The Boy in the Striped Pajamas has been on my very long “too read” list for a least a decade. My son is Kile reading it in 7th grade this year so I decided it was time for me to read it as well. Although Kile is now annoyed at me for finishing it before the class and says I’m not allowed to tell him the ending! I’m patiently waiting for them to finish it so that we can discuss it.
Bruno is a nine-year-old boy living in Berlin Germany during World War II. He loves his house, his friends, his family, especially his Grandmother who makes him costumes and helps him to put on skits during special family events. His world is turned upside down when the “Fury” (Fuhrer) visits his home for his dinner and his father is promoted to be the Commandant of “Out-With” (Auschwitz). The family moves to Poland. Bruno misses his friends, old home, and grandparents until he meets a mysterious boy in striped pajamas who lives on the other side of the fence by his home. Who is this boy and why can’t they play together?
I thought the novel had many good points to think on. Some of which I’ve detailed below in the spoiler section as they involve the ending of the book. One major theme to me was Bruno’s innocence. He was just trying to live his childhood and seemed to miss all signs of WWII. I enjoyed the reader’s guide at the end of the novel that described the author’s choice to make Bruno an innocent like in a fairy tale or fable. And he also describes all of the people who had “no idea” the Holocaust was happening all around them. I have always had a problem with that. I really don’t understand how you wouldn’t notice. I do think the juxtaposition of the extreme innocence versus the truly evil works quite well in this story, although I will admit that Bruno seemed much too innocent to me. My 10-year old son and eight -year old daughter would have asked questions and figured things out.
I think this is an interesting book to introduce middle school kids to historical fiction and should prompt good discussion. It does not give explicit details, but the ending is horrifying. I think 7th grade is a good age for it. I do hope they read Anne Frank’s Diary someday as I really think that non-fiction diary really gives the best account of what the Holocaust was really like for a teenager.
I picked this book for the April Rogue (aka FLICKS Book and Movie Club) Book Club for the pure fact that I had it, wanted to read it, and it was very short. We only had two weeks to go until our meeting so this met the criteria. It also helps that the movie version is on Netflix. Our meeting is tomorrow night. Hopefully this book/movie combination sparks a good discussion.
I liked that in the end, Bruno and Shmuel had each other and were not alone. I thought it was very touching as they held hands in the gas chamber. I was torn in my feelings for Bruno’s Dad. On one hand, I felt really sorry for him as a parent wondering what happened to his child. On the other hand, he was the commander in charge that killed many people and many innocent children. Was it a sort of brutal justice for his child to be one of those lost in the gas chamber?
The other mystery to me in the novel was what happened to Lieutenant Kotler? After the mention of his father being a professor that ran away to Switzerland, the Lieutenant himself disappeared. Did anyone else find his relationship with Bruno’s mother strange? Bruno’s sister had a crush on him, but did his mother as well? Is that part of why he disappeared? Am I reading too much into this for a children’s novel?
“You wear the right outfit and you feel like the person you’re pretending to be.”
Overall, the Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a good fable to juxtapose innocence with evil in Hitler’s Germany as seen through a child’s eyes.
Book Source: Kewaunee Public Library