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The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) is the story of a young French-German orphan who goes to live with his aunt, a housekeeper at Berghof, Hitler's mountaintop home in Bavaria. Taking place from 1936 to the end of the war in 1945, it's a tale of innocence corrupted as Pieter's personal devotion to Hitler changes him from a kind 7-year-old with a Jewish best friend into a self-important bully whs betrays his friends and is proud and boastful of his membership in the Hitler Youth. While the violence (including executions, a sudden death, and an attempted rape) is never overly graphic, it often appears without warning in the story and can be emotionally shocking.
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What's the story?
As THE BOY WHO LIVED AT THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN begins, 7-year-old Pierrot is living in Paris with his widowed mother, his father having died three years before. He has a best friend and a beloved dog and memories of the father who drank and suffered from PTSD (though they didn't call it that then) after serving as a soldier in World War I. After the death of his mother, Pierrot is sent to live in an orphanage before being offered a home by his father's sister, Beatrix. He travels alone from France to Germany, where Beatrix works as a housekeeper at Berghof, Adolph Hitler's mountaintop home in Bavaria. Pierrot's name is promptly changed to Pieter and he gradually begins to lose his identity as a Parisian schoolboy with a Jewish best friend. Despite his aunt's efforts, Pieter becomes more and more devoted to Hitler, who shows him the attention the fatherless boy craves. Hitler himself inducts Pieter into the Hitler Youth, and the boy who was bullied at the orphanage transforms into a bully, arrogantly demanding respect and obedience from his aunt and the household staff. One of the few to stand up to him is Katrina, a schoolmate and daughter of a local shopkeeper, who refuses to be either impressed or intimidated by the young Nazi. Will Pieter's blind allegiance to Hitler lead him to make a decision with horrifying consequences?
Is it any good?
This powerful and unsettling novel of stolen innocence, betrayal, and fanaticism seamlessly weaves together historical facts with a gripping fictional narrative. The transformation of young Pieter from a boy without prejudice to a belligerent young Nazi is a storyline that should make for thought-provoking conversations between parents and teens about accountability, destructive choices, and the power of propaganda.
As with John Boyne's The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, this book offers a perspective on World War II that goes far beyond the usual tales of soldiers, battles, and resistance fighters.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about bigotry. Pieter went from being a boy with a Jewish best friend to an anti-Semite. How do you think someone learns to be prejudiced against people of another race or religion? How difficult do you think it is for someone to "unlearn" a prejudice?
Social media such as Twitter and Facebook is now used by groups trying to bring down dictatorships and alert the world to the crimes and atrocities they commit. If social media had existed in the 1940s, would it have been powerful enough to overthrow Hitler?
Is Pieter responsible for his actions, or is he too young to truly understand the evil that surrounds him?
Our editors recommend
For kids who love history and World War II
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