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Earl the Squirrel

By Don Freeman, Viking


The mother squirrel wants her son, Earl, to be independent. He got an acorn and a nutcracker from his friend, Jill. His mother is furious about him getting help from Jill. Earl went on an adventure to find his own acorn. He eventually got the acorn by himself and earned his mother’s compliments.

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

By Yanking Li


Discussing the issue of independence with children or with teenagers could make them think of their own experience of being increasingly independent. Earl grows up from a baby squirrel taken care of by his mother, a teenager squirrel assisted by friend, to a grown-up squirrel picking up acorn by himself. Some children in the group may find themselves in the same positions that Earl was. Apparently, the squirrel in this story went on a journey to find an acorn as a quest for independence, which some of the children in the class might have done the same as Earl, trying to do something without the assistance of their relatives and friends, so that they feel more successful. By then, they might realize the difference between a gift and a reward. Earl sees all those acorns scattered on the ground, but he climbs up to pick up one because he cherishes the reward of his own effort rather than gift taken for granted. The children probably received a lot of things from their families and friends; like Earl, however, when they start to value the reward, it shows a sign of independence.

Dependence on Technology

With technology comes laziness. Children playing Pokémon instead of hiking share a lot of in common with Earl using nutcracker instead of chewing. A squirrel wearing red scarf is spoiled in Earl’s mother’s opinion. In the children’s case, their parents probably think that new technology makes the children’s life less adventurous than their childhood. The new generation now is so dependent on technology because of the convenience like the tools and cloth Jill give to Earl brings to his life. As an adult, the mother squirrel is more independent when it comes to technology because she does not grow up in a world full of nutcrackers and other tools. In the class, the children may find that technology gives people an excuse for not doing things by themselves.

Risk vs. Reward

The children in the class may have played games like “Dare” and “Chicken” when they have to take risk in order to win or as punishment. Earl risked his life to seek an acorn on his own. Is it worth it? Sometimes the children would underestimate the risk, like what Earl did when he left home. He could have been poked by the bull’s horn when it charged towards Earl. Lucky for Earl, he successfully saved the scarf, before the bull could have hurt him. In real life good luck cannot keep the children from danger. They have to be able to take the risk into account when they decide to try something new. At the moment when Earl’s scarf dropped he had two choices: to pick it up or to leave it there. Realizing the risk and still willing to take it is a brave act. The question is if he really made the right decision at that moment. If he just left the scarf there, the story may not be as interesting since he would appear to be a “chicken”, but at least he would certainly be safe. The children in the class may make different choice when it comes to risk vs. reward, so that there would be an argument.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion


  1. When does Earl become an independent squirrel?
  2. Do Earl’s mother’s criticisms help him to be more independent? Why?
  3. Why does Earl get his own acorn, despite of all those acorns scattered on the ground?
  4. What is the difference between gift and reward?
  5. What makes someone independent?
  6. Is being independent the same as being alone?
  7. Does earning a reward help people to be more independent? If it does, how?

Dependence on technology

  1. Would nutcracker improve the squirrel’s life?
  2. Why do you think Earl’s mother does not like the nutcracker?
  3. Does new technology make people’s life easier? Give examples.
  4. Could too much technology make things worse? How? (relate to the examples in question 3)
  5. When do people rely too much on new technology? Why would they do that?
  6. Are we better off with or without the new technology? Why?
  7. Is technology destructive? If it is What danger does it bring to human?

Risk vs. Reward

  1. Why does he leave home with out telling his mother?
  2. Why does Earl start his adventure? What is he trying to prove?
  3. What would happen if his scarf did not fall?
  4. Is it worth it if Earl were to be attacked by a bull for seeking acorn? Why?
  5. If you were to be Earl, would you reach out your hand for the scarf when the bull is coming? Why?
  6. Supposing Earl is playing “chicken”, he would win if he reaches out for the scarf, but the reward is nothing. Would he still go?
  7. How important is the reward in a content of game? Would a good reward outweigh the risk in the wage?
  8. When is it okay to take a risk for its corresponding reward?

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