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Philosophy in Children's Literature [Hardcover]

Peter R. Costello
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

December 30, 2011 0739168231 978-0739168233

This book allows philosophers, literary theorists, and education specialists to come together to offer a series of readings on works of children’s literature. Each of their readings is focused on pairing a particular, popular picture book or a chapter book with philosophical texts or themes.

The book has three sections—the first, on picturebooks; the second, on chapter books; and the third, on two sets of paired readings of two very popular picturebooks. By means of its three sections, the book sets forth as its goal to show how philosophy can be helpful in reappraising books aimed at children from early childhood on. Particularly in the third section, the book emphasizes how philosophy can help to multiply the type of interpretative stances that are possible when readers listen again to what they thought they knew so well.

The kinds of questions this book raises are the following: How are children’s books already anticipating or articulating philosophical problems and discussions? How does children’s literature work by means of philosophical puzzles or language games? What do children’s books reveal about the existential situation the child reader faces?

In posing and answering these kinds of questions, the readings within the book thus intersect with recent, developing scholarship in children’s literature studies as well as in the psychology and philosophy of childhood.

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Editorial Reviews


Editor Costello (Providence College) brings together an excellent sequence of examinations of the philosophical ideas in various children's literature. The text is split into unequal thirds that discuss picture books (nine chapters), chapter books (five chapters), and multiple readings/interpretations of the same text (four chapters, two per text). The contributors are primarily philosophers, but Costello's introduction situates the book both within the context of the philosophy and children movement and within scholarly interest in children's literature. In many ways, this volume owes less to the tradition of Matthew Lipman and Gareth Matthews than to the field of literary criticism. Thus, readers gain insight into reading and using these texts, but the texts remain objects to be examined by scholars--not readings to be shared with children. The chapters on Shel Silverstein's Missing Piece books and The Giving Tree are among the most engaging. The chapter on Robert C. O'Brien's Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, written by his daughter, Sarah O'Brien Conly, follows closely behind. This is a valuable resource for those who do philosophy with children, scholars of children's literature, and educators looking for innovative readings of standard children's literature. Summing Up: Highly recommended. (CHOICE)

As we read children’s literature to our children, we always knew that the writers of many of these little books were engaged in philosophizing. Now a wonderful, focused, and informed study of particular children’s books explores the philosophical thinking and theorizing that is taking place in these writings. With continental philosophy in the background, the philosophical world of these books is opened up for those who want to find more out of what we read to our children and grandchildren, and what they read to themselves. The philosophical and moral language of these short works of fiction is taken seriously through philosophical essays by multiple contributors. Peter Costello’s introduction situates this enterprise in terms of contemporary continental thinking about the meaning of an engagement with human, personal, social, and moral issues with the caveat that such works must not be used for propaganda or to diminish human freedom and experience, but rather as an opening up of the child’s imagination, perception and thought. (Hugh J. Silverman, Executive Director, The International Association for Philosophy and Literature, and Professor of Philosophy and Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies at Stony Brook University)

Philosophy in Children's Literature is a nostalgic revisit of childhood favorites combined with a readable, introspective examination of the relationship between children's literature and philosophy. This book supports the premise that children are, by nature, philosophers, and that philosophy has meaning for humans of all ages. (Debra Dew, Rockford College)

Children's literature is an especially important part of culture, because of the formative role it plays in shaping the souls of future adults. This volume opens up the field of children's literature by way of allowing philosophy, and philosophers, to mark out new paths of understanding through many of our culture's familiar children's stories. By bringing together an international and interdisciplinary group of scholars, many of whom are directly connected to the production or criticism of children's literature, Costello invites us to re-connect to texts we thought we knew and to see them in a new, provocative light. This book should be of interest to any educated reader but will be of particular use in college courses on literature, philosophy, literary theory, and education. (John Russon, University of Guelph)

What do Kant, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Derrida, and Badiou have to do with books like The Velveteen Rabbit, Where the Wild Things Are, and Pollyanna? This book’s exploration of the intriguing conjunction of philosophy and children’s literature has much to tell us not only about the relevance of ethical, ecological, feminist, existentialist (and many other) issues to children’s books, but also about the way children already have philosophical lives. In a series of sustained readings of short fiction for children, from picture books for the very young to books with chapters for adolescents, this volume takes a radical theoretical approach which yields many original insights. (Ruth Parkin-Gounelas, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece)

Is philosophical thinking relevant to children’s literature? The very presence and details of each individual essay would be a resounding yes

These essays are written very accessibly, for an audience who is unfamiliar with academic philosophy and they are written with a conviction that shows the real value in focusing on children’s literature with a philosophical lens.
(Metapsychology Online Reviews)

