The Word Shaker in The Book Thief

Instructor: Shelley Vessels

Shelley has taught at the middle school level for 10 years and has a master's degree in teaching English.

What makes a great gift? For Max, it's gifts that honor the recipient and have a very special touch. 'The Word Shaker' is an incredibly thoughtful gift created for Liesel that is handed to her long after Max leaves.

A Gift

What's the best gift you've ever received? What made it so special? Was it because the gift-giver put extra thought into the present?

In The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, the Jew who is forced into hiding, Max, is one of the best gift-givers around. He adores Liesel, the foster daughter of the family who has agreed to care for him, and the first present he gives her is a homemade book called The Standover Man. Liesel loves books (she is the book thief after all!), but the best part is that the book demonstrates how much Max cares for her.

The second gift is much like the first. Again, Max creates something special out of nothing for young Liesel. Created on his sketchbook, the book is a collection of sketches and storyline that speak about Max and Liesel's friendship and the rise of Hitler because of the power in words.

By the time this gift comes to light, Max has left the Hubermanns' house, and Liesel is absolutely missing him. Passed on to Rosa Hubermann for safekeeping, this book, The Word Shaker, was hidden in a mattress until Liesel 'was ready.' Rosa waited until Christmas.

What's The Word Shaker Really About?

When Liesel looks over the pages of the sketchbook that houses The Word Shaker, she sees many sketches, stories, and recollections - of her friend Rudy's track meets, a snowman, a list of presents, and details of the nights by the fire in the basement.

Then, on page 117, everything changes. The Word Shaker begins. It is a story about the rise of Hitler through his commitment to gaining power through words, and how a strong friendship can overcome all.

Choosing the right words that people want to hear, Hitler is able to lure people toward his cause. The same speech is given and the people are 'hypnotized.' In the story, the 'shakers' were the ones who knew the power of words and would throw them from high up in trees down to the people on the ground.

However, there was a young girl who was also a word shaker (this is Liesel). She was a different kind, a kind who understood 'how powerless a person could be WITHOUT words.' This word shaker later meets a man who is 'despised by her homeland' (this is Max) and she cares for him while he's ill.

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