Considering the “tent poles” in The Book Thief

One idea I gleaned from reading Chuck Wendig’s THE KICK-ASS WRITER recently was that of tent poles. As in, stories need them. Without them, the plot falls over, just like a large tent with no poles.

Immediately prior, I’d read Markus Zusak’s THE BOOK THIEF for the very first time. (Yes, yes. I know I’m probably the last person on the face of the Earth to do so. I’ve been busy, okay?)

And you know what? Looking back at THE BOOK THIEF, I could see what Wendig was getting at. I could see the tent poles! (Exclamation point needed because I was pretty excited; this had never happened to me before…) And I wanted to share some of my thoughts with you. So they’re below. (Warning: long post ahead! Also, spoilers. Just in case anybody else on the face of this planet hasn’t yet read the book or seen the movie and manages to somehow find this post):

IMG_0504upLiesel. As readers, we are first introduced to her on a train. I don’t know about you, but my first thought about ‘trains in Nazi Germany’ is ‘Jews on their way to prison camps’, with all its associated misery and horror. This train journey is not one of those, but Liesel unwittingly watches her younger brother die, so the misery and horror are still there. Then her mother is forced to abandon her, which tugs at our heartstrings and immediately turns her into a sympathetic character, if she wasn’t already. Obviously, Zusak needed his protagonist to be German. But she needed a point of interest to keep her separate from the ‘oppressive’ Nazi rulers. So Zusak also made her the youngish daughter of Kommunists, the underdogs, and therefore making complete our view of her as someone to be pitied. Interestingly, Zusak gave his main character the same name as the eldest daughter in THE SOUND OF MUSIC. So I also had an instant association with “an innocent, in a coming-of-age” story. Liesel also needed to be illiterate at the beginning, to develop her love of books and likewise, her love for ‘Papa’, Hans Hubermann.

Death. The narrator. He didn’t introduce himself, so as readers we were forced to intuit this piece of information – and it’s always good (so says Chuck) to make the readers ‘do some heavy lifting’. And so we do. As an outside spectator, still very invested in the happening events, Death was extremely useful, as he provided a supposedly objective view of Liesel. His being an omniscient immortal helped too. It was ‘expected’, almost, that at times he would refer to later events, and this glimpse into the future – or past, when he related the events of the Great War as it pertained to the backstory of Hans, and his debt to Max – also assisted the structure of the novel somewhat, alleviating any sense of ‘drag’ by the predominantly lock-step, week-by-week telling of the story.

‘Papa’. Hans Huberman, Liesel’s step-father. He is the first to be kind to Liesel, drawing her from the car the first time we see him. His sacrifice of sleep each night, and his teaching Leisel to read, and especially when he rescues her from humiliation over her completely-understandable bed wetting incidents, ensures he is cast in heroic light.

Rudy. The ‘best friend’. Boy-next-door, the same age (and therefore same class at school) but opposite gender. This meant that Liesel had someone to offer her support, but also have friction with. His desire to have her kiss him, meant she was seen – by him, at least – in a desirable light: and the fact that the kiss was unrequited spoke not only to her integrity but also gave both characters pathos, knowing from very early on that he’d die without ever receiving his heart’s desire. Zusak needed Rudy’s father, Alex Steiner, to be absent at the climax, so therefore he was conscripted. We are given the impression that his conscription was punishment for Rudy’s NOT going to war, so Zusak needed Rudy to be desired by the Nazis. Hence his blond hair, blue eyes and running talents. But Rudy needed to be unpatriotic, therefore his idolisation of not only a ‘negro’ athlete, but a famous American one to boot.

Max. Liesel’s other ‘best friend’, needed to add the element of danger. Max was a Jew, who Papa hid in the basement. Zusak ratcheted the tension in this situation because Max could easily have been discovered by Papa or Mamma’s own son or daughter – and their son was a brainwashed deeply patriotic Nazi. And although Max was captured – it would not have been realistic if he were not – he also needed to survive, the symbol of hope (otherwise, the book may indeed have been realistic, but would have been too dark to be palatable, I think).

The community of Himmel street. Himmel = heaven / sky. Himmel street was not heavenly, by any stretch of the imagination. But the community – with the exception of Liesel and Alex Steiner, Rudy’s father – was taken to heaven by Death, after bombs from the sky obliterated their street, killing indiscriminately. Zusak needed all of them to die, again, to make a distinction between them and Liesel, as her survival of this tragedy shows her inner strength. This event also tugs on our heart-strings, as by the time it occurs, we readers have spent the majority of the novel building strong emotional connections with these characters.

