By Cornelia Funke
cover image retrieved from
on September 16, 2012
Funke, Cornelia Caroline, and Oliver Latsch. The Thief Lord. [Frome, Somerset]: Chicken House, 2002.
Scipio, the title character who has dubbed himself The Thief Lord, uses his connections to provide a safe haven for runaways in the mystical city of Venice. Two of those runaways are brothers who are sought by their aunt, with the intention of adopting the youngest brother. Each of the runaways has an interest in staying hidden, which is complicated by detective Victor Getz, who has been retained by Aunt Esther to track down young Bo. An irresistible proposal to steal a treasured artifact places this motley gang in precarious situations, where they must use their wits to remain together, and free of meddlesome adults.
Oliver Latsch translates this story, originally written in German by Cornelia Funke, with fluidity and purpose. Set in Venice, Latsch holds on to many Italian words and phrases in translating the story. The authentic language adds depth for the reader, always grounding the story in its setting. The names of the characters are quite unique, most with an Italian flavor, even if some of them are not actually Italian names. The focal runaway brothers, Bo and Prosper, and their compadres Hornet, Riccio, and Mosca adequately relate the subculture of unwanted, runaway children. Italian locations, titles, and specialty vocabulary pepper the writing, building a rich connection to this foreign locale.
Scipio, the Thief Lord himself, comes from a vastly different world, one of privilege. Initially unaware of Scipio’s real life, the runaways trust him to be their provider. He leads the runaways to believe that the items he brings to them to be sold to Redbeard, a merchant of questionable scruples, are the spoils of his thievery. In fact, the booty is from his own opulent home. As Scipio’s dishonesty unravels, the contrast between the subcultures of wealth and poverty are revealed. In the end, all the children band together, ignoring their differences, to get themselves to a settled state of being.
This is tale of survival on many levels, cognizant of the culture in which it is set, yet universal in its appeal. I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for an adventure or who enjoys twists and turns in a story set in a foreign land. The Thief Lord delivers excitement, cultural authenticity, and a story of solid moral standards as a guiding factor in living, regardless of socioeconomic status.
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. This comparatively lightweight (in content, not ounces) romp has its moments, and the social joys of joining what promises to be a heavily hyped Reading Event may well carry the day.
Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2002 (Vol. 70, No. 15))
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.
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. The vocabulary is somewhat demanding, with Italian words thrown in for atmosphere, but some YAs will certainly enjoy this challenge.
· Students will locate Venice on a map or globe. Learn more about this unique city by visiting the city’s webpage at http://www.comune.venezia.it/flex/cm/pages/ServeBLOB.php/L/EN/IDPagina/1 . There students will view city maps, St. Mark’s Square, and images of gondoliers guiding their vaporettos through the narrow canals of the city. This site can be viewed in four languages (Italian, English, Romanian, and Ukrainian) for an interesting vocabulary comparison.
· Students will create a map of a city of their own creation, with at least one landform that plays a big part of the city arrangement, such as the canals of Venice. Map must have important locations marked, include a map legend, and have a title (original name.)
· Students will learn more about the greatest threat to modern Venice- it is sinking! Visit and discuss information at http://www.sciencenewsforkids.org/2012/04/the-sinking-city/
· Students will predict what might happen if the ocean levels around Venice continue to rise. Students will brainstorm possible solutions for this dilemma.
· Students will explore the gates around Venice, designed to control rising water, at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/venice/ Students will design a diagram that details how such a barrier system works.
· Students will read other books about or set in Venice. (see list of suggestions below) Students will write a paragraph summarizing each book they have read, and a persuasive paragraph convincing readers of which book was the best.
Olivia Goes to Venice by Ian Falconer
Zoe Sophia’s Scrapbook: an Adventure in Venice by Claudia Mauner and Elisa Smalley
Vendela in Venice by Christina Bjork
There’s a Dolphin in the Canal! by John Bemelmans Marciano
· Students will create a graphic organizer that displays similarities and differences between Venice and their own city.
· Students will write a new chapter for The Thief Lord, detailing another adventure involving at least three of the characters from the book.
· Students will write a letter to Aunt Esther, persuading her to adopt both Bo and Prosper.
Other Books by Cornelia Funke
▪ Ghosthunters and the Incredibly Revolting Ghost (1993)
▪ When Santa Fell To Earth (1994)
▪ Ghosthunters and the Gruesome Invincible Lightning Ghost! (1994)
▪ Ghosthunters and the Totally Moldy Baroness! (1995)
▪ Dragon Rider (1997)
▪ Igraine the Brave (1998)
▪ Ghosthunters and the Muddy Monster of Doom! (2001)
▪ Inkheart (2003)
▪ Inkspell (2005)
▪ Inkdeath (2007)
▪ Reckless (2010)
• Pirate Girl (1993)
• Princess Pigsty (1997)
• Princess Knight, the (2001)
• Wildest Brother, the (2004)
• Inkheart Trilogy