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"And one final thought came into her brother's head as he watched the hundreds of people in the distance going about their business, and thatwas the fact that all of them - the small boys, the big boys, the uncles, the people who lived ontheir own on everybody's road but didn't seemsto have any relatives at all - were wearing the same clothes as each other: a pair of grey striped pajamas with a grey striped cap on their heads. 'How
extraordinary,' he muttered before turning away..."


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


Summary and Review


"So we’re here at Out-With because someone said out with the people before us?"



The Boy with the Striped Pajamas depicts the harrowing tale of Bruno, son of a Nazi Commandant, and his face-to-face encounter with the realities of the Holocaust. Bruno's story begins when, at nine year's old, he find's himself suddenly forced to move away from the home that he loves for the sake of his father's job. It becomes clear quite quickly that Bruno is never really sure what this job entails, that no one should ever interrupt his mother, and that his sister is absolutely a Hopeless Case. For the majority of the first half the story, Bruno guides the reader through his sheltered world, relating childhood memories that include his grandmother's plays, his best friends for life, his parents' arguments, his father's Out Of Bounds At All Times office, and the time Hitler came to dinner. Thus, upon his family's arrival at Out-With, the reader is immediately aware of the stark contrast of Bruno's previous life and the life he must live well into the foreseeable future. To young Bruno, who is used to living in pampered luxury, Out-With is terrible. Although he misses the banister and the hidden nooks of the house in Berlin, what proves truly trying for Bruno is the lack of playmates. It is not until he looks out his bedroom window and sees all the people, the men and boys in striped pajamas, that he regains his keen sense of adventure and begins to explore the realities of this new world.

"We should never have let the Fury come to dinner."


Though often criticized for its unrealistic depictions, historical inaccuracy, and a simplistic writing style, this book may prove a valuable tool to English teachers in a variety of settings. Although it is unlikely that the basic plot of the story resembles any true occurrences, the story is rooted in well-recognized historical details. These details allow the story to occur in a perceivable setting and offer a door through which readers may access connections between literature and social sciences. Its seemingly simple language enhances the voice and innocence of the protagonist and elicits recognition of the author's clever use of characterization and word play. About the writing of the novel, John Boyne reveals his main focus was "to uncover as much emotional truth within that desperate landscape as he possibly [could]." This "emotional truth," combined with literature-to-history connections and a variety of literary devices and techniques, makes this book a rare gem able to be used in a variety of classrooms for many different purposes.

"'Ah, those people,' said Father,nodding his head and smiling slightly. 'Those people... well, they're not people at all, Bruno.'"

Written from the perspective of nine-year-old Bruno, The Boy in Stripped Pajamas is a suitable fable for multiple literacy levels within the secondary level classroom. Boyne explains the necessity of Bruno's naive perspective; while writing the story, he "believed the only respectful way for [him] to deal with this subject was through the eyes of a child." This entering of the story world through the Bruno's eyes naturally results in simplified language, allowing access to younger grade levels--about 5th to 9th grade--based on ease of reading. Although older students may at first find the book seemingly below their reading abilities, the content of the story and intricate use and layering of countless language devices, the book may prove itself appropriate for use in all high school classrooms. An important aspect of the book that teachers may find beneficial is its profound presentation of the Holocaust in a way not overly explicit. Because Bruno's experiences and understandings guide the plot, many potentially gruesome scenes are shrouded in an innocent light. Therefore, it is a good book for teachers who are looking to introduce the subject while taking into account the varying levels of prior knowledge and sensitivities. The novel exists in some ways as a fable--allowing for the author's fictitious characters and events--yet the drama unfolds within real-life historical context of the Holocaust. This combination allows both Boyne and his readers to explore the gripping "emotional truth" of the Holocaust while addressing various themes beyond those rooted in genocide and war.

"You wear the right outfit and you feel like the person you're pretending to be, she always told me."

The unique ingredients of this book, those which separate it from many other Holocaust works, are the captivating main themes: innocence, friendship, and the natural need to explore. Teachers have the extraordinary opportunity to address universal questions while confronted with the depth and complexity of the topic. Teachers may introduce connections between the story and day-to-day life by asking questions about these diverse themes: Why are two boys able to reach beyond their barriers, to befriend one another, while everyone else is consumed by belonging to their own side of the fence? How does naivety not only affect Bruno, but all the characters? Themes that do correlate directly to the events of the Holocaust--apathy, prejudice, discrimination, dangers of nativity, cruelty, power, and allegiance--can be useful in sparking lively debates about the influence of the Holocaust and it's relevance both then and now. In addition to theme, the characters also provide a key topic of analysis: How do the individual characters and their relationships provide depth and meaning to the work as a whole? How do apathy and "naivety" of the characters help perpetuate the humanitarian crimes of World War II? These various literary aspects of the novel contribute to its value and usefulness as a learning tool within the classroom.

