Hanging at Out-with

John Boyne. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. New York: Random House Children's Books, 2006.

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas tells a fictional perspective from a young boy's point of view on the Holocaust. The novel is written so cleverly, that it sparks curiosity on part of the reader to figure out who's who in the text as well as the historical places referred to, without Boyne bluntly naming much.

The main character Bruno, the son of a high-ranking German Commander, has moved with his family from Berlin to "Out-with." Boyne writes the novel from Bruno's naive, childish voice forcing the reader to fill in context clues about people and locations. An example of this is Bruno's pronunciation of "Out-with," which is actually Auschwitz. Once in Auschwitz, Bruno becomes curious about the mass amount of people on the other side of the fence and he can't grasp why he's not allowed to visit and why he can't wear striped pajamas too. His incessant curiosity is what leads him to meeting Shmuel, a Jewish boy in the camp who has the same exact birthday as Bruno.

The friendship develops beyond the years of two nine-year old boys and they sit, each on one side of the fence, and talk about what life is like for both of them. The perspective Boyne gives for Bruno is one that most readers of historical Holocaust fiction or nonfiction haven't heard yet: a naive, yet friendly and passionate boy from the Nazi German side of the fence, relating to another boy on the Jewish camp side of the fence.

Although being able to see this relationship blossom, it can be a growing experience for the reader. There are a few noted downfalls that should not be ignored when reading through the eyes of Bruno. The likelihood of the son of a high ranking Nazi Officer being so ignorant about German relations at a time when indoctrination of youth was a high priority is very slim and unrealistic. For a boy of nine to simply know Hitler as the "Fury" as opposed to the Fuhrer, the book causes a level of naivety and ignorance in the readers that can only be matched by Boyne's character of Bruno. If the story had been nonfictional, not only would he be aware of the true name of Hitler, he would most likely follow suit with his father's opinion about Hitler and the war. This story is a strong tale of oppression and discrimination, but historical accuracy is not one of the leading characteristics, causing a need for the reader to approach with a cautious historical lens.

Recommendations for Teachers
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is an excellent choice for teachers, as it covers a good deal of ground that is useful to share with younger readers. The text is easy to read and the language is fairly simple, so there is a lot of room for teachers to focus on the actual literature when teaching it. The book tells a grim tale through the eyes of innocence, and for young readers who may or may not know much about the tragedy of the Holocaust, this book does a great job of filling in those gaps. In addition to the book's historical value, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas also features themes of friendship and cultural tolerance, both of which are strong messages to pass on to students.

Teaching this book can be approached in a variety of ways, but the most effect of those would likely include prior readings of World War II era literature, and especially those pieces involving the Holocaust itself (such as The Diary of Anne Frank). Pairing this novel with other Holocaust works is recommended, although a brief history mini-lesson prior to assigning reading would suffice. This novel falls well into conceptual units based on either the time period or on tolerance, so there are many times when teachers can make use of the powerful story that Boyne has written.

Due to the simple nature of the language and sometimes flat characters, this book would best be taught at a younger grade level, perhaps in the middle school range of 6-8. Although I feel it could be used in a higher grade level classroom with much diligence to make the students interested, in many cases this attempt would be futile and many students would find themselves not challenged by the language of Boyne.

About John Boyne


John Boyne is an Irish author, born in Dublin in 1971. He studied English Literature at Dublin's Trinity College and was in the MA program for creative writing at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, where he won the Curtis Brown Prize for his prose fiction. In addition to his nine novels (the tenth is to be published in May 2011), he has written approximately 70 published short stories. His novel for younger readers, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, was made into a major motion picture by Miramax and released in September, 2008. The novel won several awards, including two Irish Book Awards, and reached the top of the New York Times Bestseller List. Boyne's novels have been translated into 42 languages.
All information about the author taken from his official site.


Below is the trailer for the film version of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

Below is the documentary "Paper Clips" about the students in a Whitwell, Tennessee middle school who started collecting one paper clip for every Jew killed in the Holocaust. The film is quite good, and is very appropriate for middle and high school students.

Below is a video made from still pictures of a child inmate Czeslawa Kwoka #26947 of the German Auschwitz camp.

Additional Resources:

--Kyle Deuling, Mariah Price, Chris Jobin, Kelly Cleypool, and Maya Soter