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Wonder Ponder, Visual Philosophy for Children, is an imprint specialising in products for fun and engaging thinking. This website provides accompanying material to our Wonder Ponder boxes, including guides for children, parents and mediators, ideas for wonderpondering and fun games and activities. It is also a platform for sharing your very own Wonder Ponder content and ideas.

Wonder Ponder Blog

The Wonder Ponder blog includes posts on the creative processes behind our Visual Philosophy for Children material, as well as workshop experiences, guest posts on a variety of topics and generally interesting, eye-catching or mind-bloggling stuff we feel like sharing with you. 

Filtering by Tag: Cruelty Bites

Wonder Ponder author Ellen Duthie interviewed on Public TV Network of Argentina

Ellen Duthie

Ellen Duthie, the author (together with illustrator Daniela Martagón) of the Wonder Ponder series of Visual Philosophy for Children, recently travelled to Argentina, Uruguay and Chile. In Argentina she was invited by the International Book Fair to give a conference addressing the educational community on asking and generating good questions in the classroom.  

Ellen gave several interviews during her trip. This one was for Argentina's Public TV, for the education programme Caminos de Tiza presented by Mirta Goldberg.

Are there any subjects or issues that are inappropriate for children's literature to broach? Ellen answered this and other questions and spoke about Cruelty Bites, (Mundo cruel in Spanish).

The video has subtitles in English. If they don't show up, please click on Subtitles, next to Settings in the lower right hand corner.  

Wonder Ponder has sold rights for the Visual Philosophy for Children titles to South Korea, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, with other countries to follow shortly. 

In Argentina, Wonder Ponder has sold rights to ediciones iamiqué in Argentina for Cruelty Bites (Mundo cruel) and Whatever You Want (Lo que tú quieras)These titles are also distributed in Chile and Uruguay.  

Competition: Win a signed copy of Cruelty Bites, with a drawing by the illustrator, Daniela Martagón

Ellen Duthie

Are you ready to take part in our competition and get a chance to win a copy of Cruelty Bites, of our Visual Philosophy for Children series, specially signed and dedicated by the authors, with a drawing by the illustrator, Daniela Martagón? 

It's easy! Answer these three questions on the post on our Facebook page and enter the draw from among all the correct answers we get.   

1. Who is this invigoratingly versatile, perfectly irreverent children's literature classic author and illustrator, reading Cruelty Bites in the photograph below? 

2. Can you spot our homage to the above author in the poster included in our Cruelty Bites box of Visual Philosophy for Children? Take a good look at the poster below. You need to name the character and the title of the book he/she belongs to.  

3. Look for, spot and point our three other references in the Cruelty Bites poster to children's literature stories or books. 

The prize? Your very own copy of Cruelty Bites signed, with a special drawing by the illustrator, sent out to wherever you are! 

Remember you need to answer all three questions on our Facebook page

The draw from among all the correct answers will take place on Friday 23rd of October, 2015.

Humans in Zoos?

Ellen Duthie

One of the Visual Philosophy for Children scenes in our book "Cruelty Bites" features an alien zoo exhibiting earthlings -including a human-. 

This alone always leads to a rich and lively discussion, but you can make it even richer by pairing it with actual photographs and stories of humans in zoos and 'exhibitions' from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The above photograph shows Ota Benga, a pygmy who was exhibited in the Bronx Zoo for two weeks in September 1906 in the Apes cage. This was how The New York Times reported it. 

 

This other picture shows a small girl from Congo, on show and possibly being fed at Expo 1958, Brussel's World Fair, as part of the Congolese 'village' on display. 

How's that for a prompt for discussion? 

The Disturbing Awesomeness of Wonder Ponder

Ellen Duthie

Last June, author and researcher Clémentine Beauvais wrote this fantastic review of Wonder Ponder, focused on our first title, Cruelty Bites.  

Quotes: 
"Let me introduce you to the disturbing awesomeness of Wonder Ponder
"Wonder Ponder is different, in its daringness, to other works I've seen of philosophy for children. The graphic style, to start with. The pictures are decidedly dark, hectic, perturbing. Daniela Martagón's visual identity is that of a cheeky, misbehaving, imaginative child." 


"The provocativeness is brilliant".

"Perhaps it's because of the iconoclastic, deliciously naughty feel of it. Perhaps it's because I like Duthie's coherent, plucky position, displayed both in the cards adn in the exra-textual material -online, in her promotion plan, etc. Perhaps it's because I'm always in awe of people taking risks to launch cultural and educational projects like these, especially when they're sure to make at least a few people squirmish. But also more simply perhaps, because it makes me want to sit down with some kids, and adults, and play the game with them."

Read the full review here

Wonder Ponder's Cruelty Bites reviewed in journal of applied philosophy HASER

Ellen Duthie

Today number 6 of the applied philosophy journal HASER. Revista Internacional de Filosofía Aplicada, was published, containing the following review of Cruelty Bites written by Jorge Sánchez-Manjavacas Mellado. Full translation below.  