Isla Hermann. The Mayor’s wife, first introduced as the shadowy figure who watched Liesel steal a book from the remains of a bonfire. Her character was needed, as the person to take care of Liesel after her community had been obliterated. Therefore, Mamma needed a job (washerwoman) which would introduce her into the Mayor’s circle. And Liesel having a love-hate relationship with Isla not only gave more depth to both characters but also gave Zusak the opportunity to introduce the iconic symbol – the blank journal Leisel wrote in, which eventually became the book that Death carried as a reminder of his “Book Thief”.

Alex Steiner, Rudy’s father. For Max to find Liesel after the war, some part of the Himmel street community needed to survive. Therefore, Rudy’s father needed to be away at the time of the bombing. His being a businessman also gave Liesel a job after the war, where she could be found. Alex Steiner’s survival of the war also drilled home the idea of senseless tragedy – that Mr Steiner, who was in the most danger at the front, should survive to employ Liesel, and yet his entire family, neighbours and friends, who lay sleeping at home in their beds, who should have been safe, were all killed. It would also seem that Alex – not the Mayor – becomes Liesel’s replacement father-figure after Hans’ death. The juxtapositioning of these two characters is even poignant, given that Death had related Hans’ story, of his evading Death (through chance) at the front not once but twice. Thus Hans’ death is all the more tragic, and the senselessness of war is reinforced.

Overall, I loved the writing; the description was without compare. One image that prompted me to sit back and say “wow” referred to the blinds over the windows as ‘confiscating the light’. Death’s descriptions of the colours threw me a little, but not excessively.

Most events were a surprise, but not out of left field. It’s only when you consider it in hindsight, that all events can be seen to be necessary. And that, I think, was the beauty of this writing for me. That Zusak was able to masterfully craft a story, and write it in such a way that this reader, on her first time through, was hooked by the first chapter and unable to step away until after the final sentence.

Well, congratulations on making it to the end of an excessively long blog post! And what did you think? Were there “tent poles” I missed?

Reading time

I’m sitting at the dining table. Mr6 is next to me, reading to me. I love that!

He’s chosen his favourite books.

Bears on Wheels by Stan and Jan Berenstain

Go, Dog. Go! by P.D. Eastman


Inside, Outside, Upside down by Stan and Jan Berenstain

He’s just finished the last page. We had a discussion about the text on the final page. Mr6 refuses to read the first line: “Mama! Mama!” His coping strategy (typical autism here) – he runs away if he’s made to read it. He always has. Today we talked about why. I thought that it was because the word is different to what we use at home: he calls me ‘Mummy’ not ‘Mama’. But no, that’s not it. He said that it was because if he said it, the mother bear should be answering, “Yes, yes?”

Interesting, hey! Well, I think so, at least 🙂

Have a great day, dear reader!

— KRidwyn

Feedback from beta-readers

So I wrote a book, edited it, and gave it to some people to read. This was both exciting and scary! It was just over 25,000 words; an adventure story aimed at children aged 7 – 10. I’ve since had feedback from some of my beta-readers. One member of my writing group gave the manuscript to her two nieces. The seven-year-old wandered off after a few chapters, but the ten-year-old loved it, took some of it to school and showed her teacher – who also really liked it. I like that sort of feedback! Another member of the group gave me really detailed feedback on multiple aspects. This was more than I had expected, and incredibly helpful. He also made me laugh with this comment: “You write short sentences. My average sentence has 25 words. Yours has eight.” Another group member asked if he’d counted them; apparently he’d run the manuscript through a computer program. I didn’t even know that these existed!

Then again this morning, I spent a few hours with another of my beta-readers. A retired lecturer in Creative Writing, who gave me some intensive feedback. As in, two hours on just a couple of chapters. Which was brilliant! Mentally exhausting, but fantastic nonetheless.  And this afternoon, a lady who I aspire to be just like, is planning to spend the next three hours curled up on her couch with my manuscript. She was looking forward to it, and had set aside the time – this time, this afternoon – weeks ago, because she knew she could have some interrupted time to herself, and that’s what she wanted to spend it doing.

I’m really very blessed to have people in my life who are so supportive! I just hope that my little story is worthy of their time! 🙂

And to you, dear reader, I wish for you a lovely, lovely day.

Thanks for stopping by!

— KRidwyn

Keeping it at bay…

The laryngitis, that is. Well, so far. But I’m teaching for the rest of the week, so let’s just see how that goes, huh? I find that the constant swapping from speaking to singing voice (that’s an integral part of classroom music teaching in a Primary school) is such a strain on it; far more than it ever was in a High school. But maybe that’s just me.

