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Teaching Moment

A book that tells a very bad story, gently.

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How do you tell your children about the worst things humanity has ever done? A world full of war, genocide, and threats to our day-to-day life virtually forces that discussion on younger ages. In his first book for children, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas ($15.95; Random House), the young author John Boyne introduces 9-year-old Bruno, the son of an Auschwitz commandant, whose naïveté about what’s happening in his own backyard leads to tragedy. Throughout the story, Bruno asks questions of the adults in his life, but no one gives him a straight answer. By seeming to preserve his youthful innocence, the adults’ avoidance of the truth itself becomes cruel. “Bruno’s character is based on the ignorance of today,” says the writer in a telephone interview from his home in Dublin, where he says he wrote the first draft in two and a half days. “A lot of people ignored what was happening back then, and we do the same today with situations around the world.” Bruno goes on to explore the curious fenced-in area beyond his window, where everyone wears the same uniform, eventually meeting Shmuel, a 9-year-old boy who lives inside the camp. Boyne’s simplicity at acknowledging (and then turning the camera away from) disturbing moments may have young readers believing the story ends on a happy, if not indefinite, note. Parents should read it first and will learn otherwise. If ignorance is bliss, Boyne’s message is that it doesn’t last.


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