The Little Prince
By Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Harcourt
An aviator whose plane is forced down in the Sahara Desert encounters a little boy, a prince, from a small planet. The boy recounts his space-travelling adventures and search for the secret of what is important in life.
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
By Allison Trzop
Antoine de Saint-Exupery's enduring classic, The Little Prince, offers a longer, more advanced story through which to engage children in philosophical discussion. The author's personal experiences as a pilot who was at one point stranded in the desert lend this story a uniquely accessible element. There is a certain piquancy added whenever life is intertwined with fiction and nowhere is this more evident than in Saint-Exupery's stunning description of his and of his protagonist's situation. His character is believable and yet undergoes fantastical encounters. The pilot's realistic struggle with his harsh environment juxtaposed to his poignant appreciation for its natural beauty betokens first-hand experience, from which Saint-Exupery certainly drew. This grounding of the supernatural in real life will provide children with a framework to contemplate the extraordinary.
Through the travels and travails of the little prince, we encounter open-ended philosophical concepts such as 'authority,' 'ephemeral' and 'loneliness.' We are invited to contemplate opposing definitions of 'ownership;' contrasting the concept of possession from the little prince's responsibility-based to the businessman's avarice-based perspective. The little prince also draws from his interactions with others to validate or dismiss concepts, such as friendship. Seeing through his innocent, yet critical, lenses allows us to examine our own pre-formed notions surrounding these premises.
The little prince asks questions children would be likely to pose themselves, in similar situations. Conversely, many of the answers he receives come from very 'grown-up' grown-ups. Illogical as they may seem in this context, the characters' responses to the little prince reflect real-world scenarios. 'Do as I say because I'm the king,' doesn't differ drastically from 'because I'm the parent, or teacher.' Additionally, we are told that the little prince, "Never in all his life let go of a question once he had asked it" (47). The example of the little prince to children is to keep questioning until you receive an answer, then, examine that answer. The ongoing process of critical evaluation underlying this book is the cornerstone not only of the following question sets, but also of philosophy for children. This incredible work represents a rich resource for those invested in cultivating a community of inquiry in the elementary classroom.
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
The story of The Little Prince is about a pilot who crashes his plane in the desert. The author of the story was also a pilot who was stuck in the desert after his plane crashed. The pilot in the book meets a little prince from another planet.
The pilot points out that, "When you tell them about a new friend, [grown-ups] never ask questions about what really matters. They never ask: 'What does his voice sounds like?' 'What games does he like best?' 'Does he collect butterflies?' They ask: 'How old is he?' 'How many brothers does he have?' 'How much does he weigh?' 'How much money does his father make?'"
The pilot says grown-ups will believe the little prince existed if you say, "The planet he came from is Asteroid B-612." He says grown-ups won't believe he existed if you say, "The proof of the little prince's existence is that he was delightful, that he laughed, and that he wanted a sheep."
The pilot explains, "If I try to describe him here, it's so I won't forget him."
We learn from the pilot that, "It's already been 6 years since [the little prince] went away."
If the pilot doesn't fix his plane, he might die. The little prince thinks the war between the sheep and the flowers is more serious.
The pilot drops his tools and consoles the little prince. He thinks taking care of his friend is more serious than his own life.
Let's make a list of people who have authority.
The businessman says he owns the stars because he was the first to think of it.