But anyway, on to yesterday. So I edited the first 12 chapters of my book – now the first 11 chapters. And I was pretty happy with that. 30 chapters to go.

I also found some research that I was doing over 10 years ago. For my first ever historical novel. And there’s HEAPS of it – five folders full, in fact! So I’ve been thinking that I might start that piece again. See how it goes, you know? So I read it all through, and that inspired me to continue the research last night. Head back to original sources, back to the Latin versions, etc etc etc. Supremely interesting stuff!

So the plan for today is: not lose my voice. Edit 10 more chapters. And maybe dig some more into the history of Autun. Because I can 🙂

Have a great day, reader!

— KRidwyn

#Fridayfind for 24th April 2015

Do you believe that what a person reads, reflects who they are – or, maybe, who they want to be? I think that I kind of do. But I do definitely believe that what we have read, becomes a part of who we are. Shapes us, so to speak, just as experiences in real life – both in the physical and the online worlds – show our past; so the texts we read and the shows we watch and the music we listen to, shape our thoughts. And therefore, in a way, our futures. Wow – that got deeper than I had expected it to! Especially for the first paragraph!!!

So anyway, I was thinking yesterday that I want to share with… well, whoever’s out there… what books I love. What books I have read, that I have let shape me, my thoughts, my attitudes.

And it all starts with Magician, by Raymond E. Feist. That was the first novel that I remember absolutely falling in love with. I was in Year 9 or thereabouts, around 13 years old, and a good friend loaned me her copy. I remember being a little hesitant to read it, initially – being a Christian, the title concerned me, with its promise of spells, cauldrons, and all things magic. But my friend was also a Christian, and so I read the first page.

That was enough. I was hooked, and have been ever since. Writing, good writing, captivates and inspires. We rejoice and cry over characters triumphs and tragedies. From Pug and Tomas to Mara of the Acoma and Kevin the slave, from Squire James to “… you take all the fun out of life!” the Riftworld novels were exactly what I needed them to be, at the time that I needed them to be it. They have remained that way ever since.

A couple of months ago, I was fortunate enough to find Feist’s ‘new, revised edition’ of Magician in a second hand shop. Released in 1991, Feist wrote of this edition: “The book I would have written had I the skills I possess today”. The extra scenes added depth – as you would expect! – but also an insight into Feist’s thinking at the time. What *he* would have wanted included. What *he* believed important. You get more of a sense of the man behind the characters with this edition. The craftsmanship that went into the making of the novel. The sheer, incredible, talent. I love that.

It made me fall in love with the writing profession all over again. And be inspired. Watch out, world! 🙂

Friday Review

Well, yeh, okay. It’s Saturday. Late. Just like this post.

Today, I want to tell you about one of my favourite emails.

You see, I don’t very often click ‘subscribe’ on websites. My email inboxes fill up too quickly to want to add yet more – dare I say?! ‘Junk’ – to them. But on the rare occasion, I do subscribe, just out of curiosity – and I must admit, with this one, I’m glad I have!

I aspire to a clutter-free home, a clutter-free life. And with regular emails from, I can read their blog posts – their whole blog posts, none of this ‘to read more click here’ linking – from the convenience of my inbox. And they’re good posts too. Funny as well, every Wednesday.

They’re not obtrusive. They’re not in-your-face. I can choose to delete them – but I rarely do, because they’re generally well-written and an enjoyable minute-long break from the onerous going-through-email task I was currently completing.

So that’s my review for the week. Unclutterer. Give it a whirl – and let me know what you think!


Memories… Times two!

I was reading with Miss 8 tonight before my weekly violin teaching. She’d read her school reader earlier this afternoon, so we’d pulled out a book that I’d read when *I* was learning to read, a few decades ago. “The Hermit’s Purple Shirts”. I liked it, and so does Miss 8.
It was strange, to be listening to her read I book I’d read, so many years ago. The memories of then, combining with the memories that were created tonight… So precious.
Here’s hoping that you also had a great day, dear readers!
— Ceridwyn

Value for money

The other week, I was visiting Beerwah Library to change picture books & readers for my cherubs. I had an extra minute, so I thought I’d have a quick look through their boxes of ‘for sale’ culls.
I must admit some surprise to see ‘Breaking Dawn’ there. Having wanted to read this again, recently, I thought it a fortunate find. Still more so when I went to pay for it and found it would only cost me ONE DOLLAR!!!
How incredible is that!
Here’s hoping that your day is an amazing one too, dear readers!