Funke, Cornelia. 2002. The Thief Lord. Trans. by Oliver Latsch. NY: Scholastics, Inc. ISBN: 9780439404372.
*Winner of the 2003 Mildred L. Batchelder Award *
When their mom dies and they learned that their snobby aunt was going to split them up twelve-year-old Prosper and five-year-old Bo run away from Hamsburg, Germany to the canals and ancient buildings of Venice, Italy that their mom had told them about. Now, living in an abandoned movie theater with three other orphaned children who are taken care of by a mysterious teenager who is called the Thief Lord. When the Thief Lord is hired by an equally mysterious man to steal a wooden wing that belongs to a magical merry-go-around that can change the age and physical appearance for all who rides it, Prosper and Bo and their friends’ lives change forever and for the better.
German author Cornelia Funke’s love for this ancient Venetian city translates beautifully in this adventure, mystery and fantasy packed novel that, originally published in German and translated to English by Oliver Latsch, has been a great hit among young readers everywhere. Though it is quite complex with secondary storylines and there is handful of characters that all play a significant part within it, the plot is exciting and incorporates all the characteristics of the city it takes plan in.
Though they are Italian, or German in the case of Prosper and Bo, all the characters are they universal and can be relatable to any reader. Prosper is a smart and responsible twelve-year-old who cares for his little brother deeply and will do anything to make sure that he and Bo stay together. Bo is perhaps the very essence of Venice in his angelic-face that would match the faces of the beautiful artwork found in Italy. He looks up to his brother and sees a great hero in Scipio, the Thief Lord, and dreams to go on to one of his raids, even though he is only five years old.
Scipio, a.k.a. the Thief Lord, is the most complex character in the entire book, as he lives a doubled life. Though he claims and explains to the orphaned children he cares for and has sell his stolen loot, Scipio is actually the son of a rich doctor who owns the abandoned theater where the orphans lived. Despite being thirteen years old and being treated like a helpless child by father, Scipio very mature, as he was the one who brought the three orphan children Mosco, Riccio, and Hornet to the theater. When he appears to the children as the Thief Lord he wears high-healed boots, a black trench coat, and a black masquerade mask that are very reminiscent to the 18th century clothing that Italians and, especially, Venetians wore.
The city of Venice plays a huge and very important part in The Thief Lord. Having the story set in a city as ancient, mysterious, enchanting, and magical as this one. Venice is the perfect city to set a story of Funke’s combination of adventure, mystery and fantasy. Where else could one find a merry-go-round with fantastical creatures that can made a boy turn to a man and man to a boy?
The writing style that Funke used also utilized the beauty of Venice with descriptions of city and its surroundings, such as seen in the opening lines of book:
“The canals, gleaming in the sun, dappled the ancient brickwork with gold. But the wind was blowing ice-cold air from the sea, reminding the Venetians that winter was approaching. Even the air in the alleyways tasted of snow, and only the wings of the carved angels and dragons high up on the rooftops felt any real warmth from the pale sun” (p. 7).
Funke also used the actual Italian language several times, such as when Hornet calls Bo angelo – an angel, to add more essence of the culture to the story. Other wonderful features of The Thief Lord are a map that included names the famous landmarks and a glossary of the Italians words used in the book. The final feature is Funke’s own black and white pen sketches of architectural features found in the city that are seen at the beginning of each chapter. By adding a visual feature like these sketches the readers will get another glimpse of the fantastic city and enhances the greatness of The Thief Lord.
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. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL
Grade 6-8-A popular German author makes a strong English-language debut with this tale of a group of orphaned and fugitive children trying to eke out a furtive existence on the watery "streets" of modern Venice. Funke brings together a large but not indigestible array of adults and children, several of whom, thanks to a bit of magic near the end, switch roles. To keep from being separated after their parents' death, young Prosper spirits his little brother Boniface to fabled Venice, which their mother had always described as a magical place. Quickly falling in with a trio of other orphans, presided over by Scipio, a masked lad who styles himself a master thief, the children become embroiled in a complex set of captures, escapes, squabbles, revelations, and subplots. At the end, they find not only an agreeable new home, but also literal proof of their city's magical reputation, for on a nearby island, an ancient, fragile carousel is found that can spin old people young, and vice versa. Funke delineates her characters and the changing textures of their relationships with masterful subtlety, as well as sometimes-puckish humor. It's a compelling tale, rich in ingenious twists, with a setting and cast that will linger in readers' memories. John Peters, New York Public Library Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc
*Read more books by Cornelia Funke: Inkheart, Inkspell, Inkdeath, Pirate Girl and Dragon Rider
*Read books about Venice, Italy.
*What the 2006 film version of The Thief Lord and have the readers compare and contrast the film to the actual book.