Death returns to the first, "white" scene of the train in the snow. A woman is taking her children (one girl and one boy) to be handed over to foster parents. On the train the little boy, whose name is Werner, coughs intensely and suddenly dies. Death appears and sees that no one has noticed except for the girl, Werner's older sister, whose name is Liesel Meminger.
The narrative begins more traditionally now, but the reader already has more knowledge than the characters. Zusak uses this kind of dramatic irony often – especially comparing Death's situational knowledge with that of the protagonist, nine-year-old Liesel. The story begins with a death.
Liesel had been asleep and dreaming about the Führer, Adolf Hitler, giving a speech with words that "glowed in the light." Liesel greets him like a friend, but then she wakes up and sees Death as he takes her brother's soul. The train stops and Liesel and her mother carry Werner's body outside into the snow, but then the guards make them get back on the train. The guards drop the family off at the next township.
Hitler is introduced as a master of words. He has not yet become an antagonist to Liesel, but the reader knows what is coming. The story starts dramatically, and it is clear something is very wrong in this family, but Death gives no details yet.
Two days later two gravediggers bury Werner as Liesel and her mother watch. The younger gravedigger accidentally drops a book from his coat pocket into the snow. After the ceremony Liesel starts to dig frantically through the snow for her brother, still in shock that he is dead. Her fingers start to bleed and her mother drags her away. Once she calms down Liesel sees the little black book, and she takes it. She and her mother leave the cemetery.
Liesel's first book stealing, though she doesn't know how to read yet. Her illiteracy is a form of powerlessness, as the story reveals later. This scene establishes the importance of books as objects, even apart from the words within them. The morbid, dramatic opening scene continues – Liesel has a lot to deal with already.
Death continues to narrate, though he is no longer an eyewitness. Liesel and her mother board a train to Munich, where Liesel is going to be handed over to foster parents because her mother cannot provide for her anymore. Death is amazed that the woman could experience something so horrible as the death of her child and still keep on living.
Death establishes himself as an omniscient narrator even apart from the scenes he has witnessed. Death begins his musings on the inherent contradictions of humans. The greatest mystery for him seems to be how they can keep on living in the face of despair.
They arrive in Munich and Liesel's mother has to explain to the authorities why Werner isn't there. She says goodbye to Liesel and Liesel is taken to a town called Molching, on the outskirts of Munich. Liesel has her first car ride as the foster care lady takes her to Himmel Street, where her new family, the Hubermanns, live. "Himmel" means "heaven" in German. Death muses over the irony of this, as Himmel Street is in a poor, shabby part of town.
Molching is a fictional town. Death's musing on the name "Himmel Street" will begin a recurring them of introducing and defining German words outside of the narrative. This serves as another reminder of the overarching theme of the power of words. Things look bleak for Liesel's beginnings.
They arrive at Himmel Street and the Hubermanns appear. Hans Hubermann is tall and Rosa Hubermann is short and round with an angry face. Liesel refuses to leave the car. People on the street start to gather around until Rosa curses at them. Hans smokes a cigarette quietly and finally persuades Liesel to come inside.
The introduction of two main characters. From the start Rosa is seen as loud and angry, while Hans immediately knows the right thing to do or say to win Liesel's trust. His quiet strength will be a positive force in Liesel's life.
Liesel carries in her suitcase, which contains the book that she took from the cemetery, the first conquest in her career as "book thief." The book is called The Grave Digger's Handbook: A Twelve-Step Guide to Grave-Digging Success.
The book's title seems ironic considering the narrator and opening scene. It is also the title of this section of the novel – which is in many ways about Liesel dealing with her brother's death.