Book Thief, The

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Not recommended under 13, PG to15 (Violence and war themes)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Book Thief, The
  • a review of Book Thief, The completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 18 December 2013.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 13 Not recommended due to violence, disturbing scenes and war themes
Children aged 13 to 15 Parental guidance recommended due to violence, disturbing scenes and war themes

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines. Other classification advice (OC) is provided where the Australian film classification is not available.

Name of movie: Book Thief, The
Classification: PG
Consumer advice lines: Mild themes and violence
Length: 131 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

Based on the novel by Markus Zusak, The Book Thief is set in Germany during World War II. The story is narrated by Death (voice of Roger Allum) and concerns a young, highly spirited girl Liesel (Sophie Nélisse) who becomes orphaned when her mother is taken by the Nazis for being a communist. She also loses her little brother who dies on the train journey to their new home. At the impromptu roadside burial, Liesel steals a book from the gravedigger - The Gravedigger’s Handbook.

Liesel is handed over to her adoptive parents; the gentle Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and the sharp tongued but kind hearted Rosa (Lisa Watson). She is initially withdrawn but Hans reads to her from The Gravedigger’s Handbook each night and this forms a strong bond between them, as well as a great love of books and reading. Hans also teaches Liesel to read and write.

Meanwhile the Nazis are becoming more powerful. Liesel befriends her next door neighbour Rudy (Nico Liersch) and together they attend Hitler youth meetings. They watch a ceremony of book burning and a denunciation of Jews and communists which appals Liesel.

Liesel’s adoptive family are placed in grave danger when Hans and Rosa hide a young Jewish man called Max (Ben Schnetzer). He is the son of a soldier who saved Hans’ life in WWI. Max and Lisa become firm friends and share the love of books and literature. Liesel ‘steals’ books from the Burgermeister’s wife (Barbara Auer) to read to Max. War however, eventually comes to their neighbourhood and Death arrives and takes its dreadful toll.


Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

War; death of family members; genocide; racism

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is some violence in this movie including:

  • Liesel is teased at school because she can’t read and write, particularly by a boy called Franz (Levin Liam). Liesel retaliates and punches him quite hard, leaving him with a bloody nose.
  • Liesel is smacked by a teacher.
  • Kristallnacht occurs when the Brownshirts start smashing glass shop windows. They punch, kick and attack people with rifle handles. They also drag them out into the street.
  • Rudy is dragged home by his ear by a shopkeeper who sees him with his face painted black, emulating his hero, Jesse Owens.
  • Franz, now a high-up member of the Hitler youth, pushes Rudy and orders him and Liesel to burn books.
  • On another occasion, Franz attacks Rudy, pushing him to the ground leaving him with a bloody lip.
  • Soldiers arrest a Jewish butcher and Hans comes to his aid. The soldiers push Hans to the ground.
  • A truck is blown up.
  • Liesel thinks she sees Max in a line of Jews being herded off somewhere and comes to his rescue. Liesel and Rudy are both thrown to the ground.
  • War scenes of bombing raids – houses being blown up and fires everywhere.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

  • Many scenes of war, houses burning and people dying.
  • Dead bodies are shown lying on the ground.
  • The German soldiers are all very scary as they act in a ruthless way.
  • The air raid sirens are very loud and people are huddled in bomb shelters. They are all very afraid, listening to the bombs dropping all around them.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes and scary visual images, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged five to eight, including the following:

  • Soldiers come to search Hans and Rosa’s basement. This is quite a tense scene while Max is hiding beneath a German flag.
  • Rudy’s father is sent off to war leaving Rudy and his many siblings alone with their mother.
  • Max gets sick – gets a fever from lying in the damp basement and he looks awful. He almost dies.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

In addition to the above mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged eight to thirteen, including the following:

  • Hans is conscripted and sent off to war. He is shown sitting in the back of a truck which gets blown up.
  • The line of Jews being led away is quite terrible to see. They all look gaunt and frightened.
  • The street that Liesel lives on is bombed and many people die. Bodies are shown lying on the ground and it’s a very tragic scene.

Thirteen and overinfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

Children in this age group could also be disturbed by the above mentioned scenes.

Product placement

None of concern

Sexual references

There are some sexual references in this movie, including:

  • Rudy is always chasing Liesel for a kiss but it never happens.

Nudity and sexual activity

Nothing of concern

Use of substances

There is some use of substances in this movie, including:

  • Hans is shown drinking out of a bottle.
  • Smoking

Coarse language

There is some coarse language in this movie, including:

  • Oh my God
  • Shut up
  • Christ
  • Some name calling such as “lazy pig”, “dirty swine” and “idiot”

In a nutshell

The Book Thief is a drama based on the Markus Zusak novel about the life of a young girl growing up in Nazi Germany. It is very well acted and is a very moving story. Because of its violence and disturbing scenes and themes, it is more suited to older children, teens and adults. At 131 minutes, it is also a long film.

The main messages from this movie are to stand up for those in need and to make the most of your life because no-one knows how long it will be.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • kindness and generosity
  • empathy
  • patience
  • love
  • the power of books and literature
  • standing up for what you believe

Parents may also wish to discuss what happened in WWII and, more generally, the morality of war and the terrible waste of life.