When John Boyne (born in 1971), the author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, was asked what made him come up with the story about the 8 year old Bruno and his way of perceiving the disasters of World War II, he referred to a story that he himself read as a child.
Read an excerpt from the novel and work with tasks.
In an interview published on John Boyne biography, the author refers to a story about four children that were forced to leave Poland because of the Nazi regime. It made him wonder how he would have coped if he had been exposed to the same terrors and agonies. His 2006 novel, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, is to a great extent a continuation of this reading experience. The novel was orginally meant as a children's book, but has been embraced by an adult audience all over the world. In 2008 a movie based on the novel was released.
What was your first reading experience? Is this something that you will remember for the rest of your life?
Chapter 1 and the Film Trailer
Before you read chapter 1 you should watch the trailer to get an idea of the plot. You will meet Bruno before he reluctantly leaves Berlin and his friends. His dad, a former Nazi officer is promoted by Adolf Hitler and becomes a commandant in the concentration camp in Auschwitz and the family has to move. We perceive everything through Bruno's eyes, and the Fuehrer, quite humourously, is called the Fury and Auschwitz is Out-With. In Auschwitz, Bruno is extremely lonely and homesick, but he gets one dear friend, the boy in the striped pyjamas. He starts seeing his new Jewish friend, Shmuel, in secret. Watch the trailer by following this link The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
Questions to the Trailer
- Numerous films have World War II as a setting. What do you think makes The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas different?
- Why do you think the director has provided the following subtitles: "the lines that divide us" and "the hope that unites us". What does this imply?
- In several scenes the camera pans the fence between the two boys. Discuss what kind of connotations a fence raises and why the director has chosen this focus.
Used with permission from Random House Inc.
Try the multiple choice task
- What does the author reveal in the opening paragraph?
- Why do you think Bruno believes that it is his own fault that they are leaving?
- What kind of impression is conveyed about the father before we have even met him?
- How does Bruno’s mum feel about moving from Berlin?
- How does she try to convince Bruno that they have to move?
- Why do you think the author twists the Fuehrer into the Fury? Which effect does it have?
- Bruno describes his sister, Gretel, as a Hopeless Case. What does this indicate about his relationship to his sister? Is it any different from a “normal” brother-sister relationship?
- Bruno is a child protagonist. How do we note that in this opening chapter? Give examples. Which possibilities and which limitations are generally entailed when the protagonist is a child?
- According to UNICEF Unicef about conflicts, 20 million children around the world are refugees due to brutal warfare and violations of human rights. Why is it that we seldom hear about their war experience? How are we affected by children telling their war stories?
- The boy in the striped pyjamas is a young Polish Jewish boy and Bruno is the German commander's son. Yet, as it turns out, Bruno and his new friend have a lot in common. Discuss how children might be the advocates of hope in armed conflicts.
- Lately the word "Jew" has been used abusively by young people in Norway and other countries. What attitudes and values are at stake?
- How can stories like The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas further mutual understanding?
- Why do you think we should never forget about the Holocaust?
On the net you will find stories where children are subjected to adults' wars and conflicts. Find a story that makes an impression on you and retell it in your own words or make a digital story.
Further Tasks and Activities
- See movie trailers and use the educational material (author interview, interactive tasks) at Film Education The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
- Tatiana de Rosney's Sarah's Key and The Boy In the Striped Pyjamas have a lot in common regarding the Holocaust and the focus on child protagonists. Sarah's Key was adapted to film in 2010. You may watch the entire film here
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