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Children's Literature Reviews
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The Thief Lord
Cornelia Funke ; [English translation, Oliver Latsch].
Publisher description
New York : Scholastic, 2002.
349 p. : ill., map ; 22 cm.


Escaping the aunt who wants to adopt only one of them, two orphaned brothers run away from Hamburg to Venice, finding shelter with a gang of street children and their leader, the thirteen-year-old "Thief Lord," while also eluding the detective hired to return them to Germany.

Best Books:

Capitol Choices, 2002 ; The Capitol Choices Committee; United States
Children's Literature Choice List, 2002 ; Children's Literature; United States
Kirkus Book Review Stars, August 1, 2002 ; United States
Middle and Junior High School Library Catalog, Ninth Edition, 2005 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
Middle and Junior High School Library Catalog, Supplement to the Eighth Edition, 2003 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts, 2003 ; NCTE Children's Literature Assembly; United States
Notable Children's Books, 2002 ; New York Times; United States
Notable Children's Books, 2003 ; ALSC American Library Association; United States
School Library Journal Best Books, 2002 ; Cahners; United States
School Library Journal Book Review Stars, October 2002 ; Cahners; United States
YALSA Teens' Top Ten, 2003 ; American Library Association; Nominee; United States
YALSA Teens' Top Ten, 2003 ; American Library Association; Winner; United States

Awards, Honors, Prizes:

ABC Children's Booksellers Choices Award, 2003 Winner Middle Grade Readers United States
American Booksellers Book Sense Book of the Year (ABBY) Award, 2003 Winner Children's Literature United States
Arizona Young Readers' Award, 2004 Winner Teen Arizona
Askews Torchlight Children's Book Award, 2003 Winner United Kingdom
Cuffies: Children's Booksellers Choose Their Favorite (and not-so-favorite) Books of the Year, 2002 Honorable Mention Best New Audiotape United States
Cuffies: Children's Booksellers Choose Their Favorite (and not-so-favorite) Books of the Year, 2002 Winner Book Most Wanted to see Adapted for Film or TV United States
Cuffies: Children's Booksellers Choose Their Favorite (and not-so-favorite) Books of the Year, 2002 Winner Favorite Novel of the Year United States
Cuffies: Children's Booksellers Choose Their Favorite (and not-so-favorite) Books of the Year, 2002 Winner Most Promising New Author United States
Garden State Teen Book Award, 2005 Winner Fiction Grades 6-8 New Jersey
Great Lakes Great Books Award, 2004 Winner Grades 6-7-8 Michigan
Indian Paintbrush Book Award, 2004 2nd Runner Up Grades 4-6 Wyoming
Locus Award, 2003 Finalist Best Young Adult Book United States
Maine Student Book Award, 2004 Third Place Maine
Massachusetts Children's Book Award, 2005 Winner Massachusetts
Mildred L. Batchelder Award, 2003 Winner United States
SEBA Book Award, 2003 Nominee Children's Category United States
Voice of Youth Award, 2004-2005 Third Place United States
Voice of Youth Award, 2008-2009 Third Place United States
Young Reader's Choice Award, 2005 Winner Grades 4-6 Pacific Northwest

State and Provincial Reading Lists:

Arizona Young Readers' Award, 2004 ; Nominee; Teen Books; Arizona
Beehive Book Award, 2003-2004 ; Nominee; Children's Fiction Books; Utah
Colorado Blue Spruce Award, 2004-2005 ; Nominee; Colorado
Colorado Blue Spruce Young Adult Book Award, 2004-2005 ; Nominee; Colorado
Garden State Teen Book Award, 2005 ; Nominee; Fiction Grades 6-8; New Jersey
Great Lakes Great Books Award, 2003-2004 ; Nominee; Grades 6-8; Michigan
Indian Paintbrush Book Award, 2003-2004 ; Nominee; Wyoming
Iowa Teen Award, 2004-2005 ; Nominee; Iowa
Massachusetts Children's Book Award, 2004-2005 ; Nominee; Grades 4-6; Massachusetts
Nene Award, 2005 ; Nominee; Hawaii
Nene Award, 2005-2006 ; Nominee; Hawaii
Nene Award, 2007 ; Book List; Hawaii
Nene Award, 2008 ; Nominee; Hawaii
Pennsylvania Young Readers' Choice Award, 2004-2005 ; Nominee; Young Adult; Pennsylvania
South Carolina Junior Book Award, 2004-2005 ; Nominee; South Carolina
Voice of Youth Award, 2004-2005 ; Nominee; 7th and 8th Grade; Illinois
Wisconsin Battle of the Books, 2007-2008 ; Middle Level; Wisconsin
Young Adult Reading Program, 2004 ; Grades 7-12; South Dakota
Young Reader's Choice Award, 2005 ; Nominee; Grades 4-6; Pacific Northwest

