The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: A Touching Story of Childhood Innocence and Friendship

John Boyne. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. New York: Ember, 2006.

Imagine that you are a nine-year-old boy named Bruno and you live in Berlin during World War II. You have no idea what your father does for a living except that the Fury has great plans in mind for him. You are happy in Berlin. You have a huge house to play exploration in and you have three best friends. The only thing that seems to dampen your mood is your “hopeless case” of a sister named Gretel. In addition, things have been changing since the war. For example, everyone has to shut the lights off earlier at night and sometimes sirens go off in your neighborhood. However, this change is nothing compared to the change that your parents have in store for you. You have no choice, you have to leave everything behind and you have to move because the Fury has a new job in mind for your father. Your parents have shielded you well from the war and its horrors. For instance, you have no idea that the reason your father is leaving is because the Fury put him in charge of running the Auschwitz concentration camp. In fact, you actually believe your new home is called “Out-With” and you are extremely jealous that there are a bunch of boys on the other side of the fence that you are not allowed to play with. Due to your ignorance you go exploring and along this fence you find your new best friend Shumel. You know little about Shumel’s heritage but eventually you learn that you are not supposed to be friends at all.In fact, Shumel tells you things that you have never heard before. He tells you unpleasant things about your motherland. In response you choose to change topics because you don’t want to fight Shumel. Despite the danger, you decide to meet in secrecy because you don’t want to loose the only friend you have at “Out-With”.

The Boy in Striped Pajamas is a touching story about a child’s innocence and ability to love in a culture driven by hate and pain. Bruno’s parents’ attempt to protect him from the unsavory elements of war left him innocent. He is unaware of the tense relationship that Germany had with the Jewish people. In fact, Bruno, the son of one of the Fury’s commandants, says to Shumel, his beloved Jewish friend, “We’re not supposed to be friends, you and me. We’re meant to be enemies. Did you know that?” His innocence gave him the ability to love Shumel, one of the people that his father said, “are not people at all”. In this novel we learn about both sides of the holocaust through the eyes of a German child and through the voice of a Jewish youth. We learn that, Bruno was raised to believe that his father did great things and that his motherland and culture are superior.
Despite these beliefs Bruno accepts and loves Shumel for who he is, regardless of what race or religion he is. Through the eyes of Bruno the audience experience the strength of a child’s love as it shatters the barrier of hate between two cultures and melds it together with friendship and love.

In addition, despite its historical connotations, The Boy in Striped Pajamas is a suitable book for youth because the main character goes through a various amount of realistic struggles that young adults can relate to. For instance, he, like many youth in this day and age, experiences the frustration of moving away from his friends and cherished home. This tale is about hardship, change and friendship. These three elements are commonly found within a youth’s life, especially in the age of adolescence. John Boynehas an ability to give the reader just enough that he or she has to keep coming back for more. If you are interested in stepping into another’s world and learning things from a new perspective this is the book for you.

Teacher resources:

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas could be used in multiple ways in and English or combined English and history classroom.

For an English class:
In-class reading- This book can easily be read in class. This has multiple advantages. With in class reading, the teacher has more control over how quickly the class gets through the material, and ensures that the students are in fact reading the story. Also, reading in class gives students the opportunity to ask questions as they develop, rather than having to remember questions for the teacher the next day after reading for homework. Lastly, reading in class gives chance for discussion breaks while reading. Students and teacher can have a fruitful discussion while the material is fresh with the students. This book contains many serious and challenging topics, and reading through the story together can provide support for the students and give them the opportunity to share their struggles.

Character perspective writing- Students can be instructed to choose a character, and compose a letter, journal (individual entry or a whole series of entries), or monologue written in that character’s voice and perspective. This should focus on capturing the character’s personality, viewpoint, and voice. This activity allows students to consider the character more intensely. Through this, the students can explore the character’s true attitude, feelings and thoughts that are not openly stated in the text. These written pieces can be shared with partners, a group or the whole class- this lets students see how other readers have interpreted the same text in various ways.

Support ratings- For this activity, students can work in groups. After the day’s reading assignment is completed (as homework or in class) students work in groups to give characters a rating for their support of “The Fury”, which the reader understands to be the Nazi party. Students can go one step further by creating two ratings for each character, one rating for their outward support and one for their true internal feelings. It is notable throughout the book that some characters have wavering or false loyalty to the Nazi party; this activity allows students to create a visual representation of the characters and their unspoken feelings.

For a history/English class:
Relation to WWII history lessons- This book contains a multitude of historical elements of WWII and the Nazi party. Reading this book in a combined English and history class can give a personal component to the fact based information taught. The same activities from above could be used, but another option for a history course would be reading journals in which students write about the elements of the book that relate to or mention information taught in their history lessons.

About John Boyne:

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John Boyne, an Irish author, was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1971. He studied English literature at Trinity College in Dublin and later studied Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, Norwich.
He began his writing as a prolific author of short stories. He is the author of over 70 short stories/essays.
In 2006, Boyne’s published his novel, The Boy With the Striped Pyjamas. It has sold more than 5 million copies worldwide.
Boyne has received numerous awards included two Irish Book Awards, a Bistro Book of the Year Award, and is a New York Times Bestseller. His books have been translated into more than 45 different languages worldwide.
According to his website,, Boyne has a new novel called The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket , expected out in August 2012.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - Official Trailer 2008 HD

Interview with John Boyne and Mark Herman (director of the movie)

Additional Resources:
  • John Boyne's Home Page - Check out the author's official site where you can contact him, check out his FAQs, and learn about his other books and movies.
  • Follow John Boyne on Twitter - John updates frequently, keep up with him on his book tour(s)!
  • Teachers Resource - A free book for educators on how to introduce the Holocaust to students. Dist. by The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
  • Facing History and Ourselves - A free online resource to help bridge the gap between the Holocaust and racism, antisemitism and prejudice in the present.
  • Film Education - Free educational resource for using the film in the classroom.
  • Kids Book Review - The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas reviewed by kids! Website also includes interviews with authors by kids!
  • Wikipedia - Information about the book, links to the author and film Wikipedia pages.
  • Controversy - An article weighing the pros and cons of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas from
  • Interview with the movie cast - Learn how the cast had to adapt to their film roles.
  • More historical fiction novels - Arranged by time and place, the best place to find books that teach history through fictional re-tellings.
  • - Find info on The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, more about John Boyne and his other work, sign up for free book recommendations, rate books you've read and make a books-to-read-wishlist!

Video Links:
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas - Official Trailer 2008 HD
Mark Herman/John Boyne Interview

Image of the Book

-Laura Brower
-Patrick Brown
-Carly Seyferth
-Melissa Van Zee