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Print to Projector: The Book Thief

By  · Published on June 5th, 2010

As the only literate Reject, it’s my duty to find the latest, the greatest and the untouched classics that would make great source material for film adaptations. I read so you don’t have to. This week, Print to Projector presents:

The Book Thief

by Markus Zusak

“First the colors.”


Told from Death’s perspective, a young girl is taken into foster care in Munich after her mother is imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp for being a Communist. She learns to read, begins stealing books, and is happy in life until the Nazis begin making life more and more difficult for everyone.


Here is a truly innovative book that tackles a well-tread subject matter. World War II has been one of the most fascinating literary magnets since 1944, drawing in authors like flies to the light or the swatter. Since it’s so well covered, it’s difficult to do with any sense of spark or originality.

Somehow, Zusak has done it with a children’s book.

Meant for young adult readers, “The Book Thief” is a wildly creative tale that still has the hold-your-breath-or-the-characters-might-get-caught suspense that should come with any story about harboring a Jewish man in Nazi territory. If you want, think of it as Anne Frank Redux that’s being told by Death and being illustrated in squiggly sketches by one of the characters.

Fortunately, the writing goes beyond its intended audience, becoming fun for the whole family.

Potential Problems

There really aren’t any. Unlike most of my choices, “The Book Thief” tells a colorful story, and the artistic elements could be included easily either as real books that Max writes for Liesel or as sketches come to life. Or both.

It will also be refreshing to see a film champion the importance of reading and literature.

The Pitch

I am not malicious. I am a result.


There’s a real need here for a writer who can handle writing for a young girl, who can handle writing about a friendship between her and an older male figure, and who can handle infusing happy moments into a world dominated by Nazis. My gut instinct was also the name that stuck with me even as I searched for someone better. Simply put, I couldn’t think of anyone better – it would have to be Nick Hornby. He’s had a varied career, but he mixes drama with comedy better than almost anyone out there. Now, he’s proven himself in the craft exceedingly well with An Education. Plus, if you’ve read the novel “About a Boy,” you know exactly what I’m talking about.


With direction, I wanted someone who understood the toils of youth inside the Nazi regime, and that’s a narrow qualification. However, there is one director who happens to have made one of my favorite films. It’s a little schmaltzy, but that can come out in the wash for this project. Of course, I’m talking about Swing Kids director Thomas Carter. He hasn’t had the steadiest career, but Swing Kids is a fantastic film that focuses on teens as they struggle against the Nazi clamp down on the music that they love, the resistance to fit in for the sake of fitting in, and the fear of what’s happening to their country. All of those elements are brought into focus well by Carter, and I’d love to see what he has up his sleeve for this.


Flash forward to the basement, September 1943:

Lina Leandersson as Liesel Meminger: On the cusp of adolescence, but with eyes that have seen many things, Liesel is the central focus of the entire book. She is a firework grab bag of all the emotions we have at that age. She wants to love, but she’s afraid of its new feeling. She is curious about the world around her, but her world is imploding. The Let the Right One In star is absolutely perfect for the role. Teach her German, and get this thing rolling.

Christoph Waltz as Hans Hubermann: There’s actually two roles that Waltz would be perfect for. One is the Jewish boxer that the family takes in, and the other is Hans – the father with the silvery eyes who wears the Nazi cross as a mask, but is estranged from his son who firmly believes in the Nazi cause. He’ll have to cover up that Swastika scar on his forehead, but it would be a strong dramatic role for him to tackle.

Imelda Staunton as Rosa Hubermann: A firm hand who truly cares for her foster children, Rosa is tough because she has to be. She also curses like a sailor, and watching Imelda Staunton drop bombs would be hilarious.

Tom Hardy as Max Vandenburg: Vandenburg is the Jewish boxer who the family takes in, and I can’t think of boxers without thinking of Tom Hardy for some reason. He and his friendship with Liesel create some of the best moments in the book, and something about the visual of the guy from Bronson sitting next to the vampire from Let the Right One In, sharing a tender moment, just works.

An Unknown as Rudy Steiner: My lack of knowledge about 11–14 year old young male actors has come to bite me in the ass here, but in lieu of choosing Justin Bieber (he’s 12 right?) or someone commercial, I default to the challenge of finding a young talent who can really create the character from scratch. Rudy is a sweet, strange child who continually asks Liesel for a kiss. His crush is child-like, and it’s clear (maybe not from the beginning) that she shares his affection. Without spoiling anything, I will say that the actor would have to be impressive, because he has the single most impactful scene in the entire book.

Who Owns It:

Fox 2000 owns the rights to make the film currently, but they haven’t moved on it. I imagine they bought it like most books – because it was a best seller, and all best sellers are bought whether a production house cares to make the film or not.

There’s little movement on it, but IMDB does claim that Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys writer Michael Petroni is the man writing the script. That’s a really strong choice. There’s no director mentioned in any of the articles I’ve seen. Nor a cast. So, really, this thing is anyone’s ball game at this point. Hopefully Fox 2000 will dig into this before Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2.


People will never get tired of seeing movies about World War II or the Nazi experience because it’s such a devastatingly powerful time in history. It’s a time that shows us our own humanity, that holds a mirror up and asks us every important question that needs answering. The Book Thief would achieve that same depth with ingenuity that’s seldom seen in the genre. The book creates magic while giving the time period and the evil that roamed the street its honest due. It’s imperative that this book make it to the big screen.

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