Curriculum Tools:

Link to Discussion Guide at Multnomah County Library

Reading Measurement Programs:

Accelerated Reader" "
Interest Level Middle Grade" "
Book Level 4.8" "
Accelerated Reader Points 13" "
Accelerated Vocabulary" "

Lexile, MetaMetrics, Inc.
Lexile Measure 640

Reading Counts-Scholastic
Interest Level 6-8
Reading Level 5
Title Point Value 20
Lexile Measure 640


Gayle (BookHive (
When 12 year old Prosper and 5 year old Bo run away from their mean aunt and uncle, they head for Venice where they team up with other orphans living in an abandoned movie theater. They are cared for by the elusive 13 year old, Thief Lord Scipio, who steals from fancy Venetian homes to feed and clothe the gang of street children. When Victor , a private investigator, is hired by the aunt to find the two brothers the story takes on disguises, captures, escapes and intrigue. The plot takes a fantasy/ magical twist when a pawn shop owner asks the Thief Lord to take on a special mission involving a carousel that can change the children's lives forever. Category: Adventure; Fantasy; Mystery. Grade Level: Intermediate (4th-6th grade). 2002, Scholastic. Ages 9 to 12.

GraceAnne DeCandido (Booklist, Oct. 15, 2002 (Vol. 99, No. 4))
There are shards of wonderful stories in this ambitious narrative, but they don't quite cohere into a shimmering whole. That said, this is still a pretty nifty adventure set as brilliantly in its Venetian setting as a baroque pearl. Twelve-year-old Prosper and five-year-old Boniface cling to the stories their mother told them of Venice, with its winged lions and rooftop angels. After her death, they run away from Hamburg and their pinch-faced relatives to Venice, where a motley crew of children, living in an abandoned movie theatre, takes them in. The leader is Scipio, the Thief Lord, who directs the petty thievery and acts as older brother to the group. Victor, a gentle detective, has been hired to find the brothers, and he does so quickly, but is bemused by their ragtag family and is loathe to hand them over to the aunt. Funke beguiles young readers as she paints the city of Venice in exquisite strokes; the affection between the brothers is sweetly rendered. However, a fantasy element surfaces barely 100 pages from the end where it startles and distracts. It fits with the Venetian setting but not with the structure of the story. This German import is a popular choice in Europe. Category: Books for Older Readers--Fiction. 2002, Scholastic/Chicken House, $16.95. Gr. 6-9.

Sharon Salluzzo (Children's Literature)
Orphans Prosper and his little brother Bo are in hiding from their wicked Aunt Esther who wants to adopt Bo. Rather than be separated from each other, the boys go to Venice where they meet a group of children living in an abandoned movie theater. They are organized by a thirteen-year-old who refers to himself as the Thief Lord and they sell the stolen items to a man called Barbarossa. Through him, the Thief Lord meets the Conte who requests that he steal a wooden wing from the Casa Spavento. Meanwhile, Aunt Esther has hired Victor Getz, a private investigator, to find Bo and return him to her. Victor is soon hot on the trail, but the quick-witted street children are one step ahead of him, at least for a while. As these two storylines converge, readers will find themselves quickly caught up in the twists and turns of the plot. A map of Venice gives the reader the locations that are so well described in the story. Distinctive characters, deft plotting, and a magical conclusion will keep readers intrigued. The smooth translation maintains a sense of European setting. This is the first of Funke's books to be translated from German into English, and I suspect we will see more. 2002, The Chicken House/Scholastic, $16.95. Ages 9 to 12.

