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Philosophy in Children's Literature


This project, which spans 1 semester, focuses student learning on the broad nature of philosophy--a means by which adults and young children ask questions about the world and themselves. Philosophical topics such as personal identity, free will, moral responsibility, existence and being, the nature of art and beauty, and the requirements of justice are tackled in the picture books that are explored in this project.

Learning Objectives

The purpose of this project is to help students:

  • Understand the essentials roles that questioning and discussion have in the practice of philosophy

  • Suspend their assumptions about the world by considering how children ask questions about the world and themselves

  • Analyze the artistic and literary form of picture books

  • Be introduced to new philosophical topics and questions

Materials & Technology
  • Handout 1: Project Description & Rubric

  • Handout 2: Picture Book Reviews

  • Picture Books

    • Where the Wild Things Are (1963), by Maurice Sendak

    • The Velveteen Rabbit (1922), by Margery Williams & William Nicholson (illus.)

    • The Man Who Walked Between the Towers (2003), by Mordicai Gerstein

    • Each Kindness (2012), by Jacqueline Woodson & E.B. Lewis (illus.)

    • The Giving Tree (1964), by Shel Silverstein

    • The Bear That Wasn’t (1946), by Frank Tashlin

    • The Rainbow Fish (1992), by Marcus Pfister

    • The Dark (2013), written by Lemony Snicket & Jon Klassen (illus.)

    • Orion and the Dark (2015), by Emma Yarlett

    • Emily’s Art (2001), by Peter Catalanotto

    • The Last Stop on Market Street (2015), by Matt De La Peña & Christian Robinson (illus.)

    • The Missing Piece (1976), by Shel Silverstein

    • Frederick (1967), by Leo Lionni

  • Free blogging website



Students have learned the major branches of philosophy and questions that are associated with each:

  • Metaphysics: What does it mean to exist? Do immaterial things exist (e.g. dreams, God, hallucinations, etc.)? What is the world like, and where did it come from?

  • Epistemology: What is knowledge? How do I know my knowledge is certain? 

  • Ethics:

  • Aesthetics: What is beauty? Does it belong to the object or to the beholder?


Day 1:

Students are given Handout 1 which describes the project and provides a rubric for their work. Students are told that each week, we will read a picture book at the start of class and that we will discuss the book afterwards. Students are also made aware that they will each choose 2 picture books per quarter to review according to professional standards of children's literary reviews and post them on a blog of their own creation. Each Literature Review will included 3 components: 1) Plot; 2) Visual & Literary Elements; 3) Philosophy

Students are shown in class how to create a blog on 

Day 2:

Students are invited to bring teacups to class and store them in the classroom for the remainder of the semester. The class is encouraged to bring tea to share each day a story is read and discussed.


The instructor provides background on the author and the publication of Where the Wild Things Are. Students relocate so they can see the illustrations of the book as the instructor reads the work to the class. Students are divided into small groups to discuss their reaction to the work and make connections between the branches of philosophy we have discussed (e.g. metaphysics, epistemology, etc.) and the story. Then, the class recombines and discusses the work.

The discussions are free-flowing, and students are encouraged to extend the comments of fellow students, agree or disagree with fellow students, and ask questions of the class. The discussion is guided by the instructor to analyze each of the 3 components required in their Literature Reviews. Discussions are ended by reading profession reviews of the book distributed in Handout 2.

The instructor demonstrates through Where the Wild Things Are that children can walk away from this book wondering whether or not "where the wild things are" is a real place. Did Max really go to this place, or was it a dream? What does it mean to say that dreams are not real if we experience them? Mustn't they exist in some way? The instructor also highlights the visual and literary elements of a picture book.


Books are read to the class once per week, and they are selected so they connect with the ideas students are learning in each unit.

Students are responsible for writing and posting 2 Literature Reviews at the end of each Quarter to their blog and submitting the text of their blog posts to Turnitin.


The following activities are graded:

  1. Creation of blog on 

  2. Participation in discussions

  3. 4 Literature Reviews

Examples of Student Work

Click on any of the books below to read student reviews.

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