The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a children’s book set within the Second World War which follows a young boy named Bruno throughout his experience of finding friendship in the Holocaust. Bruno is a nine-year-old living in Berlin, Germany. He lives in a massive house with his parents and sisters, and is very happy because he lives close to where his three best friends Daniel, Karl and Martin all live. However, after Adolf Hitler pays a visit to their family, Bruno’s father is promoted to Commandant and the family have to move away from their home for his job.
Bruno tells us that they are moving to “Out-With”, which is a misunderstanding of the word Auschwitz, by order of “The Fury”. This means that Bruno and his family are moved to a concentration camp, though Bruno is not aware of what this means. Even as he observes the camp from the house, enclosed by wire fences, he is naive to the horrors that go on outside his front door.
Being bored at his new, isolated, house, Bruno decides to rebelliously explore the strange wire fence. Whilst exploring, Bruno meets a Jewish boy named Shmuel who lives on the other side of the fence. He wears the striped pyjamas of all the inhabitants of the camp, but converses with Bruno easily. They find out they have little things in common, like their birthday, and Shmuel explains that he is separated from his mother in the camp. The two become close friends but Bruno is still without understanding of what the camp is for.
Soon after, lice is found in Bruno’s hair! To get rid of them he has to shave all of his hair off, and so looks even more like Shmuel and the other people in the striped pyjamas. This is just one small reason of many that Bruno’s mother persuades her husband to send them back to their home in Berlin, away from the death and horror of Auschwitz. However, Bruno has made his own plans. Before his mother can whisk him away to Berlin, Bruno decides to sneak into the camp to help Shmuel find his father who has gone missing. Bruno dons the striped pyjamas and begins the search. Things don’t go to plan however, and events take a turn for the worse.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a truly touching book that will get you hooked, but also make you cry. Due to its serious themes, anyone under the age of ten should probably ask an adult that knows them whether they think they should read it. There has been some criticism of the book, stating that the plot is entirely implausible and trivialises the horrors of the Holocaust. However, as a fable, the themes of friendship and morality, and what the reader learns about these, is perhaps more important that the factual accuracy of the content – it is a work of fiction after all!
We hope you enjoy reading this book, even if it does make you tear up a few times!