The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne
Much is missing in this story told from the perspective of a nine-year-old boy whose father is the Kommandant of Auschwitz. I was not even sure if my high or middle school students would recognize what it was about. They do recognize the setting and they do find the cheery voice of the child wending his way through unmistakably dark times a compelling read. The missing specifics make this story read like a folk tale, without time and place, with an edge of unreality, and with completely familiar human truths.
A boy’s world consists of his imagination, his friendships, his ongoing struggle to make sense of the adult world that swirls around him. This boy, Bruno, appears at first glance to be unduly naive. But he is not naive; the belief that comfort can exist alongside absolute cruelty is naive. That perspective is like a knife cutting through the twisted intentions of the severely misguided adults, laying bare the only truth: no safe haven exists unless it exists for all.
Even with its lack of factual detail, this book is clearly about the Holocaust. While strong readers as young as eight could read this book, parents may want to decide when their child is ready for this information and might want to read it with their child. Middle and high school kids should be fine with it. In fact, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is one of those books clearly written for all ages of readers.