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A Sneetch is a Sneetch and Other Philosophical Discoveries: Finding Wisdom in Children's Literature

ISBN: 978-0-470-65683-9
176 pages
April 2013, Wiley-Blackwell
A Sneetch is a Sneetch and Other Philosophical Discoveries: Finding Wisdom in Children
Taking Picture Books Seriously: What can we learn about philosophy through children's books?

This warm and charming volume casts a spell on adult readers as it unveils the surprisingly profound philosophical wisdom contained in children's picture books, from Dr Seuss's Sneetches to William Steig's Shrek!. With a light touch and good humor, Wartenberg discusses the philosophical ideas in these classic stories, and provides parents with a practical starting point for discussing philosophical issues with their children. Accessible and multi-layered, it answers questions like, Is it okay for adults to deceive kids? What's the difference between saying the Mona Lisa is a great painting and vanilla is your favorite flavor? Each chapter includes illustrations commissioned especially for this book.

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Acknowledgments ix

‘‘Why? Why? Why?’’: Children, Philosophy, and Picture Books 1

1 Harold and the Purple Crayon: Can You Get Wet Swimming in an Imaginary Ocean? 7

2 The Important Book: Is a Leopard without Its Spots Still a Leopard? 16

3 Shrek!: Could a Dead Skunk Smell Good? 24

4 Let’s Do Nothing!: Can You Just Do Nothing at All? 33

5 Knuffle Bunny: How Do You Know I’m Angry If I Don’t Say So? 42

6 Many Moons: Do Experts Really Know More? 48

7 Yellow and Pink: Could Human Life Have Arisen Purely by Chance? 55

8 Morris the Moose: How Do You Know When You’ve Made a Mistake? 63

9 Emily’s Art: What’s the Difference between Saying the Mona Lisa Is a Great Painting and Vanilla Is Your Favorite Flavor? 71

10 Miss Nelson Is Missing!: Is It Okay for Adults to Deceive Kids? 81

11 The Giving Tree: How Can It Be Wrong to Give Someone What They Want? 90

12 ‘‘Cookies’’: What Good Is Having Will-Power If You Don’t Have Any More Cookies? 100

13 Frederick: Can You Enjoy Doing Something Even If It’s Work? 109

14 The Sneetches: Isn’t It All Right to Discriminate in Choosing Your Friends? 116

15 The Paper Bag Princess:What’s Wrong with ‘‘Living Happily Ever After’’? 125

16 The Big Orange Splot: Is There Anything Wrong with Conformity? 132

Taking Picture Books Seriously 142

Who’s Who: Thumbnail Biographies of the Philosophers 145

What’s What: Key Philosophical Terms 156

Next Steps: Additional Philosophical Picture Books 160

More Next Steps: Digging Deeper into Philosophy 163

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Thomas E. Wartenberg is Professor of Philosophy at Mount Holyoke College, USA. He founded the Teaching Children Philosophy program, which won the 2011 APA/PDC Prize for Excellence and Innovation in Philosophy Programs. Its website, www.teachingchildrenphilosophy.org, receives tens of thousands of visits monthly. Professor Wartenberg’s 13 books as author or editor include Big Ideas for Little Kids: Teaching Philosophy through Children’s Literature (2009), Existentialism: A Beginner’s Guide (2008), and The Philosophy of Film: Introductory Text and Readings (Wiley-Blackwell, 2005), which he co-edited with Angela Curran. He has been awarded Senior Fulbright Fellowships to Germany and New Zealand, as well as a National Endowment for the Humanities Research Fellowship. He has also directed two National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminars for School Teachers.

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“This is a great resource for those interested in pre-college philosophy and in elementary education, and for parents generally.  It also will be useful to upper-level philosophy and education students looking for novel approaches within their disciplines.  Summing Up: Highly recommended.  Lower-level undergraduates and above; general readers.”  (Choice, 1 November 2013)

"Filled with humor and keen insights, A Sneetch is a Sneetch and other Philosophical Discoveries is essential reading for anyone with an interest in philosophy or children's literature - and by anyone, I mean anyone - from the mom or dad looking for something interesting to read to their toddler, to writers of every ilk, and yes, even full fledge, academically inclined philosophers. Happy pondering!!."  (History in Review, 3 June 2013)

“This is a wonderful book. Written with humor and clarity, it's a primer/refresher on philosophy and ethics. Wartenberg uses children's books to tackle the kinds of profound questions kids ask: is it possible to do nothing? What makes a leopard a leopard and not a dog? How can it be wrong to give someone what they want? The book shows the way to discussions in the realm of ideas with your kids, using their favorite picture books. Good picture books provoke good questions, and then the fun of thinking and talking about all the possible answers.”

—Mordicai Gerstein, Caldecott winning author of The Man Who Walked Between the Towers


"Wartenberg simultaneously shows the philosophical seriousness of children's literature and the childlike wonder of philosophy. Completely convincing and utterly charming."

 —Claudia Mills, Philosophy Department, University of Colorado at Boulder, and award-winning children's book author

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April 15, 2013
A Sneetch is a Sneetch and Other Philosophical Discoveries: Finding Wisdom in Children's Literature


"Writers of great picture books are well attuned to the features of the world that baffle young children."

Think back to being a child and your favorite stories and picture books. Now think, through adult eyes, about why you enjoyed them. While you may have loved the appealing illustrations or loveable characters, was the appeal not also in the bewildering questions that the story raised? The kind of questions that the adult reading the book could never quite answer... How can a leopard without spots still be a leopard? Why is it OK for adults to deceive children but not the other way round? Can you really go swimming in an imaginary ocean?

Now, in his engaging and practical new book, Wartenberg helps us find answers to some of the "Why? Why? Why?" questions by taking a closer look at sixteen children's picture books through the eyes of the philosopher (a philosopher himself and founder of the Teaching Children Philosophy program, Wartenberg recognizes the similarity between children and philosophers - both always "determined to put obstacles in our way as we try to complete the various tasks life demands."). Amongst other things, we consider whether Shrek can really be handsome just because he tells us he is, consider why the "happily ever after" ending may not always be the best outcome, and ask whether it's OK for the Star-Belly Sneetches to consider themselves superior than the Plain-Belly Sneetches.

Written in a light-hearted and accessible style, each chapter focuses on a different book (see below for full list) and a specific philosophical issue, from metaphysics to language, morality to knowledge, judgments to ethics.

There is a brief biography of the philosophers discussed, a glossary of key philosophical terms, and, at the end of each chapter, additional questions for you to ponder, either with a child or on your own!

The perfect introduction to philosophy for children at home or at school and an insightful read for anyone contemplating their own philosophical conundrums, A Sneetch is a Sneetchleaves the reader better equipped to understand the stories they read or hear each night and, for adults, allows them to shed light on some of those tricky questions!

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