I’ve recently stumbled upon a couple of treasures to read with my kids, actually mostly with my 7 year old. She loves to read chapter books like Junie B. Jones, Judy Moody, and Katie Kazoo Switcheroo. These books are great, and some of the stories have morals that teach great lessons, but none touch on the really big questions with any depth. I recently found some books that do address the existential questions of life.
These two really great titles are Really, Really Big Questions and Really, Really Big Questions about Me and My Body by Dr. Stephen Law. Dr. Law is an English philosopher who has written also written popular philosophy titles for adults, such as the Philosophy Gym.
As a parent who is fond of philosophy and thinks it is something vital that is completely lacking from modern education I feel these titles are excellent in addressing that lack. They play into the natural curiosity of children and present the information in a way that doesn’t lecture or moralize. Actually, what I’ve enjoyed the most about these books, especially Really, Really Big Questions is that it isn’t just reading to the kids, it’s listening to them. These books ask open ended questions like “why are you here?” and you let the kid tell you what they think. Dr. Law then makes some comments on some of the varying theories of the topic in a simple way that kids can understand. A good example is when the books asks “Is stealing wrong?” and “why”? He then tells the story of a kid who stole another kids bike. Stealing the bike makes the thief happy and the victim sad. Before, the thief was sad because he didn’t have a bike and the victim was happy, so it seems there is not very much different except for who is happy and who is sad. Then he brings up that the other kids are now less happy because they have to worry about their bikes and other possessions being stolen. There are numerous follow up questions, and examples.
My 7 year old has been very engaged with both of these titles, and wants to keep reading more of the questions. I’ll be honest, I censored one of the chapters in Really, Really Big Questions. The question was “Is it okay to eat animals?”. I am a vegetarian, but don’t want to plant that idea in her head yet. My wife would kill me if I took another nutrition option away from the pickier eater of our 2 daughters. That digression aside, this question also exemplifies the moral and ethical nature of the questions these books deal with, a question that when I asked myself made me take direct action in my life.
The other title, Really, Really Big Questions About Me and My Body is a mix of scientific and philosophical questions. It introduces kids to the concepts of atoms and cells. It also brings up the origins of life and single celled organisms. Another great aspect of both of these titles is that they present ideas as just that, ideas. Dr. Law leaves the door open for the kids to have their own ideas, and to allow for different explanations. These titles often present several points of view and are not particularly dogmatic about any of them. I love that I let her say what she wanted to say, sometimes added some tag on questions to get her to elaborate on her ideas, but neither I nor the book got preachy.
Getting kids to think deeply about the big questions is very important for their development. I want to raise independent thinkers, who come up with their own opinions and explanations that make logical sense to them. These books were great resources towards achieving that goal. I wish there were more titles like this. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them!