Summary and Analysis
Part 8: The Word Shaker:
The Hidden Sketchbook
Another air raid strikes Molching a few days before Christmas, and in the shelter, Liesel remembers Hans's words to her. Everyone waits for her expectantly, and so she reads to them. When they get home, Rosa cuts open a slit sewn into her mattress, and from this slit she pulls the book from Max and tells Liesel that she thinks she was always ready for this book, The Word Shaker.
In the book are captions and stories of Rudy and the snowman, the 13 presents, nights of reading by the fire, and even Max's family. There is also a fable about the Führer who plants words like seeds throughout an entire nation, grows forests of these thoughts throughout all of Germany. There are word shakers, too, who climb up into trees and send words down to those below. The best word shakers understand the power of words and are sent out to maintain the forests. But there is skinny girl who is a word shaker, too, who is able to climb higher than the rest because she's so hungry for words. She meets a man who is despised by her country, and they become friends.
When he is ill, she cries over him, and from one of her tears she plants the seed of a tree, which grows to be the tallest in the forest. This angers the Führer. He orders the tree cut down, and the girl begs him to let it stand. While he swings the ax, she climbs and plants herself in the tree. But they can't chop the tree down, not the Führer and not any of his soldiers. The girl stays in the tree through the changing seasons, and when the last ax man gives up, he shouts up to her that she can come down. But she knows that she's holding the tree upright and so can't come down. Then, another ax man comes searching for the tree. He hammers nails into the trunk and climbs up to the girl. It's her friend. Together they climb down, and after the Word Shaker leaves her tree, it collapses, taking down some, but not all, of the forest with it. The girl and her friend walk out on the horizontal trunk. When she's finished with the story, Liesel thinks of Max and wonders where he is. That night, she dreams of the tree.
The Word Shaker story details the friendship between Max and Liesel, while also telling the story of how words helped Hitler rise to power. He planted words and images into the minds of many people, and from these words came symbols, and from these symbols came hate. Others could see just how powerful these words were and became word shakers, too, placing themselves amongst forests of people and perpetuating Hitler's message. The people's hateful words are like tiny seeds, rooting themselves in the ground and sprouting more and more forests of hate.
Liesel is the skinny girl in the story who was once without words, so she understands better than most just how much power they truly have. She uses her words' power for good, to save the tree that has grown from her tear, which recalls the tear that she cried on Max's cheek when he was sick. While the girl is only one person, she's able to save her tree when Hitler and his soldiers come to chop it down. She holds that tree up just as, in many ways, she was able to hold Max up when he lived in her basement.
When Max comes for her and the tree does fall down, it knocks down other trees in the forests, the other places where hateful word shakers have stood. Max's fable shows how words can be powerful for good and for evil. It also demonstrates how one small girl can have such a major impact and can stand up against Hitler and save a Jew who is despised by his entire country.