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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas



Intense, powerful Holocaust book offers unique perspective.
Parents recommendPopular with kids

What parents need to know

Educational value

This can help kids connect with the historical events of the Holocaust in a more realistic way. Could also lead to some great discussions about evil and the nature of man. 

Positive messages

Clearly, there is evil presented. But readers will be touched by the power of friendship and compassion.

Positive role models

Readers will quickly relate to Bruno, who is uprooted from his home and moved somewhere "nasty and cold." His perspective allows readers to feel a strong sense of foreboding, long before they know the extent of the terror surrounding Bruno's world. Readers will be struck by the contrast between Bruno's normalcy and naivety, and the extreme horrors of the time.


Implied violence though none graphically shown. But the book is set in a death camp so emotional violence is a real factor to consider when your kids read the book. The ending involves very upsetting death.

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Drinking, drugs, & smoking
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Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that even though the main character in this book is 9 years old, this book is a better fit for kids in late middle school and up. The book focuses on complex emotional issues of evil and the Holocaust, and raises questions about the nature of man. It could spark a great moral discussion. But kids will probably be very moved if not quite upset by some of the events in the book. Its theme is complex and powerful, and it will provoke emotions and questions that will need discussion and explanation. We recommend that you talk with your kids after they've read the book, or even read the book together.

What's the story?

When Bruno is forced to move away from his enormous Berlin home with his family, his life changes forever. Besides moving into a smaller house with no "nooks and crannies" to explore, besides having no one to play with except for his older sister (also known as the "Hopeless Case"), he's surrounded by soldiers that are constantly in and out of his father's downstairs office as well as other grown-ups who always seem angry or unhappy. Bruno misses his friends, his grandparents, and the city itself. And he doesn't understand what's going on around him. He hates everything about "Out-With" and is very lonely until he meets the boy on the other side of the fence.

Is it any good?


This powerful book about the Holocaust stands out in part because of the unusual perspective. It's told through the eyes of the 9-year-old son of the commandant at Auschwitz, a boy who has no clue as to what is going on around him. This perspective allows readers to feel a strong sense of foreboding, long before they know the extent of the terror surrounding Bruno's world. Readers will be struck by the contrast between Bruno's normalcy and naivety, and the extreme horrors of the time.

Readers will quickly relate to Bruno, who is uprooted from his home and moved somewhere "nasty and cold" where he has no friends; he is lonely, his sister bugs him, and adults treat him as if he's not there. He wants to study art and read fantasy books rather than history and geography. He wants to get outside and explore. At one point Bruno even covets the life of the boy on the other side of the fence because at least he has other boys with whom he can play.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about World War II and the Holocaust. How is reading a story different than reading about facts in a history book? Which do you find more moving? Which are you more likely to remember?

  • How would the story be different if it were told from another point of view?

Book details

Author:John Boyne
Genre:Historical Fiction
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:David Fickling Books
Publication date:September 12, 2006
Number of pages:215
Publisher's recommended age(s):12

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Educator Written byCocorobashow October 6, 2012

No Redeeming Social Value

It is impossible to believe that the Bruno, a nine year old, living in Berlin, had never heard of a Jew. He obviously had been educated in the best schools, where eugenics had been taught for years. Who did he think was walking around in his city with yellow Star of David patches on their clothes? He never noticed boarded up shops? He talks to Shmuel for months and can't see that the child is starving. He brings food from his house and eats most of it himself before he gets to Shmuel. For whom was this book written? Most children's and young adult books you find a moral or some type of character development. There is absolutely no character development in this book. Bruno is an unintelligent, spoiled child at the beginning of the book, who only wants to be an explorer. He never changes. He is the same selfish, not very smart child at the end of the book. There were 6,000 officers at the Auschwitz camps and yet we are led to believe that Bruno and his sister are the only non-Jewish children for miles and miles - that Bruno and his sister had absolutely no one else to play with. Bruno and his sister contract lice toward the end of the book. How did that happen? Lice don't jump or fly? You have to have close contact with someone who has lice. Share hats or coats, etc. Bruno and Shmuel are separated by a fence. So where did the lice come from? When the boys finally meet their demise, the author continues to get history wrong. When the Jews were gassed, they didn't go into the chambers with their clothes on; they were told to strip and ready themselves for a shower. And by the way, most 9 year old Jewish children upon arrival at Auschwitz were gassed. Finally how was it possible for these boys to chat each day for hours and no one saw them or missed them. I do not think I have ever read a book with so many medical, historical and logical fallacies.
Teen, 14 years old Written bynerdgirl96 January 16, 2011

wonderful; a unique perpective

Somehow, events are all the more tragic when narrated by those who do not understand. It's a very good tale of friendship. It ends sadly, and I feel the ending sort of communicates that everyone is harmed by hate and violence. Of all the Holocaust novel I've read (and believe me, that's a lot) I think this is the only one I've read from this perspective-that is, from the point of view of a Nazi's son. The book shouldn't be used as an introduction to the Holocaust- you have to know, or it won't make any sense. You should also know that Out-With=Auschwitz (is that obvious?).
What other families should know
Educational value
Teen, 14 years old Written byEEL123 January 26, 2012

