September 17, 2015

Ahead of the release of his new World War II novel The Boy at the Top of the Mountain, our friends at Penguin Schools allowed us to put a few questions to the internationally bestselling author John Boyne.

Q: Tell us about your new book.

  • It’s the story of a young French orphan, Pierrot, who goes to live with his aunt in a small mountain top retreat in 1936. Pierrot’s aunt is the housekeeper at the Berghoft, where Hitler spent a lot of time during the war, and through Pierrot’s eyes we witness some of the most significant events that took place there.
  • Q: What are the key themes within the story?

  • The main theme is how easy it is to become brainwashed. Pierrot starts the novel as a kind, good-hearted little boy, but over time he changes quite considerably, seeing a father figure in Hitler and desperately wanting to be part of what he perceives to be a community of like-minded people: the Nazis. The change in his character over the nine years of the novel is the most significant element of the story.
  • Q: Is there a reason that your World War II novels for children both have titles that begin with “The Boy…”? Is there a common message you are trying to convey in these stories?

  • There’s no specific reason, other than the fact that this novel, like the earlier one, is a Second World War story featuring a child. I’m not sure whether I see it as the completion of a wartime trilogy (including STAY WHERE YOU ARE AND THEN LEAVE, set during the First World War) or the second part of a WWII trilogy, which would mean there’s likely to be another “The Boy…” book at some point in the future. The role of children in war, and the effect of war on their lives, is something that fascinates me and I daresay I will return to it again and again over the course of my writing life.
  • Q: How do you feel about the success of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas in schools?

  • I’m very proud that THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS reached such a wide international audience and allowed me the freedom to write the books that I wanted to write subsequently. While I’m a little concerned about the idea of using the novel as a ‘set text’, to be analysed and parsed, written about and deconstructed, I’m happy that the subject matter is such an important one that young readers are often finding a way into their study of the Holocaust through my novel.
  • Q: What’s the most memorable thing a reader has said to you about your children’s books?

  • It’s probably something that my publishers used on a recent advertisement when they described me as “the voice of wartime childhood”. It’s a title that I haven’t fully earned yet but one to which I aspire through writing what I hope are original, interesting and challenging books about war for young readers.
  • Q: Besides your own, obviously, what book should everyone read during their childhood?

  • Anything by Siobhan Dowd. ‘The Silver Sword’ by Ian Seraillier. And, although it’s not a children’s book, ‘The Go-Between’ by LP Hartley should be required reading for any child on the cusp of puberty.
  • We’ll be working to The Boy at the Top of the Mountain live as a quiz as soon as possible, so watch the blog for further details soon!

    John Boyne The Boy at the Top of the Mountain

    SAVE THE DATE! An evening with John Boyne on Thursday 15th October, 2015

    This special event is taking place between 7.30pm-8.30pm at Waterstones Piccadilly (London, W1J 9HD) to celebrate the launch of John Boyne’s new novel, The Boy at the Top of the Mountain. Chaired by BBC Broadcaster Simon Mayo, John will discuss his writing career, answer your questions and sign copies of his books.

    This is a free event for teachers and librarians, and places will be allocated on a first come, first served basis – so if you would like to attend please RSVP to by Friday 2nd October.

    Click here to download a PDF of the original invitation from Penguin Schools.


    Penguin Schools are offering a free copy of John Boyne’s new book to the first 5 schools to email them at with the subject “AR John Boyne competition”. Good luck!

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