"Its authors", says Sánchez-Manjavacas, "have created a new level of philosophical and creative interaction with young chldren." 
He calls it "the great revelation of 2014" and assures that it "revolutionises the Philosophy for Children scene including something that is often overlooked: learning to read images". 
"This product brings innovation of the kind that ensures that Philosophy for Children doesn’t lie in the slumber of the same didactic methodologies". 

Transaltion of full review follows: 

Review of Cruelty Bites HASER. Revista Internacional de Filosofía Aplicada
DUTHIE, ELLEN and MARTAGÓN, DANIELA, Cruelty Bites, Traje de lobo S.L., Madrid, 2014. 42 pages.
By Jorge Sánchez-Manjavacas Mellado

It is quite common today to come across places where Philosophy for Children activities are organised. Sites such as libraries, bookshops, schools, collective and artistic venues where Philosophy, of an educational and playful sort, has acquired increasing importance and where there is increasing concern regarding the creation of future societies with critical skills, collaboration skills and where dialogue prevails over violence. Perhaps Matthew Lipman would think his methodological proposal of the late 70s bore little resemblance to some of what is happening today, or perhaps this would have been a reason for joy, given that Philosophy for Children continues to evolve, to move and to make progress in many different directions.

Today we bring you what might be termed the great revelation of 2014, a year that has been characterised by significant innovations in the field of philosophical and artistic education, which might be seen as interestingly paradoxical in the light of the decreasing weight of philosophy and art in Spain’s formal education system, with the approval of the new Education Law (LOMCE). This year a new way of doing Philosophy for Children has been launched: Visual Philosophy for Children. Its authors, Ellen Duthie responsible for the philosophy and the didactic side of it, and Daniela Martagón, responsible for the illustration, have created a new level of philosophical and creative interaction with young children.

The Wonder Ponder universe has just arrived with a series of cards, with no apparent order but plenty of sense of unity, where different scenes are put to the reader, together with a caption that helps prompt conceptualisation, dialogue and criticism. In addition, each card contains enough questions, directly or indirectly related to the image and which provide keys for delving deeper and interaction and reflection of the child with other children or of the child with the adult.

Questions such as: “Should aliens be allowed to keep children in cages?; Is it more cruel to keep a boy in a cage o to keep an animal in a cage?; Would eating humans be cruel? Why? Can animals be cruel? Is it sometimes OK to kill ants?”, etc.

It is thus easy to state that Cruelty Bites is much more than a box, a game or a book of Philosophy for Children illustrations. Simply the format chosen has transformed into cards, all of which together help us discuss concepts with young children such as victim, aggressor, power, motivation, emotions, empathy, person, choice, freedom, etc.

This material revolutionises the Philosophy for Children scene including something that is often overlooked: learning to read images. This aspect of the “game” is so important that the box even comes with a map which readers are recommended to look at with a looking glass in order to catch every little detail and dialogue about what they see.

As we have already mentioned, this book is designed to address the concept of cruelty, but from its many everyday options and areas, in educational settings or at home: animal cruelty, self-cruelty, cruelty with other humans, with our siblings, parents, grandparents or even cruelty in the stories we have all been told since we were very young children.

Here, children will find proposals, problems, dilemmas and questions that will make them reconsider, rediscover and redefine what they go considering as cruel. It is a great way for young children to establish their own limits in areas where parents don’t tend to intervene, as it is often assumed that children don’t ask themselves questions about certain things.

The box/book also includes suggestions and ideas for wonderpondering (a verb meaning to ask ourselves questions while we descover). Among the suggestions recommended, we’d like to note the one where the reader is invited to stand in the characters’ shoes, the one where they can make their own Wall of Cruelty, and the one where they are invited to make their very own Cruelty Bites scene, for which the box includes three blank cards for children’s own drawings, captions and where the box can be “completed”, that is, the reader is ultimately responsible for finishing the first title of Wonder Ponder, with the ideas they add to it.

And it seems that this is not the end of the journey for this adventurous writer and illustrator team. Wonder Ponder is preparing new titles: I, Person (on personal identity and the difference between persons and robots), No Way! (impossibility and impossibility), Freedom in a Box (on freedom),The Real Thing (on reality, imagination and dream); What’s it All For? (on happiness and the meaning of life). And so we hope that more and more themes are added to this new way of doing philosophy and thinking in groups with young, curious minds. These issues are also accompanied with detailed philosophical guides, further suggestions for use, guides to creating one’s own scenes, spaces for sharing creations, specific respurces for language learning, as well as for using Wonder Ponder in the classroom and much more. This is all in the website: www.wonderponderonline.com.

Visual Philosophy for Children looks set to be successful and lasting, with this first proposal already being a great potential innovation that deserved to garner attention from all spheres and support from public and private institutions, as well as from the general public.

This product brings innovation of the kind that ensures that Philosophy for Children doesn’t allow itself to lie in the slumber of the same didactic methodologies, but rather is a bold step forward for educating not only in narrative reading but also in the reading of images in a society that is increasingly entering virtual, audiovisual and imaginative and creative spheres. 