I seem to be a dissenting voice here.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a cruel and misleading distortation of the real events of the Holocaust that has been watered down for the purpose of cheap entertainment. Boyne's attention to any historical detail is virtually nil - has he neglected to do his homework, or is he incapable of researching properly? Does one really suppose the an eight-year old child, born and raised in Nazi Germany, could not know about the persecution of the Jews. Yes, the Holocaust itself was carefully kept under wraps, by the ghettos, pogroms and inferiority of the Jewish 'untermenschen' were public knowledge. As a Nazi child, especially the son of a senior SS officer, Bruno would have been indoctrinated almost since birth about his own racial superiority and the glorious destiny of his country. How, then, is it that the author proposes that Bruno is totally oblivious to everything - the persecution of the Jews, the war, and even the identity of the Fuhrer? I think that the reading audience must draw the line between childish innocence and complete ignorance and stupidity. There are a whole host of other historical inaccuracies, among them why the fence could be lifted by Bruno and Shmuel at the end. The fence was electrified! Here is another clear example for Boyne's refusal to properly research. Otherwise, it seems strange that he believes that a young boy could withstrand several hundred volts of electricity - several thousand perhaps - running from arm to arm. One other major historical inaccuracy is Bruno's - and Shmuel's - end in the gas chamber. Perhaps the author is not aware of the mass panic that always occured once the victims saw the Zyklon B come through the vents. There would be a stampede for the door, which would have resulted in quite a few victims being crushed to death instead of gassed to death. In any case, even without a frenzied stampede, being gassed is an unpleasant at best and often painful experience, as judicial executions by gassing in the United States have shown. Boyne should be criticized for his portrayal of their deaths as oblivious and peaceful, if a little nervous. Boyne seems to enjoy using puns - 'Fury' and 'Out-with'. Firstly, a German child would have no problem pronouncing these words, although we may have trouble doing so, especially with 'Auschwitz'. Secondly, they are weak and, I daresay, childish, attempt to maintain ambiguity. Anyone with even an elementary knowledge of the Holocaust should be able to see through it. Most importantly though, although puns may be entertaining elsewhere, these ones are a cruel joke. Any author on a subject as grave, tragic and great in magnitude as the Holocaust should not even dare to use puns; Boyne has reduced one of history's greatest crimes to a little joke: 'Out-with', hahaha! Also, Boyne's style is hopelessly simplistic. The time I took to read this book - it hardly deserves the designation 'novel' - was terribly wasted. If found this book a compendium of rubbish, falsehoods and lies - a 'profanation', as a Jewish rabbi put it, that, I quote Time magazine, 'requires everyone to remain unconscious to every clue — and there are many — about what is happening' and is 'so reliant on human stupidity to achieve its effect, so totally dishonest in its insistence on that quality (which it presents as innocence) to achieve its narrative goals'. It has been condemned - ad nauseum, I admit, but rightly and well-deservedly so - by some critics, and the Jewish community, especially Holocaust survivors. I find it quite dangerous, as other have noted, that The Boy in the Striped is used as an introduction to the Holocaust, even in history classes! Sometimes, it is the only exposure students will get to that dark chapter in our history. How can it be that such a blatantly distorted book based in false assumptions be used to teach English, much less history? I'm sure that there are far better sources on the Holocaust. The fact that this book has had such a warm and enthusiastic reception in the public, filmmakers, even critics, and here too, should be a clear and burning indictment that people nowadays are looking for cheap entertainment instead of well-written, even borderline accurate works. Boyne's distortion of such a subjct as the Holocaust is condemnable and cruel. Many have said that they cried at the end. I would not shed tears for such a futile, inaccurate book that has been 'watered down for public consumption', so to speak. This is perhaps that worst book that I have read within memory. I implore you: there is a lot more on the shelves of libraries and bookshops. Most - almost all - of it is better than The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Don't read this book. One that cannot write accurately about the Holocaust and give a proper memorial to the victims - and the survivors - should not be dabbling in an almost sacred subject.


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