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The Good Little Book

By Kyo Maclear


A boy gets a time-out and is sent to the study where he sees all sorts of ancient things that don’t do much. He finds the good little book, a nondescript book that he feels was written just for him. He spends hours reading and rereading and the book becomes his constant companion. One day he loses the book and his attempts to find it are unsuccessful. One day he spots the book―a little girl has picked it up. He lets it go, accepting that others ought to love it too. Even though he has lost the physical copy the good little book had become a part of him, and it never really went away.

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

By Olivia Oberle

The Paradox of Fiction

The boy gets wrapped up in the good little book. Getting lost in a fictional world is a common side effect of reading a good book. How does this happen? How can we get so engrossed in a made-up story? This book can be used to guide discussions surrounding the paradox of fiction, which is the argument that our emotional responses to fiction are irrational. Is it true that we must know that an event is real in order to respond emotionally to it? If it is then it seems silly to have an emotional response to a work of fiction, since we definitely do have these reactions.

Is it irrational to have an emotional response to fiction? Some say that our emotional responses to fiction are also made-up. One possible solution to the paradox is to say that we do not actually need to believe the scenario is real in order to have a real emotional response. We can react emotionally to just the thought of something happening (like real disappointment at the thought of a favored political candidate losing) and that shouldn’t seem irrational. Is it so wrong bad that this paradox exists anyway? Works of fiction can successfully allow us to imagine diverse scenarios and expand our minds.

Children are likely to understand what it’s like to get caught up in a good book, especially intermediate and advanced readers who are reading longer stories. The questions are meant to get kids to acknowledge firstly that they are responding emotionally to the stories they read. Asking if that seems irrational, or silly, introduces the paradox, since we should only react deeply to real events (right?) Even if it is silly, does it matter? Does this emotional response give fiction some value? This leads well into the second topic.

Morality and Literature

Some philosophers believe that a good work of fiction is one with moral value. Imagining various scenarios can expand our capacities for empathy and allow us to be moved beyond our immediate experiences. The boy’s behavior was not improved by the good little book. Could it still have moral value? Could it still be a good book? If so, what is its value?

Literature might not need to be either morally valuable or useless. It can provide consolation, entertainment or creative inspiration. Some say that fiction is dangerous because it plays on our emotions rather than our rational faculties. So we may be manipulated into believing new things, which is not always a positive thing. This is the underlying fear in the thought that literature is corrupting, which we’ve seen throughout history as books have been banned and censored. Could these “corrupting” books still have value―even moral value? A natural place to begin the discussion is asking why kids read and what they feel they get out of reading. The questions are meant to get kids thinking about the potential moral value of books and the fact that works of fiction do in fact teach lessons sometimes. But, is that all they do? And can we read a “good book” that teaches no lesson at all, or even a bad lesson. What is so good about it, then?

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

The Paradox of Fiction

Why do you think the boy enjoys the book so much?
What kinds of books do you like? Why?
Have you ever cried or laughed while reading a made-up story? Why do you think that might happen, even when the story isn’t real?
If you have had an emotional reaction to a book did it seem silly? Or very real?

Morality and Literature

It isn’t a “sensible book of languages or a useful book of information”. What do we get out of reading fiction? Is it only fun or can we learn lessons from stories, too?
What does it mean that “the good little book never completely went away”?
Has a book ever changed the way you thought or felt?
Have you ever felt a connection or that you identified with a story character?
Have you ever felt empathy for someone in a book? Maybe someone who is very different from you?
Could there be good books that teach bad lessons? Why or why not?
The good little book did not improve the boy’s behavior. Could the book have made him better in some other way?
Have you ever read a book to distract yourself from thinking about other things?

This book module deals with emotions, imagination, the paradox of fiction. You can buy this book on Amazon.

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