JORGE SÁNCHEZ-MANJAVACAS MELLADO
UNIVERSIDAD NACIONAL DE EDUCACIÓN A DISTANCIA

Visit HASER. Revista Internacional de Filosofía Aplicada

Cruelty Bites reviewed in El Cultural supplement of daily Spanish newspaper El Mundo

Ellen Duthie

Review of Spanish version of Cruelty Bites (Mundo cruel) in leading cultural supplement in Spain, El Cultural, of the daily newspaper El Mundo. By Cecilia Frías. Published on 13.02.2015. 

English translation provided below. 

Cruelty Bites
Ellen Duthie and Daniela Martagón
Wonder Ponder, 17,95€. (8 and up)

Entering Cruelty Bites is like looking at yourself in a mirror where you don't always like what you see. All this in fourteen cards representing a series of apparently inoffensive scenes. But all you need to do it stop and look at each of the images to discover situations that exude cruelty. Thus, we have the picture of a girl squashing an ant’s head with the point of her pencil, a scene of a father forcing his son to bathe despite the boy's desperate cries for help, or the scene of some siblings teasing a baby caged in its cot, defenceless. This is only a sample, but the questions on the back of each scene give us food for thought for months. Is it cruel to make someone do something they don’t want to do? Why can being cruel sometimes be fun? Are some lives worth more than others? Can one be cruel without meaning to? Does it make sense to punish cruelty with cruelty?

The winds unleashed turn into this flood of questions that do not always find unequivocal answers, but which, through these familiar scenes, make us aware of the dark corners of human behaviour, of how any one of us can become a victim, of how revenge, entertainment or curiosity can lead us to cruel behaviour or of whether animal cruelty is not as important. A work of “visual philosophy” that prompts dialogue and confrontation of positions. A book-in-a-box that everyone should read. Few things could be more invigorating than the invitation on the box: “Open, look, think.”. CECILIA FRÍAS

The Philosophy Club reviews Cruelty Bites

Ellen Duthie

WONDER PONDER TRIUMPHS

First published here on December 25, 2014 · by David Urbinder · for The Philosophy Club.

Cruelty Bites from Wonder Ponder

Parents often ask us if we can recommend any books or materials to help them engage their children in philosophical dialogue at home. As it happens, most material specifically designed for philosophical dialogue with kids is intended for a group and requires some preparation on the facilitator’s part. Cruelty Bites, the first in the Wonder Ponder Visual Philosophy for Children series, breaks the mould with an entirely new kind of stimulus that can be used at the dinner table as effectively as in the classroom.

The heart of Cruelty Bites is a boxed set of philosophically-themed cards, each with an illustration on one side and a series of related questions on the other. The illustrations present richly-detailed scenarios that are open to philosophical speculation. One such illustration presents a child strapped down in a laboratory while rats in lab coats poke and prod him. “No reaction at all to tickling?” the caption reads. “What about pinching very hard? Any reaction there?” In the background, we can see a couple of children in a cage, and another rat in a lab coat handing a lollipop to a caged girl, bringing a smile to her face.

wonder-ponder-lab-rats.jpg

This whimsically-illustrated inversion of reality gives rise to a set of accompanying questions which prompt us to consider the many ethical quandaries around animal testing:

  • “Can something be cruel but still be OK to do?”
    “What do you think the rat is doing with the boy? Is it being cruel?”
    “Are some lives worth more than others?”
    “Human scientists experiment with animals to test and discover things that may help humans live longer or better. Is that cruel?”
    “Is it nice of the scientist rat in the background to give the children lollipops?”

The questions are not presented in a prescribed order. Rather, and in keeping with the overall spirit of the package, the questions are scattered across the card in an attractively random arrangement. This encourages a certain freedom in exploring the issues. Children can select a question that grabs them, raise the question, discuss it or just contemplate an answer and, when they are ready, move on to another question. Each card has at least one basic comprehension question suitable for the youngest little philosophers, and several conceptually challenging questions to pique the interest of even the most sophisticated thinkers in the household.

A sample of contents from Wonder Ponder‘s Cruelty Bites

There are 14 scenarios in the box, and although the theme of cruelty may seem limited at first glance, it doesn’t take long to realise that each card alone can trigger an hours-long discussion. Collectively, the cards embrace a wealth of ideas including bullying, moral authority, animal rights, errors of commission and errors of omission, empathy, instincts and power relations.

Cruelty Bites encourages us to play with ideas in any number of ways. Wonder Ponder’s co-founder and author, Ellen Duthie makes some suggestions on the ‘Ideas for wonderpondering’ card, such as asking yourself the same question from the perspectives of different characters in the pictures. This turns the cards into an excellent resource for exploring empathy and alternative points of view. Another suggestion is for children to use the cards as a basis for interviewing people in their community with whom they may not otherwise have common interests. Using the cards to spark discussions with grandparents, baby-sitters and unsuspecting shop-keepers, children can engage in meaningful inter-generational dialogues in which adults may find themselves as perplexed as their young interviewers.

