The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne (2006) is a historical fiction novel that interprets a young boy’s experiences during the Holocaust. After Bruno’s father is promoted to Commandant by the Fury, Bruno’s family is forced to leave Berlin and settle in a home known as Out-With. After arriving, Bruno notices a “town” nearby that exists behind a tall fence; what Bruno does not know, however, is that such a town is actually a Camp where those of Jewish descent are brought by soldiers such as his father. After exploring and meeting a young boy behind the fence, Shmuel, Bruno’s stay at Out-With seems to take a brighter turn. After over a year, Bruno’s curiosity and love for exploration drives him to spend a day with Shmuel behind the fence. In efforts to keep the ending a mystery, I will let readers discover the outcome on his or her own.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas can be classified as a historical fiction novel that portrays the events of the Holocaust during the 1930s and 1940s; this novel would also be considered multicultural. The book even states that The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a “fable” (Boyne, 2006). The events that occurred within the book, as well as the attitudes, were consistent and honest with the time period (Galda, Cullinan, & Sipe, 2010). The novel possessed quality literary elements, as the setting, plot, characters, theme, and style were clearly developed. The setting includes the 1930s/40s, Berlin, and Out-With. Boyne (2006) did a tremendous job of detailing the setting, allowing other readers and myself to visualize each event as it took place. The plot can be seen in the summary above, and includes problems, solutions, and conflicts. The book events also usually occur in sequence, with several flashbacks. The protagonist in the story is Bruno, who lives with his mother, father, and sister Gretel. The author also goes into detail with Bruno’s grandmother and grandfather, Lieutenant Kotler, Maria, Pavel, and Shmuel. The author even discusses and narrates for the Fury/Adolf Hitler, as well as Eva Braun. Boyne was able to capture unique values, feelings, and behavior for all of his characters. Boyne (2006) was able to make the characters come alive through his detailed descriptions of each character, both through direct statements and overall behavior/interactions. Personally, I feel that Boyne’s (2006) theme centers around the naivety of a young boy, and the ignorance, brainwashing, and evil that is occurring during the time period. Boyne writes the story in a third-person point-of-view, and is still able to capture the mind of a 9-year-old.
Though the book does not contain illustrations, the cover art is striped, like the striped pajamas, and the lettering of the title is a faded black. The cover may be quite simple, but one almost gets an eerie feeling when gazing at the book. The book has been made into a movie, and the film cover is displayed below.
IMDb: "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" (2008)
Though the book is written in a fictional manner, I feel that Boyne’s portrayal of the Holocaust, people’s conflicting values and attitudes, evil, and the destruction of families were exceptional. I loved the way that Bruno would dwell on certain instances, such as Maria packing his personal things, his sister being a Hopeless case, and his best friends from Berlin. I felt as though I knew Bruno throughout the story, and my heart was pounding as he entered the Concentration Camp with Shmuel. The friendship between the two boys was quite endearing, though ironic as it was also impossible. I also valued that Boyne was able to touch on so many emotions without details that may be considered gory or inappropriate for young readers.
John Boyne studied English Literature and creative writing as a college student (Boyne, 2010). When beginning his writing career, Boyne wrote many short stories, many of which were published. As discussed above, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas novel was later made into a film. The novel received many awards and was considered a bestseller. Boyne recently published a children’s book, The Terrible thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket, and will soon have an adult novel published, The House is Haunted, in April 2013.
Below are 2 motivational activities and reader response questions that would be beneficial for students within the classroom: (Both are considered 8th grade activities)
- The 1st activity would be a class discussion involving three terms: stereotype, prejudice, and discrimination. Stereotypes involve generalizing about people in a group, prejudice incorporates an attitude, and discrimination is the actual act or behavior one displays towards another. While reading the book, students are to mark (with sticky notes), examples of the 3 terms. The class will gather once again to discuss the examples and explain one’s rationale.
- The 2nd activity would involve a research project. Students would be given time to research the Stanley Milgram Experiment (McLeod, 2007). Basically, Milgram wanted to investigate the obedience Nazi soldiers displayed towards the Fury, and one’s personal conscience. Milgram also questioned if ordinary individuals were able to commit such atrocities due to commands from an authority figure. When ordinary people were asked to electrically shock another for giving wrong answers, would they obey orders? Check it out!
3 Reader Response Questions:
- Have you ever been in a position where someone was being mistreated? How did you react/handle the situation? Was one person acting from an authoritative position?
- Where might children learn about and develop stereotypes, prejudices, or the act of discrimination?
- Do you believe that all individuals are capable of mistreating others? What influences might there be?
Boyne, J. (2006). The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. New York, NY: Random House Inc.
Boyne, J. (2010). Biography: John Boyne. Retrieved from http://www.johnboyne.com/about/
Boyne, J. (2010). “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”. [online image]. Retrieved from
Galda, L., Cullinan, B.E., & Sipe, L. R. (2010). Literature and the Child (7th ed.). Belmont, CA:
IMDb. (2008). “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”. [online image]. Retrieved from
McLeod, S. (2007). The Milgram Experiment. Retrieved from