ST PATRICK'S SCHOOL

War story of horror and humanity

Secondary 2 students Mark Joshua John (in cardigan), Pranav Ghosh (far left) and Kenji Ng (partially hidden) showing visitors their model of the Auschwitz concentration camp at the recent National Schools Literature Festival.
Secondary 2 students Mark Joshua John (in cardigan), Pranav Ghosh (far left) and Kenji Ng (partially hidden) showing visitors their model of the Auschwitz concentration camp at the recent National Schools Literature Festival. PHOTO: COURTESY OF ST PATRICK'S SCHOOL

Secondary 2 student Julian Fan likes action stories and war novels, but The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, a book about the Holocaust, struck another chord in him.

The 2006 novel by Irish author John Boyne tells the story of a nine-year-old German boy, Bruno, who forms a friendship with a boy named Shmuel, who lives on the other side of a wire fence.

"The author did a very good job of writing the story of World War II from the eyes of someone whose country struck first," said Julian.

"It's also different from the usual war books because it's written from a child's perspective."

The 14-year-old, who is studying the book for literature at St Patrick's School, said he was moved by the themes of family and friendship.

There is also unexpected humour in the book, he said.

"For instance, Bruno's father - the Nazi commandant in charge of the Auschwitz camp - treats his children like soldiers."

As part of a school project, instead of just writing essays, students formed groups to build models of the concentration camp using materials such as sticks and plasticine. Some of the best ones were displayed at the National Schools Literature Festival in August.

In class, teachers also used "hot seat" techniques - putting students in the roles of characters and questioning them - to make the story come alive.

Ms Karen Pereira, 42, who teaches lower secondary literature, said the school wanted a book that its boys could relate to.

"It helps the boys to look at conflict, friendship and prejudice from the perspective of someone close to their age," she said.

"They are looking at humanity at its best and worst, and they begin to have a different idea of what war is like, beyond computer gaming."


Amelia Teng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2015, with the headline 'War story of horror and humanity'. Print Edition | Subscribe