 

‘World Map of Cruelty’ poster from Wonder Ponder

However, the suggestions in the box don’t begin to exhaust the possible ways of utilising these cards. They offer an excellent alternative to ‘I Spy’ or ’10 Green Bottles’ on road-trips. Ask your little philosopher to describe the scenario of their choice, and then let them lead the discussion by reading out their choice of questions. Cards can also be used as time-efficient alternatives to the storybook stimuli traditionally used in communities of philosophical enquiry, or as a way of generating interest in ethical questions at the beginning of a learning unit in the classroom.

Everything about the visual design of Cruelty Bites is appealing, from the minimal but vivid colour palette to the playful typography. Daniela Martagón’s lively, naive illustrations effortlessly evoke a child’s point of view without sacrificing conceptual clarity. Her style infuses an otherwise weighty theme with whimsy and humour. Ellen Duthie’s text is clear and concise, bringing abstract concepts within the grasp of young minds.

Text and image are interwoven in a way that encourages continued exploration. For instance, an image portrays a girl being pushed and pulled around by some schoolyard bullies, her basket of sweets hurled to the ground. A question on the back asks “What is worse, the pulling or the stealing?” I had to return to the image to notice the previously overlooked detail of a girl stealthily pinching a sweet from the ground.

Zoom of playground bullying scene from Wonder Ponder

A brief thematic guide is included to help you plumb the depths of each enquiry, along with a Where’s Wally-style poster of acts cruel and kind for further reflection. The package is capped off by three blank cards on which children can draw scenarios of their own imagining and compose their own questions for investigation.

The set is accompanied by a website which promises further resources, articles and an opportunity to share your own reflections on the theme. Themes for future Wonder Ponder releases include personal identity, freedom, happiness and the meaning of life. Given the visual, tactile and intellectual magnetism of Cruelty Bites, we’re looking forward collecting them all.

Boxes of visual philosophy for children, from Wonder Ponder

The Philosophy Club runs co-curricular and extra-curricular workshops for children, and training for workshop facilitators. The Big Questions philosophy mentoring program is their flagship in-school program.

This review was published on The Philosophy Club's website on 25th December 2014. 

A Recipe for Cruelty with Conscience. Wonder Ponder and its first Visual Philosophy for Children title: “Cruelty Bites”

Ellen Duthie

This is an English translation of a review by Germán Machado originally published in Spanish on November 26, 2014 on the blog Garabatos y Ringorrangos.

In 1963, when Hannah Arendt attempted to explain the character and mind of one of the protagonists of the barbarities that occurred during the Second World War, she coined the expression “the banality of evil”. By this expression, she did not mean to suggest that those responsible for barbaric acts (torture, murder, rape, massive extinction) were innocent and should not be brought to trial and condemned. What she wanted to point out was that these acts were not the result of an exceptional capacity for human cruelty and that, ultimately, the criminal acts had been perpetrated within the framework of a system: an industrial and bureaucratic regime of mass murder, geared to exterminating human beings.

Those responsible for the barbarity had acted in compliance with orders, plans and rules, without stopping to think, without reflection, without questioning what they were doing or their responsibilities. Somehow, they found their practices to be something “normal”.  “Evil” was not, thus, a human affair, but a systemic result: an apparatus, an engineering part, a set of guidelines for action with no need for legitimization.

In addressing the problem of the banality of evil, Hanna Arendt, who was harshly criticised for this idea, proposed a radical departure from the idea that human nature was either essentially good (Rousseau and the bon sauvage)  or essentially bad (Hobbes and “man as a wolf to man), and underlined the complexity of the historical, social, cultural and political conditions (the human condition) in order to then warn of the need to pay careful attention to the banalisation of evil in order to prevent it from happening again.  

Seventy years after the end of World War II, a one hour news programme on TV suffices for us to see that, far from disappearing, the banality of evil seems to have intensified. On the other hand, a chance to watch children socialising will also inform us that in differing degrees, and with different consequences –without the aberration brought by war–, boys and girls are capable of carrying out acts of cruelty that are banal.

Why don’t human societies ever stop and think about cruelty? Why is it so hard for us humans to think about everything we do every day, voluntarily or involuntarily, where cruelty manifests itself in more or less harmful ways? And what could be done to think about these issues together with the new generations where boys and girls carry out or anticipate acts of cruelty of varying degrees and different forms?

I know we cannot compare the act of torturing a person to death and such “childhood mischiefs” as making a toad puff smoke until it explodes or squashing ants, but I think that if us humans are going to be cruel, we had better at the very least be aware that we are cruel, and be aware of the ways in which we are cruel. It may help us to correct ourselves.  

“Got you!”, card with cruelty scene included  in Cruelty Bites , Visual Philosophy for Children by Wonder Ponder.

“Got you!”, card with cruelty scene included in Cruelty Bites, Visual Philosophy for Children by Wonder Ponder.

