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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas - John Boyne

Adele's song, 'Set Fire to the Rain' was the song that randomly came on as I sat down to write this post immediately after finishing this book.  Bruno definitely set fire to the rain as he found himself inside the concentration camp that was run by his father.  I did not cry.  Instead, I was wishing that Bruno's father would find out what happened to his son.  And how many other sons died under his role as Commandant? 

In 2016 it is hard to imagine, but Boyne ominously writes at the end,

'Of course all this happened a long time ago and nothing like that could ever happen again.' 


I've often felt that it's odd that I have a fascination with the stories of the Holocaust.  Reading Boyne's Author's Note has given me license to continue my exploration of this genre and to celebrate my fascination.  It is important to tell and retell these stories.  I love Bruno - his innocence and his honesty.  His childlike naivete is so refreshing with such a bleak backdrop that is the setting.  Bruno has no idea why he is at 'Out-With' and if he did know, he would not understand.  What he understands is that people should always be treated with respect and kindness.  Yes he is an innocent, naive nine year old and he is full of misunderstandings and misperceptions, but he knows what's right.  He knows the treatment of Maria, Pavel, Shmuel is wrong.  He knows that Kotler is an evil bully.  That's simple.  What Bruno doesn't understand finds hims on the wrong side of the fence.  If he ever does figure it out, it's too late.

The idea for the story came to Boyne through an image of two boys sitting on either side of a fence, having a conversation.  Fences and walls are a topic that could take you through an entire year of read alouds and reader's workshop.  The fence in this book could be seen as another character.  Again from Boyne's Author's Note, 

'Fences such as this one...still exist; it is unlikely that they will ever fully disappear.  But whatever reaction you have to this story, I hope that the voices of Bruno and Shmuel will continue to resonate with you as they have with me.  Their lost voices must continue to be heard; their untold stories must continue to be recounted;  For they represent the ones who didn't live to tell their stories themselves.'

Fences like are found all over the world and is the main reason Boyne never names Auschwitz outright.  He wants us to think about other issues where fences have been used to keep people out or in.   

There is one question you can ask a class during a discussion of the Holocaust.  It is the question that Boyne is asked most often,
Do you think a child raised in Nazi Germany could be as naive as Bruno is in the novel?

It's impossible to answer given that we have the benefit of hindsight, but it is a fascinating discussion.  Are we in 2016 as complacent as people seemed during this time?  Would we have stood up and done something?  Would you?  This is the question to ask.

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