Scholars of children's literature will be introduced to applications of philosophy to this field not usually found in its journals (though the linguistic and gender approaches will be familiar); philosophy students will be exposed to the richness of children's texts as vehicles for understanding those philosophies. It lives up to its promise to offer both children's literature scholars and philosophers new ways of thinking about familiar texts. (Children's Literature Association Quarterly)

About the Author

Claire Brown is assistant professor of philosophy at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky. Claire recently completed her dissertation on supererogation and virtue ethics at the University of Notre Dame. She has broad interests in normative theory (esp. virtue ethics), metaethics, and philosophy of religion.
Licia Carlson is associate professor of philosophy at Providence College. Her research interests include ethics and bioethics, feminist philosophy, contemporary French philosophy, and aesthetics. She is the co-editor of Cognitive Disability and Its Challenge to Moral Philosophy and her book, The Faces of Intellectual Disability: Philosophical Reflections was published in 2009. She is currently writing a book on music, philosophy and disability.
Sarah Conly teaches in the philosophy department at Bowdoin College, in Brunswick Maine. She was an undergraduate at Princeton, a graduate student at Cornell, and has also taught at the University of Michigan. She enjoys children’s literature, kayaking, and hanging out with her dog.
Peter Costello is associate professor of philosophy at Providence College. His research is centered in phenomenology, particularly focused on Husserl, Edith Stein, and Merleau-Ponty. He has written articles on phenomenology and both modernist literature and contemporary American drama. His book Layers in Husserl’s Phenomenology: On Meaning and Intersubjectivity is forthcoming from the University of Toronto Press.
Oona Eisenstadt is associate professor of religious studies and Fred Krinsky Chair of Jewish Studies at Pomona College. She has published extensively on the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, and has also written on Derrida, Rosenzweig, Plato, Shakespeare, and J.K. Rowling. She received her doctoral degree from McMaster University and, despite residency in California, remains a proud Canadian.
Kirsten Jacobson is assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Maine. Professor Jacobson specializes in 19th and 20th century Continental philosophy and the philosophy of art. Her research interests include the study of spatiality and the interpersonal significance of space, the nature of home and dwelling, and more generally, the philosophical significance and status of the phenomenological method. Her published work has focused significantly on using the phenomenological arguments of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Martin Heidegger to conduct novel analyses of psychological and physiological illnesses ranging from spatial neglect to agoraphobia, and more generally to consider issues of"existential health." In 2009, she created a philosophy outreach program called Philosophy Across the Ages, which brings together undergraduate philosophy students with local high school students and retirement community members for seminar-style discussions of accessible and exciting philosophical texts.
Kelly Jones is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada where she divides her time between research, writing, teaching, and producing radio programs. Her research interests include 20th Century European philosophy, and the intersections of philosophy and literature, in particular. Kelly is very excited to welcome a child of her own, shortly, and is excited to read and re-read a wide swath of children's literature as a result.
Lindsay Lerman is a Ph.D. candidate in the Philosophy Department at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. She currently lives in Northern Arizona, where she is completing her dissertation and creating a program with the Philosophy Department at Northern Arizona University to make philosophy a part of the curriculum in local elementary schools. Her work on Bataille’s concept of nonknowledge and its relation to mysticism will be featured in a forthcoming volume (from Inter-Disciplinary Press) on spirituality and the 21st century.
Court Lewis teaches philosophy at Pellissippi State Technical Community College. His research interests include ethics, the holocaust, social/political Philosophy, and popular culture. His area of specialty is the study of forgiveness and moral responsibility. Court has appeared in several edited collections dealing with a variety of topics, from popular culture to peace studies, and he recently co-edited Doctor Who and Philosophy with Paula Smithka.

Tyson E. Lewis is associate professor of educational philosophy at Montclair State University. He has published articles in journals such as theory@buffalo, Cultural Critique, Culture, Theory, and Critique, and Rethinking Marxism. In addition to the book Education Out of Bounds: Rethinking Cultural Studies for a Posthuman Age (New York: Palgrave, 2010), he is currently completing a manuscript titled The Aesthetics of Education: Theatre, Curiosity, and Politics in the Work of Jacques Ranciere and Paulo Freire (London: Continuum, in press).