In this regard, today I’d like to introduce you to a title that aims to raise awareness of cruelty and its various forms. To visualise the problem. Talk about it. Think about it. Reflect upon it.

The first title from the Wonder Ponder “Visual Philosophy for Children” imprint offers us a recipe for this: even though, we are warned, there are no real recipes.

Ingredients:

- one box, 17 x 17 cm.

- 14 cards with scenes containing a brief illustrated narration about cruelty on the front and lots of questions on the back

- 3 cards for creating scenes of one’s own

- 1 card with ideas for wonderpondering

- 1 card with a brief guide of essential concepts to be sprinkled on all the above

- 1 poster for hanging on your bedroom wall and look at while we are digesting.

Directions:

One of the sides of the box says Open, look, think. In any case, I imagine the order can vary. For instance: look, open, think. Or think, look, open. Or open, think, look… And thus successively and alternately, as guests wish.

As to myself, before opening the box, I realised that it is a very well designed affair, which I then verified upon opening it and finding the ingredients listed above. The line of design brings to play a comprehensive communication project. Idea, concept, texts, images, illustrations, ways of use, suggestions for appropriation, ways of sharing, goals, target readers and questions: over one hundred more or less open questions.

And when I say ‘bring to play’ this is no metaphor. The Cruelty Bites box can be used as a board game of sorts. And this is great, because there is a great deal of ‘game’ to it. But it’s not long before we realise that there is also a great deal of ‘book’ to it, and not only because of the ISBN featured on one of the cards containing information about the authors and the project, but also because of all the editing work behind this Visual Philosophy for Children project: it is a book where the pages are not bound to give the power to the reader to define and change the reading order.

“Cruelty Bites”. Visual Philosophy for Children. Wonder Ponder Project. Texts by Ellen Duthie. Illustrations by Daniela Martagón.   Publisher: Traje de Lobo, Madrid, Spain, 2014.

“Cruelty Bites”. Visual Philosophy for Children. Wonder Ponder Project. Texts by Ellen Duthie. Illustrations by Daniela Martagón. Publisher: Traje de Lobo, Madrid, Spain, 2014.

he cards show very different cruelty scenes, ranging from the image of a lion devouring a goat to a girl squashing ants, or a scene of school bullying. The scenes are illustrated in an expressionist style, with a touch of art naïf, very much in the line of 1980s punk fanzines. I think the illustrations, by Daniela Martagón, are very appropriate for children, especially considering that they are expected to engage in the creation of new cruelty scenes of their own. Under the illustrated scenes, a brief caption (one or two lines) makes one of the illustrated characters speak, reinforcing with words the act of cruelty represented in the illustration.

On the back of the card there is a set of very direct questions, sufficiently close to the world and daily lives of children, purposefully set out in no particular order, so as not to systematise a discourse. These questions seek to prompt a broad and deep discussion on the act of cruelty illustrated on the front, a discussion which, following the Socratic method, promotes conversation and listening, allows the expression of agreement and disagreement and encourages giving reasons to justify opinions:

Does punishment work? Do you think punishment is cruel? Always? Or is it sometimes OK? Is it always cruel to make someone do something they don’t want to do? Can animals be cruel? Has anyone ever laughed at you when you have fallen or had an accident of some sort? Would you like to live in a zoo? If the huntsman killed Snow White, who would be responsible for her death? The huntsman or the queen? Are some lives worth more than others? Is there a difference between eating chicken and eating cat? Have you ever killed something by accident? How did you feel? Is it possible to be cruel to oneself? Where is the line between playful teasing and being cruel?

Front (illlustrration) and back (questions) of one of the 14 cards with Cruelty Bites scenes”

Front (illlustrration) and back (questions) of one of the 14 cards with Cruelty Bites scenes”

As I was saying, the project has a very well thought out design. It is evident that it reflects and incorporates extensive experience working with children, bringing philosophy to them, which is what one of the authors of Cruelty Bites, the writer Ellen Duthie has been doing for years. For the last two years, she has been offering her work to the public through one of her blogs: Filosofía a la de tres.

It is also evident that Cruelty Bites is the result of another side of the author’s work, that is very much part of the best of Children’s Literature, whereby she stands well away far from confusing literature and self-help, or self-help and “emotional literacy” (sic) with this proposal of bringing philosophical reflection to the young, to play thinking and think playing, to encourage reflection and dialogue without indoctrinating, seeking to stimulate “their own thoughts and arguments and to build a visual and conceptual map of the issue addressed”, as it says under the box of the game or, in other words, on the back cover of the book.

In my view, this visual philosophy for children proposal (it is recommended for ages 8 and over but I think it could be used for younger children) aids the mis-en-scene of the different issues addressed; after cruelty, which is the theme of this first title, themes for future titles include personal identity, possibility and impossibility, freedom, reality and imagination, happiness and the meaning of life. Cruelty Bites marks the beginning of an ambitious project which, I am sure, will succeed, because it is contagious of enthusiasm and addresses a need to speak with children, a need that is increasingly felt in homes and educational settings.

