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What Bobolino Knew

By Anne Rockwell


Bobolino is the son of a rich nobleman. Thinking his son is a bit slow, Bobolino’s father sends him off to learn various languages so that Bobolino would at least “seem wise.” Bobolino comes back not having learned how to speak Chinese, French, or Arabic etc. but he has learned how to speak to animals. His father is displeased and locks him in the dungeon. Bobolino then escapes and comes across some frogs who let him know some robbers are planning on stealing the nearby shepherd's sheep. Bobolino warns the shepherd and they scare off the robbers. Bobolino continues on his path and goes for a swim where some fish warn him to stay off the coast as a big storm is coming in. Bobolino heeds this warning and goes to deter the fisherman from setting out to sea. He then goes into the nearby town when the storm breaks. Simultaneously the king of the area passes away and the town is in mourning. By the time the storm ends the whole town has heard of Bobolino’s good deeds and elects him as the new king.

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

By Alyk Kenlan and Maya Ben-Shahar


This book poses the question of what it means to be wise. Is a person wise because he compassionate? Or because he knows a lot? To help dive into these questions, it is helpful to have the children think of people who they think are wise. More than just creating tangible examples of wisdom, this is an opportunity to ask the children why they think some people are wise. It is recommended to write down some of the trends and adjectives that the children describe, to make a bank of words that can be used to define "wisdom". Here we move into asking what makes Bobolino wise (if he is!). The discussion can then move away from people telling different personal stories and towards an assessment of wisdom in the book. Question Two below also includes some modifiers to get the discussion going by presenting different aspects of wisdom.

The next question, “Would Bobolino still be wise if the townspeople didn’t say he was wise?” gets the children thinking about if wisdom is intrinsic or something defined by other people. Question Five is in a similar vein as it pushes for clarification on whether wisdom is something that is learned over time or something people are born with. When we reach Question Six, we begin comparing wisdom and intelligence. Again, it is best to start with personal examples to helps the children think of how they personally define "wisdom". Recounting personal experiences with these categories can easily get off-topic, so it is important to steer back by returning to questions like, “What exactly about that experience makes you think of wisdom, instead of intelligence?” Question Eight makes a final push at a larger point, namely the value of wisdom. If other discussion has been lacking, this question has a lot of examples from within the book and will be easy to point to specific pages that the children can discuss (such as Bobolino warning the fisherman or the shepherd). Finally, you might get the kids to reflect on the connection (if any) between wisdom and morality: are wise people always good? Or can someone be really wise but also really bad? And if not, does that show us that wisdom and intelligence are not the same thing (since someone can be really intelligent and really bad)?

Valuing Communication

By talking to the animals, Bobolino is gaining access to an unheard group, and learning things he couldn’t learn from anyone else. In the story, the animals share practical information with him, making it seem like this is the main benefit of talking to them. But learning languages is emphasized pretty heavily in the book (being the sole purpose of the journey that starts the story), and this opens up some questions about the importance of learning languages. Why do we value the ability to hear from others? Other than practicality, what reasons could there be? To get the kids thinking about these question, we start by asking, “What good comes of Bobolino talking to animals?” and “Why does Bobolino talk to animals?” The first question is fairly straightforward, and we might expect kids to come up with plot-based answers, like saving the fishermen, helping the farmer, etc. The second question might seem the same at first: he talks with them to learn how to help the fishermen, the farmer, etc. But it is important to push for more answers by returning to specific points in the story (such as when he was in the water with the fish) and asking what Bobolino might have been thinking. Could he really have expected the fish to tell him something useful? If not, why else might he have talked to the fish? The underlying question we are trying to get at is the value of communication. Is communication good because it helps us learn information about the world, or because it helps us make friends, or because it allows us to express ourselves, or something else? Is the value of listening of a different type than value of speaking? It is important to be careful when you ask kids why they would want to talk to animals, it could be easy to get off topic, fast. Be prepared to use directing questions like, “What exactly would make animals worth speaking to? If it turned out that animals don’t like people and you couldn’t become friends with them, would you still want to talk with them?”

Questions for Philosophical Discussion


The townspeople want Bobolino to be king because he is wise.

  1. Many of the townspeople see Bobolino as wise. Who do you see as wise, and what makes them that way?
  2. What makes Bobolino wise? Is it because he knows how to talk to animals? Or because he uses his knowledge to be helpful to others? Or something else?
  3. Would Bobolino still be wise if the townspeople didn’t say he was wise? Why?
  4. Would we still care if Bobolino was wise if he never became king? Why?
  5. Was Bobolino wise from the beginning, or did he become wise? (Is wisdom something you have from the time you’re born, or do you get it with time?)
  6. What are some times you feel wise, and not wise?
  7. How are the times you feel wise different from the times you feel smart?
  8. Why should we care about being wise? Is wisdom more important than intelligence?
  9. What if Bobolino didn’t help the townspeople? Or even did bad things like help steal the sheep? Would he still be wise? Or does one have to be nice to be wise?

The Value of Communication

Bobolino communicates with animals to help people.

  1. What good things happen because Bobolino is able to talk to animals?
  2. Why does Bobolino talk to the animals?
  3. Would it still be valuable for Bobolino to talk to the fish if the fish didn’t have helpful information?
  4. Pretend Bobolino had decided not to learn any languages, but learned other useful skills–predicting storms, etc–and managed to save the townspeople without the help of animals. What would he have lost or gained by doing it on his own?
  5. If you could learn to talk to animals, would you? Why?
  6. Is there someone you don’t talk to much you think might have something helpful to say?
  7. Why do people care about communication? Should they?

This book module deals with Wisdom, Epistemology, Multiculturalism, and Communication. Good for intermediate philosophers. You can buy this book on Amazon.

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