Milk and Cookies
By Frank Asch
When Baby Bear thinks he sees his grandfather feeding a dragon during a visit one winter’s day, he can’t seem to get the idea out of his head! After falling asleep, Baby Bear dreams the dragon emerges and asks for food. Baby Bear feeds the dragon milk and cookies and wakes up crying. Puzzled, his parents ask why Baby Bear thinks there is a dragon. Through Baby Bear’s experiences, the reader comes to question if we can always believe what we see, the difference between reality and dreaming, and what it means to be afraid of something, even if we know it isn’t real.
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
By Alexandra Chang
The questions are broken up into three sets based on topic, but can easily be connected to each other during discussion. It may be that during the discussion, these topics will organically overlap and that is perfectly fine. However, the way they are set up here is meant to facilitate a progression from perception and belief in reality, to perception and belief in dreaming, before finally discussing the legitimacy of belief and emotions in fictional settings.
Set A focuses on what it means to perceive something, and the beliefs that are attached to such perception. Doubtless, the children will have experienced a time when they thought they saw (or heard, felt, smelled) something that wasn’t actually there. This phenomenon of mistaken perception demands an account explaining what it means to sense something, and when/if we can ever believe that what we are experiencing with our senses is real. Why is it that our eyes can play tricks on us? Is there something wrong with our eyes? Or our mind’s interpretation of what our eyes pick up? When are we justified in believing what we see? The importance of this section is to get the children thinking about what it means to “see” something, and how this process contributes to their beliefs. It seems that at times even “reality” can lead us astray.
Set B takes up this thread of questioning reality, or at least our perception of it, and asks whether we can apply the same questions to dreaming. What is the difference between reality and dreaming? Is there any sense in which dreams ARE real? What makes something “real,” anyway? Baby Bear seems to see the same qualities of a “dragon” (mouth, breathing fire) in “reality” as he does when he is dreaming. What makes one experience more believable than the other? Finally, as Mama Bear asks, whatever gives Baby Bear the idea that there is a dragon in the cellar? This raises the issue of where dreams come from. Where does Baby Bear get the idea of “dragon” in the first place? Most children will be familiar with the concept of a dragon. But where do the fantastical creations of their own dreams come from? Experiences from reality? Movies? Books?
Finally, the last set of questions raises the issue of how we react to what we know isn’t real. Often we have emotional reactions to things we know aren’t real. When we watch a scary movie, for example, we know that the villain on the screen isn’t really coming for us, and if anyone asked us afterwards, of course we would say the boogie monster doesn’t really exist. Why, then, can we justify being afraid of these things we “know” aren’t real?
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
Perception and Belief
Reality and Dreaming
Fiction and Emotions