Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne
ISBN: 9780198326762
Oxford University Press, 2007
224 p.

Plot Summary: Bruno is a 9 year old boy whose father is a German officer during World War II. He is quite upset when he finds out that his family must pick up and move from Berlin to "Out-with" or Auschwitz for his father's job. Bruno finds his new surroundings dull and depressing, with no other children to play with. In his observations, he sees that there is a fence with many children and others near his house whose residents wear striped pajamas. Bruno ventures along the fence and meets Schmuel, a Jewish boy who is imprisoned in the camp. Bruno and Schmuel exchange many conversations until one day Schmuel's father is missing. Bruno decides to don some striped pajamas and sneak under the fence to help Schmuel find his father.

Critical Analysis: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is told from a 9 year old's perspective for good reason. Boyne expresses in the afterword that trying to imagine the pain and suffering of the Holocaust with no primary knowledge or experience can seem disrespectful, so he thought the innocent observations of an adventuring German boy could help avoid that. This is much like Spiegelman's Maus, in which mice represent Jews and cats represent Germans to help portray the horrors of the Holocaust in a less jarring manner.

It takes much writing talent to pull off an entire narrative from the mind of a 9 year old, but Boyne for the most part succeeded. Bruno's naivete can sometimes prove irritating, especially when he gets hungry on the way to meeting his ever skinnier friend Schmuel. Boyne never out and out says what is happening, he instead allows the reader to infer that "Out-with" means Auschwitz and that Bruno's father is a Nazi officer.

The only criticism I have of Boyne's work is that Schmuel lacked characterization. Perhaps this was purposeful, illustrating that individuals in concentration camps all become one and standing out is both foolish and unnecessary. However, in the context of Schmuel's and Bruno's sudden friendship, he needed more depth to help with its believabiltiy.

Reader's Annotation: One day, Bruno met a lifelong friend with a manmade barrier between them: a barbed wire fence.

Author Information: Boyne is a young Irish author, this book won a bevy of awards and sold over five million copies. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas was adapted to film by Miramax.

Source: http://www.johnboyne.com/about/

Genre: historical YA fiction, drama

Curriculum Ties: seeing Maus' popularity on YA reading lists, Boyne's work could easily make its way into a curriculum on the Holocaust and World War II. It can help illustrate the innocence and misunderstandings of both factions.

Booktalking Ideas: Bruno eventually forgets the names of his friends back in Berlin. Why? How does Boyne's work illustrate a child's view of the Holocaust? How do they interpret its events?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 12 and up

Challenge Issues: N/A

Challenge Defense Ideas: No challenge issues come to mind when reading this book. The best defense is having a strong knowledge of the book, so becoming familiar with it by reading reviews, finding other opinions, and reading it one's self is a good start. One could also refer to the library's collection development policy here.

Why I included this title: Having already read Maus, I thought experiencing another work of historical fiction based on World War II would be beneficial. Many works are dedicated to the understanding and remembrance of the Holocaust and I think this one does a particularly good job.

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