And I have to say, this book-game, certainly got me hooked. Not only did I spend a long time thinking about cruelty, I also illustrated and created my own scene on one of the cards included for this purpose:

My own “Cruelty Bites” scene: “But all I did was call you names!”: and on the back, some questions: What is more cruel, to call someone names or to hit them? Is it OK to respond to name-calling with a good punch?; How do you feel when someone calls you names?; How do you feel when you hit someone?; Is it sometimes justified to hit someone?

My own “Cruelty Bites” scene: “But all I did was call you names!”: and on the back, some questions: What is more cruel, to call someone names or to hit them? Is it OK to respond to name-calling with a good punch?; How do you feel when someone calls you names?; How do you feel when you hit someone?; Is it sometimes justified to hit someone?

Yes, I know, I know, I’m no good at drawing. But this was so I could continue with the game, with the project and with my enthusiasm…

This is an English translation of a review by Germán Machado originally published in Spanish on November 26, 2014 on the blog Garabatos y Ringorrangos.

Seriously, now. Be honest. Wouldn't you have killed Snow White?

Ellen Duthie

Scene on cruelty and (dis)obedience to authority   included in Wonder Ponder's first   Visual Philosophy for Children box,   Cruelty Bites  ,  . Illustration by Daniela Martagón.

Scene on cruelty and (dis)obedience to authority included in Wonder Ponder's first Visual Philosophy for Children box, Cruelty Bites,. Illustration by Daniela Martagón.

Many examples of extraordinary cruelty, both in history and happening right now as we speak, are the result of a group of reasonably 'normal' people being given orders by one or several rather 'nasty' people.

Other examples of extraordinary cruelty are the result of a less clear order of events, where a person or group of people takes on or carries on with a given 'way of doing things' (doing certain things or not doing certain other things), that leads to extraordinary cruelty executed as part of the package and not really thought about.

A variant of this last situation is a scenario where one is cruel with someone else as a way of fitting in or conforming to peer pressure. If all my friends at school think Mary is X, Y and Z and treat her cruelly, it's easy to be carried by the inertia of it all and take part more or less actively in the cruelty, or maybe just as a passive onlooker (perhaps also an enabler?).

Why is it that our sense of obedience is sometimes stronger than our sense of duty to behave decently to other people?

When should we disobey or disregard authority?

Are there any situations where we are not free to disobey authority?

What does it take to disobey authority?

Are we responsible for acts of cruelty perpretrated at the order of someone else -a person or an institution-? Or is the person or institution giving the order the only one responsible?

Does fear for our own safety justify being cruel to others? Would killing Snow White be somehow 'understandable', given the possible consequences for the huntsman at the hands of the queen?

How often are the following statements really true?
"I had no choice but to do it."
"I can't change the way things work around here."
"If I stand up for Mary, everyone will start being cruel to me too."

Even if they are true, would they be a reasonable justification for cruelty?

One of the most interesting philosophical -and psychological- questions about cruelty is how it is possible that perfectly 'normal' people ('normal' on a scale of perceived cruelty) are quite capable of behaving in extraordinarily cruel ways out of a desire to please authority or fit in. Our need to obey or conform, it would seem, is often stronger than our need to avoid being cruel to others.

Wonder Ponder's first Visual Philosophy for Children box, Cruelty Bites, prompts these questions, together with others, aiming to provide a 'visual map of cruelty' for children (and adults!) for them to build their own 'philosophical map of cruelty'.

Text by Ellen Duthie, illustration by Daniela Martagón. 

(c) Wonder Ponder (An imprint of Traje de lobo S.L.).

Who's got the guts it takes not to indoctrinate?

Ellen Duthie

The first Wonder Ponder box, Cruelty Bites, to be launched this autumn, aims to provide a visual map of cruelty from which readers can go shaping their own philosophical map of cruelty. What things belong in the cruelty category and what things belong elsewhere? How do we define cruelty? What elements do we need to bear in mind when evaluating the cruelty of an act? Is it an exclusively human phenomenon?

The few images from Cruelty Bites we've been showing on social media, without making a conscious selection, have ended up being scenes that prompt questions about animal cruelty in some shape or form. We have been very interested in some of the comments we have received, which have referred to the project as 'environmentalist', 'pro animal rights', 'vegetarianist' and even 'pro-vegan'. 

The reason why we have found these comments interesting is that they all seem to assume that any material for children, even material that frames itself within the category of 'philosophy for children', would seem to have the intention of instilling a set of ideas or values in them. In a context where even those who are against the prevailing indoctrination, end up proposing what tends to become an alternative indoctrination, it seems almost impossible to conceive of a non-indoctrinating position. But Wonder Ponder aims to occupy that position precisely.  

Of the fourteen scenes contained in the Cruelty Bites box (plus a further two blank scenes which readers can use to contribute to the project, coming up with and illustrating their own cruelty scenes), six represent images of animal cruelty of some kind.  

