Teacher's Guide: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
NOTE TO TEACHERS
In history classes, students learn about the dark
tragedies of our past, and develop the thinking skills
necessary to shape a better world for their future. As
we study tough subjects like the Holocaust, we must
communicate to our students and their parents that
open discussion, rather than fear of a topic, is the only
way to affect change. With this in mind, encourage
students to share novels and nonfiction works they have
already read about the Holocaust. Make sure that they
fully grasp the meaning of the following terms: Führer,
Auschwitz, Hitler Youth, anti-Semitism, the Exodus,
Nuremberg Laws, swastika, Gestapo, death trains, death
camps, Warsaw Ghetto, genocide, and resistance.
ABOUT THIS BOOK
The cautionary tale is about two boys, one
the son of a commandant in Hitler’s army
and the other a Jew, who come face-to-face
at a barbed wire fence that separates, and
eventually intertwines, their lives.
Set during the Holocaust, Bruno is only nine
years old when his father, a commandant in
Hitler’s army, is transferred from Berlin to
Auschwitz. The house at “Out-With,” as Bruno
calls it, is small, dark, and strange. He spends
long days gazing out the window of his new
bedroom, where he notices people dressed
in striped pajamas and rows of barracks
surrounded by a barbed wire fence. Bored
and lonely, and not really understanding the
circumstance of his new existence, Bruno sets
out to explore the area and discovers Shmuel,
a very thin Jewish boy who lives on the other
side of the fence. An unlikely friendship
develops between the two boys, but when
Bruno learns that his mother plans to take her
children back to Berlin, he makes a last effort
to explore the forbidden territory where the boy
in the striped pajamas lives.
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR
John Boyne is a full-time writer living in
Dublin. He was writer-in-residence at the
University of East Anglia in Creative Writing
and spent many years working as a bookseller.
This is his first book for young readers. The
author lives in Dublin, Ireland.
The Boy in the Striped
Pajamas is presented as
a fable. Have the class
identify the literary
elements of a fable.
Ask them to make note
of these elements as
they read the novel.
Ask students to read
about “The Final Solution”
fsol.htm). Have them
consider the following
• What factors contributed
to the Holocaust?
• What were Hitler’s
• Who were his victims?
• How many people were
Then ask students to stage
a debate about the
importance of studying the
DISCUSSION AND WRITING
Discuss the relationship between Bruno and Gretel. Why does Bruno
seem younger than nine? In a traditional fable, characters are usually
one-dimensional. How might Bruno and Gretel be considered onedimensional?
• At age 12, Gretel is the proper age for membership in the League of
Young Girls, a branch of Hitler’s Youth Organization. Why do you
think she is not a member, especially since her father is a high-ranking
officer in Hitler’s army?
• What is it about the house at Out-With that makes Bruno feel “cold
and unsafe”? (p. 20) How is this feeling perpetuated as he encounters
people like Pavel, Maria, Lt. Kotler, and Shmuel?
• Describe his reaction when he first sees the people in the striped
pajamas. What does Gretel mean when she says, “Something about the
way [Bruno] was watching made her feel suddenly nervous”? (p. 28)
How does this statement foreshadow Bruno’s ultimate demise?
• Bruno asks his father about the people outside their house at
Auschwitz. His father answers, “They’re not people at all, Bruno.”
(p. 53) Discuss the horror of this attitude. How does his father’s
statement make Bruno more curious about Out-With?
• Explain what Bruno’s mother means when she says, “We don’t have
the luxury of thinking.” (p. 13) Identify scenes from the novel that
Bruno’s mother isn’t happy about their life at Out-With. Debate
whether she is unhappy being away from Berlin, or whether she is
angry about her husband’s position. How does Bruno’s grandmother
react to her son’s military role?
• When Bruno and his family board the train for Auschwitz, he notices
an overcrowded train headed in the same direction. How does he later
make the connection between Shmuel and that train? How are both
trains symbolic of each boy’s final journey?
• Bruno issues a protest about leaving Berlin. His father responds, “Do
you think that I would have made such a success of my life if I hadn’t
learned when to argue and when to keep my mouth shut and follow
orders?” (p. 49) What question might Bruno’s father ask at the end of
• A pun is most often seen as humorous. But, in this novel the narrator
uses dark or solemn puns like Out-With and Fury to convey certain
meanings. Bruno is simply mispronouncing the real words, but the
author is clearly asking the reader to consider a double meaning to
these words. Discuss the use of this wordplay as a literary device.
What is the narrator trying to convey to the reader? How do these
words further communicate the horror of the situation?
• When Bruno dresses in the filthy striped pajamas, he remembers
something his grandmother once said. “You wear the right outfit and
you feel like the person you’re pretending to be.” (p. 205) How is this
true for Bruno? What about his father? What does this statement
contribute to the overall meaning of the story?
• Discuss the moral or message of the novel. What new insights and
understandings does John Boyne want the reader to gain from reading
• Ask students to discuss the differences in a fable, an allegory, and a
proverb. How might this story fit into each genre?
Encourage students to identify unfamiliar words, and try to define them using hints from the context of the
story. Such words may include: greengrocers (p. 19), insolent (p. 51), reverberated (p. 62), jumper (p. 71),
sinister (p. 98), despair (p. 104), confirmation (p. 112), resolution (p. 113), disdain (p. 122), catastrophe (p. 142),
sarcasm (p. 157), sophistication (p. 158), medicinal (p. 167), inconsolable (p. 178), and misshapen (p. 184).
BEYOND THE BOOK
Memorial and Museum
The official site of the memorial
and museum at Auschwitz.
The Holocaust/Shoah Page
A map and discussion of the Nazi death camps.
Links to Auschwitz tour resources.
OTHER TITLES OF INTEREST
The Book Thief
Grades 7 up
Alfred A. Knopf hardcover
GLB • 978-0-375-93100-0 (0-375-93100-7)
Number the Stars
Yearling paperback • 978-0-440-40327-2 (0-440-40327-8)
Laurel-Leaf paperback • 978-0-440-22753-3 (0-440-22753-4)
In My Hands: Memories
of a Holocaust Rescuer
Irene Gut Opdyke with Jennifer Armstrong
Grades 7 up
Laurel-Leaf paperback • 978-0-553-49411-2 (0-553-49411-2)
Alfred A. Knopf hardcover • 978-0-679-89181-9 (0-679-89181-1)
Grades 5 up
Laurel-Leaf paperback • 978-0-440-42005-7 (0-440-42005-9)
Alfred A. Knopf hardcover • 978-0-375-81374-0 (0-375-81374-8)
GLB • 978-0-375-91374-7 (0-375-91374-2)
eBook • 978-0-375-89037-6 (0-375-89037-8)
Tunes for Bears to Dance To
Grades 7 up
Laurel-Leaf paperback • 978-0-440-21903-3 (0-440-21903-5)
Malka Drucker and Michael Halperin
Yearling paperback • 978-0-440-40965-6 (0-440-40965-9)
Prepared by Pat Scales, Director of Library Services, SC Governor’s School for Arts and Humanities.
Random House Children’s Books • School and Library Marketing • 1745 Broadway, Mail Drop 10-4 • New York, NY 10019 • BN0606 • 09/06