Anne Letain (CM Magazine, January 3, 2003 (Vol. IX, No. 9))
The Thief Lord is a book that is firmly derived from a legion of predecessors. It has more than a whiff of Harry Potter, a definite air of Peter Pan and the lost boys, and moments of the magic realism of Skellig. The story is that perennial classic of runaway orphans escaping the clutches of mean hearted relations, in this case a scurrilous aunt and uncle. On the death of their mother, Prosper and his small brother Bo escape to Venice where they find company among other orphans living in an abandoned theatre. This intrepid band of children is befriended and protected by Scipio, "The Thief Lord," who has a few secrets of his own. The children support themselves through pickpocketing and outright theft, and there may be more than a few adult readers who might be troubled by this casual take on petty crime. The cast of supporting characters include a regular bevy of eccentric adults, chief of whom is Victor, a Bob Hoskins look-alike tortoise loving detective, hired to find Bo and Prosper. He ultimately takes the children under his wing and secures a happy ending for them. The plot hinges on "The Thief Lord" finding and delivering a mysterious lion's wing to an equally mysterious "Comte." The action is fast and furious, and its non-stop nature may make for a greater movie than book. Characterization is modest, and a more in depth portrayal would have resulted in more reader loyalty and an enduring story. The "star" of the novel may well be the city of Venice, itself. As the children explore the canals, lagoons, squares and buildings, the exotic locale lends an aura of mystery and intrigue to the tale. The Thief Lord will likely appeal both to boys and girls in the 8-11 age range and should provide an alternate offering to those young readers who just can't wait for the next installment of Harry Potter. Recommended. Rating: *** /4. Grades 3-6. 2002, The Chicken House/Scholastic, 349 pp., cloth, $23.99. Ages 8 to 11.

Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2002 (Vol. 70, No. 15))
When the orphans Prosper, 12, and Boniface, 5, run away from Hamburg to Venice to escape separation by their aunt and uncle Hartlieb, the crotchety, childless couple hires private detective Victor Getz to find Bo, the only brother they want. Prop and Bo feel at home with their new comrades (three other orphans who survive by picking pockets, but are otherwise harmless) in an abandoned movie theater. Their ringleader, the mysterious Thief Lord, appears from time to time with stolen riches that he gives to his poor friends. Harrowing and comical escapades abound when the Thief Lord accepts a job that will leave him and his friends financially secure-to steal a wing from a wooden lion statue. This wing, which belongs to the unconventional, kindhearted photographer Ida Spavento, is no ordinary piece of wood, but rather the missing piece to a hidden, magical merry-go-round rumored to turn children into adults and adults into children. As the children win over Ida, and even Victor, this new band of outcasts rescues one another from perilous events and scheming villains; ventures to the bewitched Secret Isle from which, as more rumors have it, no one ever returns; finds the missing merry-go-round; and creates the perfect solution. The magical city of Venice, with its moonlit waters, maze of canals, and magnificent palaces, is an excellent setting for the plot twists and turns in this fantasy/mystery/adventure, all rolled into one spellbinding story. A bestselling author in Germany, who has reached the US for the first time, Funke delights readers in the feelings of childhood, what it feels like to be innocent, afraid, curious, and safe; need friends and love; and want independence yet also to be cared for. Although the core of this tale is heartwarming, the merry-go-round, like Ray Bradbury's carousel in Something Wicked This Way Comes, hints at darkness, leaving its riders and the novel's readers changed forever. (map, glossary, not seen) 2002, Chicken House/Scholastic, $16.95. Category: Fiction. Ages 10 to 14. Starred Review. © 2002 Kirkus Reviews/VNU eMedia, Inc. All rights reserved.

Claire Rosser (KLIATT Review, September 2002 (Vol. 36, No. 5))
This novel about runaways in Venice, Italy, has been a best seller in Germany and has won literary prizes there and in Austria and Switzerland. It isn't really a YA novel, but is instead a sometimes demanding children's book, filled with adventure and a bit of magic. It's demanding because it's rather long and filled with details about Venice, which may be hard for many middle school students. Still, I'm sure there will be students in 5th through 8th grade who will appreciate the European nature of the story. There are many characters, and the adults are nearly as well realized as the children (an odd circumstance in children's literature). One main character is a miserable rich boy whose father either ignores him or demands too much of him. So Scipio--the Thief Lord--makes his life more exciting by befriending a group of children who are homeless runaways. Scipio finds them a place to stay in an abandoned cinema. Included in the runaways are two brothers, Prosper and Bo, orphans hiding from their aunt. This aunt hires a detective named Victor to find the boys, but when Victor does locate them, his sympathies lie with the boys and not with their aunt. The plot just gets more and more convoluted, with numerous other characters, planned thefts, a connection with an orphanage run by Catholic nuns in Venice, a magical carousel that will change a child to an adult or an adult to a child (you can imagine that some of the characters take advantage of this escape), and much more. The action rolls along in short chapters, each illustrated with a small pen-and-ink illustration of a locale in Venice. The vocabulary is somewhat demanding, with Italian words thrown in for atmosphere, but some YAs will certainly enjoy this challenge. It is possible that it would appeal to readers of the Harry Potter stories. Category: Hardcover Fiction. KLIATT Codes: J--Recommended for junior high school students. 2000, Scholastic/The Chicken House, 345p. map., $16.95. Ages 12 to 15.

Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly)
Wacky characters bring energy to this translation of an entertaining German novel about thieving children, a disguise-obsessed detective and a magical merry-go-round. After their mother dies, 12-year-old Prosper and his brother, Bo, five, flee from Hamburg to Venice (an awful aunt plans to adopt only Bo). They live in an abandoned movie theater with several other street children under the care of the Thief Lord, a cocky youth who claims to rob "the city's most elegant houses." A mysterious man hires the Thief Lord to steal a wooden wing, which the kids later learn has broken off a long-lost merry-go-round said to make "adults out of children and children out of adults," but the plan alters when Victor, the detective Aunt Esther hired to track the brothers, discovers their camp and reveals that the Thief Lord is actually from a wealthy family. There are a lot of story lines to follow, and the pacing is sometimes off (readers may feel that Funke spends too little time on what happens when the children find the carousel, and too much on the ruse they pull on Prosper's aunt). But between kindhearted Victor and his collection of fake beards, the Thief Lord in his mask and high-heeled boots, and a rascally street kid who loves to steal, Prosper's new world abounds with colorful characters. The Venetian setting is ripe for mystery—and the city's alleys and canals ratchet up the suspense in the chase scenes. Ages 9-12. (Sept.)"

Laura Schmidt (The ALAN Review, Spring/Summer 2003 (Vol. 30, No. 3))
Venice is a city of beauty, mystery, and plenty of secrets. Prosper and Bo are brothers who come to Venice to escape their terrible aunt Esther. They soon join a gang of street children determined to make their own living in the shadows of everyday Venice life--with the help of each other and their mysterious leader, the Thief Lord. While the practice of petty crime keeps the group alive, temptation becomes unbearable when a secretive client offers the Thief Lord a burglary challenge he cannot refuse. At the same time, a hidden danger draws near. A detective, paid by Esther to hunt down Proper and Bo, is on the brink of discovering the Thief Lord's hideout. Yearning only for a better life, the children begin the commission that will change their lives forever, and will set the Thief Lord to his hardest trial yet. This novel, translated from the original German text, is full of delightful characters and creative plot line twists. Funke's imagination touches the adventurous parts of the heart, as well as the simple human desire to belong and be loved. This story is pure magic. Category: Modern Fantasy. YA--Young Adult. 2002, Scholastic, 349 pp., $16.95. Ages young adult.Wheaton, IL

Elizabeth Bush (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November 2002 (Vol. 56, No. 3))
Orphaned brothers Prosper and Bo have ditched their guardian aunt (who’s only willing to adopt the charming, younger Bo) and have fled to Venice, where they come under the dubious protection of a teen who carries off daring thefts by night and herds a small band of street gamins by day. The gang of the “Thief Lord” is more than willing to assist their leader in his midnight heists, but he seems reluctant to bring them along on any actual jobs, and readers will probably figure out long before Prosper and Bo do that the young criminal is actually a rich kid pilfering his parents’ goodies. He does, however, get them involved in a plan to help reconstruct--for unimaginable wealth, of course--a magical merry-go-round stolen years ago from an orphanage. Trailed by a gumshoe looking for the siblings, and most improbably befriended by a would-be burglary victim, the children dodge their way through a hailstorm of transparent subplots to reach their respective happy endings. Readers undaunted by page count can find Funke’s themes developed more thrillingly elsewhere--in Dickens’ Oliver Twist and in Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. This comparatively lightweight (in content, not ounces) romp has its moments, however, and the social joys of joining what promises to be a heavily hyped Reading Event may well carry the day. (Reviewed from galleys) Review Code: Ad -- Additional book of acceptable quality for collections needing more material in the area. (c) Copyright 2002, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 2002, Chicken House, 352p, $16.95. Grades 5-8.