Dina Mendonça earned an M.E.d. in philosophy for children at Montclair State University. She went on to receive a Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of South Carolina, Columbia. She is currently a member of the research team of Instituto de Filosofia da Linguagem, holding a post-doctoral position working on a Pragmatic Analysis of Emotion ( In addition, she works in Philosophy or Children in classrooms as well as training for teacher and educators developing new material for Philosophy for Children. Her forthcoming Manual for Philosophy for Children is scheduled for publication in Portugal in Fall 2011.
Carl F. Miller received his Ph.D. from the University of Florida. He teaches literature at the University of Alabama, where he specializes in Anglophone modernism and postmodernism, critical theory, and children’s literature. He has recent publications on the influence of the Cold War in the 1980s graphic novel, the expression of utopia by Michael Jackson in Captain EO, and the role of sports in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. He is currently working on a book about the literature and culture of the 1980s Cold War.
Ellen Miller is associate professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion Studies at Rowan University. She is the author of Releasing Philosophy, Thinking Art (Davies Group Publishers, 2009), the first full length philosophical study of Sylvia Plath’s poetry. Her publications have addressed topics in philosophy of art, feminist philosophy, and ethics. Her current research shows how Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty’s views on nature, the environment and technology resonate with current work in educational and environmental thinking.
Claudia Mills is associate professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder, specializing in the fields of ethics and political philosophy, with particular interest in philosophical and ethical analyzes of children's literature. She is the author of over forty books for young readers, most recently Mason Dixon: Pet Disasters (Knopf, 2011) and Fractions = Trouble! (Farrar, 2011).
Karin Murris is visiting professor at the University of Wales in Newport (UK) and senior lecturer in philosophy of education at the School of Education, University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg, South Africa. She studied library science in Amsterdam, philosophy at the University of Leiden (NL), University of London (MA), and completed her Ph.D. in philosophy with children in 1997. Trained under Professor Matthew Lipman, she pioneered the use of picturebooks for the teaching of philosophy and helped to set up the professional development courses in philosophy with children in Britain and SA. As co-director of consultancy Dialogueworks she has worked as an integrity consultant and philosophy with children senior trainer with children and adults in schools, businesses, and universities for over 20 years. She is the author of Teaching Philosophy with Picture Books (1992), and with Joanna Haynes Storywise:Thinking through Stories (2002) and Picturebooks, Pedagogy and Philosophy (2011). Her research interests include philosophy of education, children’s literature (picturebooks), childhood, and professional dilemmas and ethics in education.
Matthew F. Pierlott is associate professor of philosophy at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. His teaching and research focus on ethics and agency. He has contributed several essays on business ethics and on integrity to books within the philosophy and popular culture genre, including Dr. Seuss and Philosophy: Oh, the Thinks You Can Think! (Rowman & Littlefield, 2011).
Milena Radeva earned her advanced degree in English from Sofia University in Bulgaria, and her M.A. and Ph. D. in English from the Pennsylvania State University. She currently teaches in the English Department at Providence College. Her research interests center on the theme of philanthropy in British and American Modernism, and she has published articles on philanthropy in the works of Virginia Woolf and Edith Wharton. Works under review include an article on the role of gift-giving in Rebecca West’s Eastern European travelogue, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon.
Aaron Allen Schiller holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of California, San Diego and is currently a visiting assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He specializes in the intersection between the philosophies of knowledge, mind, and language, and is especially interested in the nature of the contents of the perceptual experiences of the socially-embedded subject. Schiller's recent publication in Philosophical Psychology develops an enactive account of the perception of facts, but he has also written about the role of rationality as interpretability in Wilfrid Sellars's "myth of Jones," the (deontic) logic of the phenomena of linguistic license, and is the editor of Stephen Colbert and Philosophy.
Denise H. B. Schiller is a children's literature scholar currently living in Milwaukee, WI. Her interests are in girls chapter books and picturebooks, particularly Scandinavian. She has written on feminist criticism, women's changing roles in society, and orphans. While studying for her M.A. in children's literature from San Diego State University, she studied with Jerry Griswold, Alida Allison (known as the "mother of children's literature" in India), and June Cummins.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 354 pages
  • Publisher: Lexington Books (December 30, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0739168231
  • ISBN-13: 978-0739168233
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,899,868 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Philosophy in Children's Literature February 22, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an interesting approach to understanding both philosophy and children's literature. Many of the earliest and most compelling examples of written language incorporate devises such as those that appear in children's' stories i.e. Bible, Aesopica. If we think about it as deeply as this book suggests, we can discover a plethora of existential ideas that are seemingly vague but in reality meaningless.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understand the impact of Childrens literature on Kids. February 21, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I would like to reccommend this scholary work for all who are interested in understanding the impact that children's literature can have on youngsters. In this age of decling appreciation for ethical behavior and moral principles it is worthwhile to see how well written stories can impact children. The influence of nonsensical and often violent video games can pull down the moral fibre of the next generation. I hope everyone who reads this book will make sure their children and grandchildren read the books and stories discussed.
Nathaniel Roberts
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