The Thief Lord
Cornelia Funke
2000 (Germany); 2002 (USA)
trans by Oliver Latsch
Batchelder Award winner

The Thief Lord was originally written in German, and it received the Batchelder Award when it was translated into English and published in the U.S. The Batchelder Award is given to the best work in translation that year. Think of it as a Newbery for foreign-language works.

This book is action packed from the start. It follows two English brothers, Bo and Prosper, as they try to make their way in Venice on their own. The Thief Lord is a masked boy named Scipio who is hiding his real identity and who helps a gang of young children (orphans and runaways, including Bo and Prosper) survive on the streets of Venice. A detective named Victor has been hired by Bo and Prosper’s aunt to track the boys down. A woman named Ida becomes a surprising friend and aid to the children, and the theft of a magical item from long ago plunges the children into a adventure and a surprising ending.

Despite the action and adventure of this book, I had a hard time really getting into it. That will not likely happen to my young reading friends. I will chalk it up to having to read a million other books this summer for class. After about a third of the book, I read with much more enthusiasm. I liked the characters in the book very much, and I enjoyed the magical realism genre. The ending is very surprising–very different from most middle grades books I read. I don’t know if that’s the German background of the author or just something new.

The Thief Lord is now a movie, but I haven’t seen it or heard any reviews of it. I don’t know how it compares.

Recommended for middle and upper elementary; middle school (I’d wager that advanced readers in the 3rd-6th grade age range will enjoy it most)

Things to Note/Discuss

  • When (if ever) is it okay to lie? to protect your friends? your brother/sister?
  • When (if ever) is it okay to steal?
  • What would you have done at the merry go round? Scipio’s choice or Prosper’s choice?
  • Do you like the ending?
  • Is it okay to run away if you don’t like your parents?
  • Should Scipio have revealed himself to his parents at the end?