The Boy in the Striped Pajamas


Title:   The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Author:  John Boyne

Publisher:  Oxford;New York:David Fickling Books, 2006.

ISBN: 9780385751063

About the author: from

I was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1971, and studied English Literature at Trinity College, Dublin, and creative writing at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, where I was awarded the Curtis Brown prize. I now offer a scholarship to Irish students undertaking the MA programme at UEA, more information about this can be found here.

I am a regular book reviewer for The Irish Times and have been a judge for both the Hennessy Literary Awards and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, as well as chairing the jury for the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

In 2012, I was awarded the Hennessy Literary ‘Hall of Fame’ Award for my body of work. I have also won 3 Irish Book Awards, for Children’s Book of the Year, People’s Choice Book of the Year and Short Story of the Year. I have won a number of international literary awards, including the Que Leer Award for Novel of the Year in Spain and the Gustav Heinemann Peace Prize in Germany. In 2015, I was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of East Anglia. My novels are published in 51 languages.

Plot: Nine-year-old Bruno is lonely at his family’s new home in “Out-With”. His dad works for “The Fury”, and all he knows of his new home is that there is something not-quite-right about it. One day, he gets curious about the people he sees behind the fence, and goes to investigate. Who will he find?

Critical Evaluation:

This heart-wrenching story will haunt you.

Nine-year-old Bruno is the protagonist of this novel. We get to see the world through his eyes, and it is thoroughly believable. It starts with the foreboding knowledge of what is happening: he is living in the middle of Adolf Hitler’s “The Final Solution”.

The writing style is as believable as Bruno’s character. The style is candid, just as a nine-year-old’s speaking would be.  Boyne treats Bruno and Shmuel as thoughtful. The words are spare, and there are only the words that need to be there.

The storyline deals with the Holocaust. The storyline is issue oriented, and the tone is bleak and haunting. John Boyne takes a tragic story with the backdrop of death and hate, and lets us view a sweet and naïve friendship with two boys who just want someone to play with. Set in WWII Nazi Germany, Bruno and Shmuel innocently wonder why they have to be on opposite sides of the fence. Conflicts arise because they don’t understand it.  Bruno asks his sister Gretel, “I don’t understand why we’re not allowed on the other side of it. What’s so wrong with us that we can’t go over there and play?’ Gretel responds, “the fence isn’t there to stop us from going over there. It’s to stop them from coming over here.”

Language is seen through the eyes of a child. Auschwitz is “Out-With” and Adolf Hitler’s title of Fuhrer is pronounced “Fury” by Bruno. This important irony is not lost on the reader. This historical novel is filled with dread. The first person narrative is seen through the eyes of Bruno, who really doesn’t know the world beyond the inside of his home. The reader is aware of history of Auschwitz and the Holocaust.

The mood is stark, bleak and disturbing. The tone is one of impending doom and foreboding. Foreshadowing is clearly seen through the similarities of the boys. They share the same birthdate: April 15, 1934. Bruno’s hair is shaven by his dad because Bruno has a case of head lice. “When he saw himself in the mirror Bruno couldn’t help but think how much like Shmuel he looked now…”

Symbolism abounds in this novel. They both arrive at “Out-With” on trains, but the striking differences between the two trains couldn’t be more apparent. Bruno is on luxury train, worthy of a Nazi soldier in Hitler’s Germany. Shmuel is in a cattle car, with so many people stuffed inside, that he cannot breathe. Even if they’re taking different trains, they are still going to the same place.

They are friends for the better part of a year. “You’re on the wrong side of the fence…” said Shmuel. Ultimately, Boyne takes an appalling situation and ends it with heartbreaking clarity: this is not the time or place to be on the wrong side of the fence.


Reader’s Annotation: Bruno knew nothing of the Final Solution. He just knew his friend Shmuel was on the wrong side of the fence.

Genre: historical fiction

Curriculum Ties: history – holocaust

Booktalking Ideas: Have a compassionate, open discussion about the Holocaust and the history surrounding it.

Reading Level: 14+

Interest Age:  14+

Challenge Issues: prejudice

Challenge Resources

  • Library Selection Policy
  • Rationale explaining why the item was chosen for the collection
  • Active listening skills
  • Awards
  • Reconsideration form (as a last resort)
  • National Council of Teachers of English “Right to Read”
  • Positive and negative reviews: expert, parent, student
  • ALA Strategies and Tips for Dealing with Challenges to Library Materials
  • ALA Bill of Rights on Intellectual Freedom
  • Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.
  • Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.

Why did you pick this for your collection?

  • Young Reader’s Choice Award (Pacific Northwest): Intermediate
  • Orange Prize Readers Group Book of the Year