Saturday, April 21, 2012
Bruno, is the naive son of a German officer in charge of a Nazi concentration camp; Shmuel, a Jewish prisoner in the camp who is described by Bruno's father in the movie of the same name as "not really people at all." The fence prohibits physical contact, except to pass the food that Bruno smuggles to his unlikely friend. The fence's forced separation is both literal and symbolic for the characters. Shmuel knows very well the limitations that his circumstances prescribe, while Bruno's naivete' and innocence prevent his full understanding of the barrier that separates the boys. In the closing section of the book, Shmuel lifts the fence, while Bruno scampers underneath so the boys can go on an adventure in search of Shmuel's missing 'Papa'.
The book and movie are remarkable for a number of reasons and Boyne is a gifted story teller that allows the reader to make meaning from the text without explicitly stating it for the reader. I highly recommend the book and the movie to both adults and upper elementary or middle school aged students; used in combination they make a powerful lasting impact.
On Friday, the 6th grade watched the movie together and aside from the power that this shared experience brought, I was struck by the silence at the conclusion of the movie as the credits began to roll. I quietly asked my room to line up and follow me out of our school's "Little Theater". We took a right turn instead of the normal left as I split the class into two groups. I handed my school keys to trustworthy Nate and quickly gave him instructions on how to get back into the building and sent his group outside to meet us at the far corner of our playground. When I walked outside with my group, the weather conditions had changed dramatically for the worse from the morning's warm and pleasant conditions. The wind was howling, the sun had disappeared, water spit from the sky, and the temperature had fallen 17 degrees in the two hours since we started watching the movie. Actually perfect. As the group I was leading approached the group standing on the other side of the fence, my remarkable group of 12 year old kids had already started to make the connection that I was going to try to make.
They faced each other through the moistening grey steel weave and looked at a classmate who at the same time is very different and very much the same as they are. Our playground fence didn't separate atrocity and innocence as in the story that just moistened our eyes just minutes before, but it still divided us. I asked the kids to consider the metaphorical fences that they will encounter during their lives. The fence of ignorance that prevents inclusion, empathy and compassion of others. The fences of fear that prevents the undertaking of something difficult that could result in failure. Fences of misconceptions and judgement that prevent us from our potential in making a positive impact on those in our circle of influence.
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