‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ written by John Boyne tells a story set during the Second World War at the time of the Holocaust. This story is told through the voice of a child. This child is Bruno; he is nine years old. Bruno returns home from school one day to discover that his belongings are packed up ready to be moved. This is due to his father receiving a promotion; the family must move from their home where Bruno’s best friends are to unfamiliar surroundings in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do. His father works for the Nazi army and is an important military man who is very strict. Bruno does his best to please his father. Bruno is surrounded by his father’s soldiers, including one particularly menacing lieutenant named Kotler. There is also a cook, who is a doctor, which does not make sense to Bruno. Bruno is confused about what is going on. Why do things feel so different for Bruno?
Bruno does not like the new house which he calls ‘Out With’ and can’t understand why they have moved there. He eventually discovers that his house is in Poland not Germany. He misses his friends back in Berlin and his grandparents. Out of his bedroom window, he sees a tall fence, topped with bales of razor wire, running as far as the eye can see with huddled groups of men and boys beyond. Bruno is curious and it is along this fence that he meets Shmuel. He is eager to know why everyone on the other side wears striped pyjamas. Shmuel tells Bruno that everyone on his side of the fence is a Jew and that the soldiers hate them, but Bruno cannot understand this and is sure his father wouldn’t hate anyone. They share a birthday and become good friends, however it is a friendship that has an extremely sad ending. Bruno decides to go under the fence to be with Shmuel. What will happen when Bruno crosses the fence? Will he ever return home safely with his family again?
This book is a powerful story and a brilliant book. It is completely told through the eyes of a young boy set in 1943. It is about a sheltered child unaware of Auschwitz and the fate of the Jews who were sent there. However, I do feel it would only be suitable for Year 6 due to the content and issues raised within the text. In fact, I know that this text is often used in KS3. However, this is an ideal book, which can be used in Year 6 especially if children are studying World War Two as it is about the Holocaust. This book can help stimulate many activities:
- With the issues raised in the book, it provides great discussions that could be used for PSHE with a historical link. Were Jews treated fairly? The story of Anne Frank could also be introduced alongside this book.
- Hot seating. Both Bruno and Shmuel could be hot seated to give children the opportunity to ask them questions, giving an added stimulus before writing, enabling children to empathise with both characters.
- Diary entry. This could be done from both Bruno and Shmuel’s perspective, for example when Bruno meets Shmuel for the first time and when Shmuel meets Bruno for the first time.
- Letter writing. Children could write a letter from Bruno to his friends back in Berlin about his new life and house and most importantly his new friend Shmuel.
- Debate and discussion. A debate and discussion could take place due to the issues raised about the treatment of the Jews. Similarities and differences could be discussed between the main characters.
- Conscience alley. Should Bruno go across the fence? Why should Bruno go across the fence? Why shouldn’t Bruno go across the fence? This will give children an opportunity to reflect in detail on the underlying issues and dilemmas of the character at a particular point.
- It can be used a class read to support the history topic of World War 2.
‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ is a book that I really enjoyed and raises so many issues that can lead to a wide range of cross-curricular activities. I particularly liked the way I had to do a lot of thinking whilst reading the book – especially working out who was who and what was going on. Year 6 at Anton have really enjoyed reading this book and I would definitely recommend this book to other Year 6 teachers but be prepared for a sad ending and definitely read the book first before reading it to children.