Mark deCastrique (The Five Owls, (Vol. 17, No. 1))
Cornelia Funke is a popular German author whose novel The Thief Lord marks her debut in the United States. Brought to the English-reading world by the original publisher of J. K. Rowling, The Thief Lord creates a wonderfully rich tale of mystery and magic with theme, plot, character, and setting marvelously entwined by this skilled writer. Recently orphaned, twelve-year-old Prosper and his five-year-old brother Bo are on the run from their aunt. She wishes to adopt little Bo but intends to send Prosper away to boarding school. In a desperate attempt to stay together, the boys have escaped from Hamburg to Venice, the city their late mother described in her bedtime stories. They are rescued by a gang of street urchins who follow the instructions of a mysterious youth who calls himself the Thief Lord. All of the children find their longing for belonging satisfied by the caring community they have established in an abandoned movie theatre. However, their security is as illusory as the films that once flickered on the tattered screen. A quirky, well-meaning detective uncovers the truth of the Thief Lord, and the revelation destroys the trust that bound the group together. In the novel, Venice is more than setting. Its mystique and lore become another character, contributing to the plot and providing the impetus for the magical resolution which flows naturally from the legends of the ancient city. Funke's chapter drawings and reference maps add to the charm of the tale and enrich the strong sense of place that pervades the story. In the end, the children must unite with sympathetic adults in a quest to not only protect Prosper and Bo but also to provide the sanctity and security each of them desires. The theme of belonging expands until it transforms into the nature of childhood itself, and the Thief Lord must make the ultimate steal in an attempt to find his place in the world. Intelligently written and plotted, The Thief Lord is a story in which the fantastic illustrates the value of our common, day-to-day relationships with family and friends. The novel has the power to spark the imagination of young readers for years to come. 2002, Scholastic, $16.95. Ages 9 to 12.

Tanya Tullos (The Lorgnette - Heart of Texas Reviews (Vol. 15, No. 3))
Bo, age five, and Prosper, age twelve, have run away from the aunt who does not want them to go to the Venice of their dead mother's dreams. The Thief Lord, leader of a group of street urchins, helps them survive. But, even the Thief Lord's fantasy and realities are much different than the boys expect. With a detective hot on their trail, the boys engage in a series of escapades in the shadows of canals and old buildings. The children discover a magical merry-go-round that can make riders older or younger depending on how it turns. Those who ride it are never the same. A well-written fantasy and the winner of several European children's literature awards, THE THIEF LORD provides an awesome cast of characters. From Aunt Esther to Ernesto Barbarossa to Ida Sparento to Victor Getz, readers will find villains and heroes as memorable as those in classic children's books. The children themselves--Hornet, Riccio, Mosca, Scipio, Prosper, and Bo--are all very different but must work together not only to survive but also to make their own happy endings. Fiction. Grades 5 and up. 2002, Chicken House, 249p., $16.95. Ages 10 up.

Kevin Beach (VOYA, April 2003 (Vol. 26, No. 1))
This German best-selling children's author creates a delightful tale that borrows a little from Oliver Twist and a bit from the magic of the Harry Potter books. A good-hearted private investigator is hired by a somewhat villainous couple to find their orphaned nephews. Fearing that the couple will separate them and actually only want them for their inheritance, the boys have run away to Venice, where they have the good fortune to fall amongst a tight group of street urchins, who often make ends meet through petty theft and cons. They live comfortably in an abandoned theater, benefactors of a mysterious masked boy who calls himself the Thief Lord. He often supplies them with food and expensive goods to hock. Life gets complicated when the children are hired by a sinister old man to retrieve a wooden wing from an old woman's home just as the investigator discovers the hideaway. What is the secret of the wing? Who is the old woman? All is resolved as the Thief Lord is unmasked, the boys outwit their aunt with the help of the PI, and the wing is restored to its mystical origins with some dire consequences. The magical city of Venice is used to full advantage. The characters are richly and realistically drawn-the good guys are not always good and the bad not really so bad. This satisfying, twisting tale is for upper elementary readers who enjoy a dab of magic surrounded by a charming story. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P M J (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2002 (orig. 2000), Scholastic, 349p, $16.95. Ages 11 to 15.


Runaways Fiction.
Robbers and outlaws Fiction.
Brothers Fiction.
Detectives Fiction.
Orphans Fiction.
Street children Fiction.
Venice (Italy) Fiction.
Italy Fiction.
LanguageCall NumberLCCNDewey DecimalISBN/ISSN
English (eng) PZ7.F96624 Th 2002
2002021037 [Fic]
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