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By Janell Cannon


Stellaluna is a fruit bat, separated from her mother before she can fly. Looked after by birds, she learns about similarities, differences, and the essence of friendship.

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

By Rachel Brauser

Stellaluna, by Janell Cannon, has a lot to offer to a philosophical discussion on identity, making promises, the difference between being and feeling, and family. The question sets encourage children to explore what makes up one's identity, preservation and changing of identity, how being and feeling affect relationships and identity, what makes up a family, why people make and break promises, and what kinds of promises there are. All the question sets are intended to combine these themes in order to guide an engaging philosophical discussion. While thinking about issues in their own lives and hearing about others they may find that what seems to be a simple question will not have a simple answer, therefore encouraging them to think more critically and to always question the answers whether it be their own or others'.

Question sets A through D integrate the issue of identity in some way. Figuring out one's own identity is one of the most complicated processes children go through. Through one's own strengths and limitations, and influences of others, this identity is shaped. Stellaluna struggles with this same idea because of her strengths and limitations as a bat and and their effects on her relationship to other bats and the bird family. Stellaluna also struggles with maintaining identity while adjusting to different surroundings and animals. The questions will guide the children in exploring their own identity in terms of how it is created, how other people affect it, if and how it can be maintained, and if and how it can change.

Question sets A and B raise the issue of the difference between being and feeling. Philosophers have often grappled with ideas of complexity of the self. Set A explores this issue specifically within one's own identity. in relation to one's identity. Set B explores this issue in terms of identity in relation to others. These questions will give children the opportunity to try to understand and create concepts of being and feeling by exploring their identity in terms of thoughts, feelings, and physical appearance.

Question set C raises the issue of maintaining identity while obeying rules. It also explores the idea of belonging to a group and how that affects identity. These ethical issues will lead the children to discuss whether identity can be maintained while belonging to a group and whether it should. This ties directly into question set four where ideas of what and who makes up a family can be discussed. The children will do this by comparing their own families to other families and Stellaluna's.

The last two sets, E and F, raise the issue of promises. The children will explore kinds of promises and whether there is a difference between them. They will also discuss why people make them and why they break them and whether this is ever acceptable. This will give the children the opportunity to think more critically about the effects and importance of promises they make to others.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Stellaluna has different roles such as daughter, friend, bat, and bird.

  1. What kinds of roles do you have?
  2. Do you ever feel like something that you wouldn't say you are - for example, a baby, an adult, a servant?
  3. How does feeling a certain way affect who you are?
  4. Can you become something just by feeling like it?
  5. Can you be something but not feel it?
  6. Are there things that you are that can't change? Are there things that can?
  7. If they change are you still the same person?
  8. How do physical appearances affect who you are?

Flitter asks Stellaluna, "How can we be so different and feel so much alike?" while Pip asks Stellaluna, "How can we feel so different and be so much alike?

  1. Can you and someone else be different and alike at the same time?
  2. What makes you different from your friends?
  3. What makes you the same as your friends?
  4. Do your friends help decide who you are?
  5. Do other people help decide who you are?
  6. What does it mean to be different?
  7. Have you ever done anything just to be different? Why?

Stellaluna ate bugs and slept right side up even though she didn't want to.

  1. Do you do things to please your family? Why?
  2. Do you do things that you don't agree with? How does it make you feel?
  3. Can you still feel like yourself and obey rules that you may not want to or agree with?
  4. Was there ever a time you acted a certain way because you wanted to be accepted by someone else or a group of people? How did it make you feel?
  5. Can you still feel like yourself if you belong to a group?
  6. Is it ok to be different in a group? When? When is it not ok?
  7. Is it ok to be the same in a group? When? When is it not ok?

Stellaluna belongs to many different groups that could be called her family.

  1. What is the difference between Mama Bird, Pip, Flitter, and Flap as family to Stellaluna, Mother Bat as family to Stellaluna, and the other bats as family to Stellaluna?
  2. Are there things that make one group more of a family to Stellaluna than the others?
  3. What are some qualities that make up a human family?
  4. What are the similarities and differences of your family or other human families to Stellaluna's?
  5. How does your family help make you who you are?
  6. Do your friends' families do things differently than yours?
  7. Do you act differently when you are with their family? Why?
  8. How does this affect who you are?

Stellaluna promises Mama Bird that she will not sleep upside down.

  1. Who do you make promises to?
  2. What kinds of promises do you make?
  3. Why do you make promises?
  4. Are some promises more important to keep than others? Why?
  5. Are there some people that it is more important to keep promises to than others? Who? Why?

Even though Mama Bird is not around when Stellaluna is lost, she keeps her promise that she would not sleep upside down.

  1. How do you feel when a promise made to you is kept?
  2. How do you feel when a promise is broken?
  3. Does it matter who made it?
  4. Should a person always act on a promise to someone even if they are not around? Why?
  5. Have you ever broken a promise?
  6. Why did you break it?Is it ever ok to break a promise?
  7. Would you make a promise to someone even if it makes you uncomfortable or you don't agree with it? When?

This book module deals with ethics and metaphysics, specifically personal identity. You can buy this book on Amazon.

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