"He thought that all the boys and girls who lived there would be in different groups, playing tennis or football, skipping and drawing out squares for hopscotch on the ground... As it turned out, all the things he thought might be there - weren't."

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About John Boyne

John Boyne, an Irish author, was born in 1971. He studied at both Trinity College in Dublin and The University of East Anglia. He has written several short stories and has had nine books published. Of his books, two have especially caught the attention of headlines and literature fans alike: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and Noah Barleywater Runs Away. Although they carry the weight of more serious issues, they are targeted towards younger audiences. Now an award winning film, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas has also been adapted to screenplay by Miramax.

In an interview with David Fickling, the editor and publisher of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne explains his inspiration for creating the book. The idea began as a vision of two boys separated by a fence. Each of them, taken from their homes, displayed shocking innocence and naivety in a time of unsurpassed darkness. In the interview, Boyne declares that naivety and complacency were two of the main reasons the Holocaust occurred. Thus, one of Boyne's main reasons for creating the book was to raise awareness of genocides, other crimes against humanity, and the desperate need for someone to step up to stop those that continue today. We cannot simply sit back, waiting to act until the flame has already raged far beyond control. He hoped that The Boy in the Striped Pajamas would not only help readers to see this but would also raise awareness to the dangers of complacency and its impact in each of our lives.

Recommendations for Teachers

With its various thematic and contextual elements, the versatility of its potential audience, and the controversial nature of the plot, there are many ways to go about teaching The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. A good place to start might be looking at the discussion questions included after the end of the original text. While these might not be the exact things you want students to discuss, they can serve as a productive resource for you to use in order to come up with different assessments and evaluations. For instance, you may want to have students form small discussion groups and talk about whether they can relate to Bruno, Shmuel, or Gretel and why they feel that way. Maybe there are students who have been forced to move in their past. As a result, they can draw upon those experience from their real life and give the other students some personal insight into what Bruno was feeling when he had to leave Berlin.

Another way to approach this book is from a visual dimension. There are many parts of this story with great potential to paint vivid images in readers' minds. Using Symbolic Story Representations (SRI), students can acces the creative side of their world and physically show you what they are thinking or seeing as they read the pages. They can create different cutouts to symbolize the various characters or places and anything else they feel ought to be depicted, providing you with a good understanding of their comprehension and reading process. In some cases, SRI may give you an idea of something else that needs to be given more attention during their reading. You could also provide an opportunity for students to illustrate pictures of what they are seeing while they read. A specific point at which this might be particularly useful is Bruno's arrival at Out-With. Have students consider how it differs from the house in Berlin. As they do so, pay attention to how students set up this house and its surroundings. Do they use color or black and white? Do they include trees or do they provide a desolate and empty surrounding? To add addition visual aid, break the reading into sections. After students have the chance to illustrate their reading for a few chapters, show them those sections of the film and ask them why they thought the director would have depicted those scenes in that particular way.

You may find that in addition to tools such as SRI, illustrations, and film adaptations, connecting the novel to other books or resources related by context or theme may also be useful. In regards to The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, consider having some or all students also read Maus, a Pulitzer prize winning graphic novel depiction of the Holocaust from author and illustrator Art Spiegelman.

Giving the students different options when it comes to the assignments they will complete can make any literary experience more exciting and engaging. This will not only benefit them, but you as well!

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Additional Resources
1. Lesson plans that can be used while teaching the novel to your students.
2. Brief summary of the novel with information about the author, critiques of the book, and also book club discussion questions.
3. Author's site, contaning biographical information as well as other novels written.
4. Wikipedia page providing information abuot John Boyne: novels written, education, and also awards won.
5. Website containing all important information concerning the movie adaptation.
6. Wikipedia page covering the novel, including character list, plot and even some controversy that the novel has caused.
7. Internet guide to Holocaust literature for teachers to use. Gives personal stories and details that may prove useful.
8. Reviews and discussions of the novel and how it was written.
9. Website containing an interview with author John Boyne and also a review of the novel.
10. Discussion board to ask and answer questions about the novel.

--Anne Giocondini, Nikki Reed, Allen Meyer, Heather Thompson