The Boy in the Striped Pajamas


John Boyne

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Minimum grade level: 


I don’t know about you, but when a book’s title mentions the word “pajamas”, it kind of makes me want to giggle. It’s a funny sounding word, and it makes me think of a pair of soft, warm, flannel jammies I have with fluffy blue and white clouds on it, a pair of pajamas perfect for curling up in a nice, comfortable chair, with a hot cup of chocolate. Because to me, pajamas are for sleeping, and lazing about the house and for being cozy and comfortable.

But there is another definition of the word pajamas – it can just mean an outfit of loose fitting trousers and jacket, like someone might wear to bed. Or like other people might wear. Like part of a uniform.

(Hold up book). This is not a book about warm flannel jammies or curling up in cozy chairs. To be honest, I can’t really tell you what this book is about unless I want to spoil it for you, which I don’t. I can tell you that it is the kind of book that picks you up and drops you in the middle of the story as though you were a character yourself. It’s the kind of book where each chapter gives you little clues here and there to help you figure out where you are and what is going on around you. It is the kind of book that, with each clue solved, it just makes you want to read more so you can solve them all and maybe stop what you know and fear is going to happen. Because, in the end, this is a book about things you think you already know, about places you think you’ve already heard or read about and it’s about far more than just a boy or a pair of striped pajamas.

Discussion questions

Spoiler alert! Some of the questions contain key elements of the plot. Do not read if you don't want to know what happens!

  1. The book jacket doesn’t give hints as to the setting or plot of the book, preferring to let the reader pick things up as they go along. When did you start to realize what the books is about? What clues did the author give you that helped you put the story together?
  2. Think of other major events in history about which you think you know everything. Can you describe how that same event probably looked very different from the perspective of an insider?
  3. Did seeing the story through the eyes of a young boy give you any insight into why concentration camps were allowed to be built or why they were allowed to continue?
  4. Bruno’s age is given in the book as 9 years old, but he occasionally acts and thinks like someone younger. Why do you think the author chose to portray him this way?
  5. Based on the reactions of the Bruno’s family members and the soldiers at the camp, what emotions do they seem to be expressing towards the people in the concentration camps? Give examples to back up your viewpoint.
  6. How do the other members of Bruno’s family react to being at Out-With? What do they do to cope with being away from their regular home?
  7. Bruno denies knowing Shmuel when confronted by soldier – why do you think Bruno lied? What do you think might have happened to him if he had told the truth? What might have happened to Shmuel?
  8. At first Bruno initiates a friendship with Shmuel because he is the only other boy Bruno has seen. Why do you think Bruno continues to pursue the friendship? Why does Shmuel?
  9. In the author’s note at the end, John Boyne discusses why he chose to tell this particular story from Bruno’s point-of-view. Do you agree that it was a good choice? Did the choice of perspective make you look at events you thought you knew about in a different way?

If you liked this book, try

  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  • I Will Plant You a Lilac Tree: A Memoir of a Schindler’s List Survivor by Laura Hillman

Created in part with funds granted by the Oregon State Library under the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Oregon State Library.