We have the family sitting down for dinner, about to serve a delicious cat stew and the scene of a girl killing an ant and seemingly enjoying it. We have the scene of a caged boy next to several other animals, also in cages, while an alien finishes up an ice-cream before visiting the zoo. We also have an inverted reality scene where a big scientific rat studies a child strapped to a stretcher. 

For a project that aims to provide a sort of map of cruelty, it could be said that six out of fourteen scenes devoted to animal issues is a lot, yes, but the fact is that within the phenomenon of cruelty, the cruelty variety aimed at animals is among the most prevalent and also among the most philosophically interesting of all. Animal cruelty raises questions about our definitions of 'person', 'responsibility' and also about the right of persons over the lives of non-persons, among many others. 

      Zoom of scene of father bathing son.  

But the box also contains many other scenes that don't feature animals. For example, a scene where a father forces his son into the bath while the boy kicks and screams. "The sooner you stop wriggling, the sooner you'll be out", says the father while the brother waits at the back of the bathroom looking scared. Is there such a thing as cruelty "for our own good"? 

There are also some scenes that represent cruel acts carried out at someone else's order, out of obedience to authority. Do we evaluate an act of cruelty differently depending on whether it was mandated by an authority or the perpretator thought it up all by himself? 

There are punishment scenes that prompt questions about the possible justification of cruelty. Can it ever be justified? 

 Zoom  of playground bulying scene. 

 Zoom  of playground bulying scene. 

There is a scene of playground bullying, a zoom of which you can see below, that prompts questions about the responsibility of all the parties, including that of onlookers. 

Many of the scenes also contain secondary actions, parallel to the main one, which prompt more issues or add complexity to the main issue. In total there are many philosophical questions on cruelty the box can lead to.  

The Wonder Ponder boxes aim to prompt questions and dialogues regarding possible replies to these questions, without aiming to guide the dialogue towards any particular conclusion. The Cruelty Bites box is not environmentalist, vegetarianist or pro animal rights. It is true that, among many other questions, it does prompt some that may lead to reflections on our habit of eating animal meat, the existence of zoos, the importance (or not) of an ant's life. But what the boxes seek is to prompt genuine questions in the readers, who will try to answer them and argue their response as best as possible based on their reflection. 

Another comment we have had is that it seems to be great material for values education. But... 'are there no answers?', they added, somewhat concerned. 'That's going to make parents and teachers very nervous'. 

No, the box doesn't come with answers. (It does come with a visual philosophical map of cruelty that serves as a guide for children, families, teachers and mediators).

Nor do we start with any concepts, ideas, opinions or values we wish to instill in the children who read our Cruelty Bites box. 

We do not have a pre-established arrival point for our readers. 

We do offer a departure point of observation, inquiry and genuine questioning of our world, our life, our habits and our attitudes. 

We do shake the inertia of the reasons we give for doing things. 

But we don't have contents we wish to insert in the reader, nor specific "right" values to transmit to them. 

We are very interested in the depth, complexity and authenticity of values and positions when they are the result of a free, uncensored process of reflection rather than of a process of indoctrination, imposition or even gentle prod or influence in the 'suitable' direction,  

If there is a mediator involved (our boxes are designed for children to read, look at and think about alone or in company), we only ask one thing of them: to have the guts it takes not to indoctrinate. And how might one go about that? We think the only way is to take part in the inquiry genuinely yourself. Most adults don't really have good answers for the questions prompted by Cruelty Bites and those of us who think we do would very probably benefit from a reflection on our reasons and justifications.  

Wonder Ponder presents philosophy as a game that purposefully makes indoctrination difficult. Mediators, work up the guts it takes not to indoctrinate and get ready to play!

Cruelty Bites will be available online from November 2014. Sale points in UK to be announced in early 2015.

In Spanish, Mundo cruel will be avilable online and distributed across Spain.

Text by Ellen Duthie, illustrations by Daniela Martagón.

(c) Wonder Ponder (An imprint of Traje de lobo S.L.).

Five-year old explains why it's more cruel to kill dogs than to kill ants

Ellen Duthie

The first Wonder Ponder box, Cruelty Bites, launched last November witha recommended age of eight and up.

However, the concept of Visual Philosophy for Children and the first materials we created arose within Filosofía a la de tres, a philosophy with preschoolers project set up and run by Wonder Ponder author Ellen Duthie at a state school in Madrid (Spain).  

The first materials the author produced together with illustrator Daniela Martagón were precisely the  proto-materials for the first boxCruelty Bites, and they were initially tested on four-year-olds (some of the kids were still three!).

Below is a transcript of a brief dialogue between a mother and her five-year-old son about one of the scenes in our box, showing a girl killing an ant with a pencil.

Mother: What is the girl doing?

BoyShe's killing an ant with a pointy pencil. 

Mother: Do you think she's being cruel? 

BoyYes, because she's doing it in a really nasty way. Like this: "bang! bang! bang!". 

MotherWhy do you think the way she is killing the ant is nasty?  

