Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Black Dog


Levi Pinfold's Black Dog tells the story of a black dog that arrives outside a family's home one morning. The father in the family wakes up first and calls the police, reporting that, “There’s a black dog the size of a tiger outside my house!” The police officer tells him not to go outside. The mother wakes up next, and yells to her husband that, “There’s a black dog the size of an elephant outside!” One by one, the other family members wake up and cower at the sight of the huge black dog.

Finally, the youngest member of the family, called Small (“for short”) wakes up and sees that her whole family is hiding from the black dog. “You are such sillies,” she says, and opens the front door to confront the black dog.


Small then starts running, telling the black dog that if he's going to eat her, he has to catch her first. The dog follows her, appearing to shrink along the way. By the end of the chase, the dog, no longer looking very big, follows Small into the house. The family members all notice that the dog "was neither as huge nor as scary as they had feared," and they comment about how brave Small had been to face up to the dog. 

"There was nothing to be scared of, you know," replied Small.

The story is philosophically interesting in a variety of ways, involving questions about ethics, metaphysics and epistemology, among others. Was Small brave to confront the dog? Did she see him differently than the rest of her family saw him? Why did Small believe that there was nothing to be scared of? Does bravery mean not being afraid? What makes us afraid? What is the connection between bravery and fear? Can the way we see things change them? Can it change us?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

I Am the Dog


Daniel Manus Pinkwater's I Am the Dog tells the story of Jacob, a boy, and his dog Max. One day they decide to change places. Jacob eats from a bowl on the floor while Max eats at the table with the family. Jacob runs around the yard while Max goes to school. Max does homework while Jacob snoozes on the floor. The next day, Jacob returns to being a boy and Max to being a dog. "That's how things are supposed to be." But, Jacob notes, they both learned that "being a dog is better."

What makes a boy a boy? A dog a dog? Can a person change places with a dog? Is it better to be a dog than a human being? Do dogs eat off the floor and run around the yard because that is their nature? Can this be changed? Does it seem strange for a human to eat off the floor and run around the yard, and, if so, why?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Favorite Daughter


Allen Say's picture book The Favorite Daughter is dedicated to his daughter. It's the story of Yuriko, who is half Japanese. She is upset when other children make fun of her name and tease her about a photo of her wearing a kimono because she has blond hair. Her art teacher mispronounces her name, calling her "Eureka." Yuriko decides she wants to change her name to Michelle, but after she and her father visit a Japanese restaurant and the Japanese Garden at Golden Gate Park, Yuriko begins to appreciate her uniqueness.

The lovely watercolor and pen and ink illustrations and the emotional expressiveness of Say writing about his daughter enhance the appeal of this book to children, and the story raises a range of interesting philosophical questions. What is the significance of a name? How do our names identify and define us? What makes up our cultural identity? Can it change? What does it mean to be part of a community? Can we be unique individuals and belong to a group at the same time?