But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different from his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.
Why I liked it: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a book I wish I had read before seeing the movie. While I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, there's no question that the book is better. It's told using a third person limited narrator, and focuses on Bruno, a young German boy growing up during World War II. Although the novel is fictional, it presents a child's perspective of the choices one family makes during a terrible time in history.
The relationships between the family members (and a few of their employees) are complex and well-developed. Bruno's father, a Nazi officer is assigned to oversee a concentration camp, which the reader gradually realizes is Auschwitz, despite Bruno's repeated mispronunciation. His father expects both Bruno and his older sister to act mature beyond their years, but also tries to shelter them from the ugly truths surrounding them. Bruno, his sister, and his mother all struggle with the isolation of their new home. Bruno's interpretations and misunderstandings of events are most convincing and consequently heartbreaking.
Classroom application: The novel would be an excellent addition to Holocaust themed literature circles or book clubs, especially for middle school grades because of of the lack of violence and brutality present in so many texts on the topic. After reading, students could do a comparison of the novel and the movie (it is rated PG-13, but for mature themes related to the Holocaust; IMDb has a thorough explanation).
The novel could also be used as a mentor text for students to write about other historical events from a child's perspective. Have students select a historical event and determine the age of their main character. Students would then determine what facts about the event a child that age would know and understand, what information he or she might know and misunderstand, and what information would be hidden from him or her because of their age. Students would have to decide how their character would explain unknowns to himself or herself (i.e. Bruno decides that the prisoners' uniforms must be pajamas). Depending on the historical even selected, students might be able to find journals or other first hand accounts from children to help them shape their narratives.
For more reading suggestions for students and teachers:
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