Death Personified… and so much more

I wanted to stop. To crouch down. I wanted to say, ‘I’m sorry child.’ But that is not allowed. I did not crouch down. I did not speak. Instead, I watched her awhile. When she was able to move, I followed her.

Oh, this Death! He is really something else isn’t he? We are currently using this book as our read aloud. If you know me, you know that I am a huge proponent of reading aloud to students, to children… no matter their age. I have used read alouds with students as young as kinder and as old as 9th grade. Each level brings about its own joys. However, when I am able to read stories such as this, The Book Thief, it is simply exquisite in so many ways. The number one academic reason I am in such favor of the read aloud is because of the level of in depth literary conversation it brings. I am reading this to two boys. One is 11 years old and the other is 14. And although they are both on different academic levels, the richness of literary terms we have been able to discuss has been nothing short of impressive. It doesn’t matter how many times I involve children in listening to higher level literature, I am never disappointed or desiring more intelligent conversation. Possibly this is due, in part, to my ability to think aloud and stop after every single great passage to discuss and reveal the irony, the imagery, the vast difference in writing styles between this author and another we recently read, the metaphorical language, and so on and so on. When I do these think alouds enough, the students tend to pick up on the literary elements quite quickly on their own. It’s so rewarding to be thinking aloud and suddenly one of my students interrupts to give his point of view. 

A few topics of discussion that have come from our reading of The Book Thief:

  1. This is second person point of view. I love this point of view in stories. I love when a narrator talks directly to me. Certainly makes for a very personal experience while reading, wouldn’t you say?
  2. The imagery is abundant but not distracting. It actually is just the perfect amount of imagery that leaves you writing in the margins, “This is beautiful!”  We recently read The Lord of the Flies. This book was filled to the brim with imagery. And when I say filled to the brim, I mean that there wasn’t a sentence without it. Unfortunately, this overabundance of imagery left us desiring more action. “Where’s the action?” my students kept wondering. Confession – I got so bored with the imagery myself, that I began skipping long passages just to find the action. But The Book Thief! Oh what perfect and beautiful imagery we have found. Poignant as well. Take these two different excerpts as example:    From The Lord of the Flies – “The subsoil beneath the palm trees was a raised beach, and generations of palms had worked loose in this the stones that had lain on the sands of another shore…Jack was standing under a tree about ten yards away. There was a small pool at the end of the river, dammed back by sand and full of white water lilies…”  From The Book Thief – “It waltzed through the window with the draft. Perhaps it was the breeze of the Third Reich, gathering even greater strength. Or maybe it was just Europe again, breathing. Either way, it fell across them as their metallic eyes clashed like tin cans in the kitchen.”   Now, which imagery do you prefer reading? I bet I can guess. Did you know that the author of The Lord of the Flies actually once said the he himself was bored by his own book? I am no author, but I will say right here and now, if I am ever bored by my own writing I will step away… far far away…. until words come to me that inspire ME. That is who we need to write for and read for first. If we aren’t motivated by what we write, how can anyone else be?
  3. Personification is everywhere. I have not quite encountered such a vibrant use of personification as is portrayed in The Book Thief. Death is obviously personified. But look back to the passage I quoted above in #2. “It waltzed through the window with the draft…”  That “it” the narrator speaks of is tension, it is anger, and resentment, and old emotional wounds being brought forth. When we read passages such as this and allow ourselves to kind of sink for a moment in the beauty of the language and what it means to the story, we are all (my students and myself) left wanting more. Now, that’s what I’d call a story!

We have talked about so much more… flashbacks, foreshadowing, characterization, metaphors, symbolism. I could go on and on about this book. I think I’ll leave it be for today, though. Thanks for reading all the way to the end (if you are still here ;)) and please feel free to leave a comment or two regarding this book. I’d love some new insight and fresh views on this story that I love so dearly. Until next time…