fitting that she was discovering the power of words.’

Talk about a mic drop! Sometimes I have to stop and take in the beauty. Sometimes I show my students how weird I am when i forget they are there and simply sit back in my chair with my book held tight to my heart as I sink into the mystifying and trans-formative words I’ve read. This is one such passage. Here we see transformation. Never a great story was told that didn’t have a profound transformation or experience for the main character. Liesel is transforming. She’s realizing her power and ironically this power is coming from the very thing the Germans are trying to destroy. This is our theme! And we are just beginning to see it unravel.

As in the words of our narrator, Death, I say – “So there you have it.”  Six pages, countless learning opportunities. Who needs to order expensive curriculum? None of us.

Until next time …