• Cease and desist! A letter from Massachusetts Governor William Phips dated 1692 ends the Salem Witch Trials. Read The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare.
  • In 1792, the first Columbus Day celebration in the United States of America is held in New York. One hundred years later in 1892, the Pledge of Allegiance is first recited by public school students to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus's voyage and arrival to what was considered by Europeans to be “The New World.”
  • “Executive Mansion” is a mouthful! President Theodore Roosevelt renames his home “The White House” in 1901. Read Our White House: Looking Out, Looking In created by the N.C.B.L.A.
  • In 1999, the six billionth living human is born, and thus it’s proclaimed The Day of Six Billion. The current estimates of human population (as of this writing) are just under seven billion. Read People by Peter Spier.
  • It’s Old Farmer's Day, honoring the agricultural efforts of farmers of old. Read Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder, illustrated by Garth Williams.

On October 12, 1797, Napoleon signed the Treaty of Campo Formio, handing Venice over to Austria. In one of the best children’s books of the last decade, the city of Venice comes so alive that it almost seems like a character itself.

In the The Thief Lord, the first novel by German author Cornelia Funke translated into English, the canals, the streets, the abandoned buildings, and the small islands outside of Venice provide an amazing setting for a gripping novel. After his mother dies, twelve-year-old Prosper’s aunt wants to separate him from his brother, and so Prosper runs away to Venice with five-year-old Bo. Fortunately in Venice they find other children supporting themselves—a girl named Hornet, Mosca, and Riccio—who live in an abandoned movie theater. These children get taken care of by the mysterious Thief Lord, a fifteen-year-old boy named Scipio, who shows up with items that they can hock for food and clothing.

However unconventional this arrangement, it works quite well for all the children. But Prosper’s aunt and uncle trace the boys to Venice and hire a detective to find them. As the boys try to escape this man, they get swept up in another mystery—finding a missing part for a magical merry-go-round that can turn a child into an adult and an adult into a child. Conte Renzo hires the Thief Lord and his band to locate the missing wing that will restore this carousel to its original glory. In an unforgettable chapter, some of the characters mount the wooden animals to test whether the legend of the merry-go-round is true.

These Dickensian characters inhabit the city of Venice; they go on moonlit rides in its canals and explore its abandoned and decaying properties. Strong brotherly loyalty, a community of children who take care of each other, a fast-paced plot, eccentric adult characters, and the city of Venice all weave together in The Thief Lord for an unforgettable reading experience. Teachers have used this book successfully as a read-aloud for third through sixth grades; readers ages ten to adult have loved it for independent reading. Fortunately, many other books by Cornelia Funke have now appeared in English (Inkheart, Dragon Rider), making her one of the few children’s writers in translation to appear on the New York Times bestseller lists for children.

So before you go to Venice, or if you just want to be in Venice for three hundred some pages, pick up The Thief Lord. You will find it hard to put down.

Here’s a passage from The Thief Lord:

The merry-go-round looked exactly as Ida Spavento had described it. Prosper may have imagine it a bit more colorful and magnificent—the paint had long faded, worn off by the wind, the rain, and the salty air—but all this could not diminish the magic and gracefulness of its figures.

All five of them were there: the unicorn, the mermaid, the merman, the sea horse, and the lion, who now spread both his wings as if he’d never lost one. They each hung on their pole beneath the wooden canopy, and seemed to float. The merman held his trident in his wooden fist, the mermaid looked into the distance out of pale green eyes, dreaming of the waters of the open sea. The sea horse with its fish tail was so beautiful, it made you forget that there were horses with four legs at all.

“Was it always here?” Scipio asked. He approached the merry-go-round cautiously.

“As long as I can remember,” Renzo answered.


Originally posted October 12, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Geography, History
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The Thief Lord


  1. Bookjeannie says:

    I remember being completely captivated by this book and her writing. Love all of her books!

  2. One of my favorite books to share with my fifth graders. Beautifully written and great to read aloud!

  3. Anita says:

    Natalia and Bookjeannie: Thanks for your comments. This is truly one of the great read alouds — along with her Inkheart series.

  4. Melissa says:

    Love this book! Read it so much with students that my copy of it starting falling apart!

  5. Anita says:

    Melissa: Thanks for the feedback.

  6. Rachel Ernst says:

    I’ve read this aloud to classes for the last 5 years. It’s always a favorite. As a reader, every time I read it, I see new shades of character or a different perspective.
    It was a highlight last year to visit Venice and see all the places in the book!

  7. Jose Antonio says:

    One of those books that you should add to your collection.

  8. G. Perry says:

    OK. I’m hooked. I have it ordered from the library.

  9. suzi w. says:

    Love love Venice. So I’m off to the shelf to find this book. I might have read it earlier if someone had said it was about Venice. I was there when I was 20. (Ack, 20 years ago!!)

  10. Sherry says:

    This was the first YA book I read as an adult. I loved it.

  11. Eliza says:

    I love this book but then I’m obsessed with all things Venice. However, I don’t think it’s just my love of Venice that colors my opinion of this book since I’ve given it to many kids as a present and they’ve all loved it. It’s a wonderful tale of friendship and family – both by blood and found.

    Cornelia Funke is a talented, creative writer. I’m so glad that Chicken House Publishing bought and translated her works into English. Cheers to independent publishing houses willing to take risks.

  12. I remember the day I bought this book at the bookstore. I loved it so much, and for some reason, have such a vivid memory of selecting it from the shelf. This post has made me want to read it again!

  13. Sharon lawler says:

    I read this many years ago and remembered the plot but not the title. Thank you for discussing it today!

Leave a Comment

Daily children’s book recommendations and events from Anita Silvey.

Discover the stories behind the children’s book classics . . .

The new books on their way to becoming classics . . .

And events from the world of children’s books—and the world at large.