BoyBecause look at her face. She looks like a baddy.  

MotherHave you ever killed an ant?  

Boy: Yes, but not in that really nasty way. 

MotherHow did you kill it?  

BoyWell, with my finger, or with my foot, by accident. It wasn't on purpose. 

MotherHave you never killed one on purpose? 

BoyYes, once I killed an ant on purpose with my finger, but it was also a bit by accident. I put my finger on it to see what happened and I killed it. I didn't think it was that easy to kill an ant. It was soft, I thought ants were harder.   

MotherAnd was that cruel of you, do you think? 

BoyI think it was a bit cruel, yes. 

MotherDo you remember last week we found a little ant colony in our kitchen terrace? And do you remember we "cleaned it"? We killed lots of ants. Did you think that was cruel? 

BoyWell, a bit, because they died, but I don't think it's like the girl in the picture. You killed them to protect our food. But this girl is really nasty. Because she's killing the ant in a sort of laughing way, it looks like she's having fun.   

MotherAnd do you think it's more cruel to kill for fun than to kill out of need -or because we think we need to-? 

BoyYes, because killing for fun is no good at all. What's that for? It's just to have fun with something that isn't really much fun at all. But killing out of need, for example to protect food or if a bug bites you, to stop it biting you more, that's different.  

MotherWhat if, for example, we lived in the countryside and a dog came and tried to steal our food. Would we be justified to kill it? 

BoyA dog? No! If a dog came, we could call its owner. And we could tell the owner off for not keeping his dog under control, like when they poo on the road and don't clean it up or when they let them run loose in the park and frighten children.  

Mother: What if the dog didn't have an owner? What if it was sort of wild?  

Boy(brief pause) Oh! I know! We could call a dog shelter! 

MotherWhy do you think it's different, killing a dog and killing an ant? 

Boy: The dog is very big. Killing it would be too cruel.  

MotherSo is it a question of size, then? The bigger the animal, the more cruel it is to kill it?

BoyYes, killing big animals is very cruel. . 

MotherSo do you think it's worse to kill an elephant than to kill a poodle? 

BoyMmmmm. No. No, both things are cruel.  

MotherBut you feel it's more cruel to kill a poodle than to kill an ant. 

Boy: Yes.   

MotherAnd why do you think it is more cruel?  

BoyWell, a dog... is more like a person.  

Mother: How is it more like a person? 

BoyThe eyes. If you look a dog in the eyes, it's like it's talking to you. That doesn't happen with an ant. 

MotherDo you think dogs are more intelligent than ants? 

Boy: Yes, much more intelligent. That's why. 

MotherSo it's more about intelligence than about size?  

Boy: Well, I think it's both. Because even if an elephant had the intelligence of a mosquito, it would also be cruel to kill it.  

MotherDo you think ants suffer? 

BoyI don't know.  

MotherDo you think the ant is frightened? 

BoyI don't know either, but I think so. 

MotherWhy do you think so?  

BoyBecause if you put a finger close to an ant, it goes off in another direction running. It knows there is a danger.  

MotherDo you think the girl deserves a punishment? 

Boy: Yes.

MotherWhat punishment do you think would be appropriate?  

BoyThat all the ants went to her and started biting her.  

MotherAnd if it's in a school, should the teacher think of a punishment?  

BoyYes. 

MotherAnd what would the punishment you would give the girl if you were the teacher?  

Boy: I would tell the ants to bite the girl.  

Mother: Would you think that was fair? 

BoyYes, she would deserve that. "If you kill my friend, I'll bite you. You nasty girl!"

MotherIf you saw a girl or boy doing this, what would you do? 

BoyI'd say: "Hey! Hey! Hey! Pencils are for drawing! Not for killing!"

Mother: Have you enjoyed looking at this together and talking with me about it? 

Boy: Yes, but now it's my turn. Let me ask you... 

MotherGo ahead. 

Boy: What about you? Do you think the girl is being cruel? Why? 

[and the conversation continued...]

(c) Wonder Ponder (An imprint of Traje de lobo S.L.).

Grandma had eaten cat: a report on the Wonder Ponder presentation at Ilustratour

Ellen Duthie

Zooming in on our 'cat stew' scene. 

Zooming in on our 'cat stew' scene. 

On July 8th, illustrator Daniela Martagón presented in public for the first time the 'visual philosophy for children' project Wonder Ponder. The presentation took place at Casa de José Zorrilla in Valladolid, within the framework of the International Illustration Festival Ilustratour.

Presentation of Wonder Ponder at Ilustratour, Valladolid. July 2014. The image on the screen at the back shows a lion holding a goat in its jaw while its cubs await hungrily. Are animals cruel? 

Presentation of Wonder Ponder at Ilustratour, Valladolid. July 2014. The image on the screen at the back shows a lion holding a goat in its jaw while its cubs await hungrily. Are animals cruel? 

 

Attendants included many illustrators, the odd publisher and, to Daniela's initial suprise, a group of grandmothers with their grandchildren who thought they were coming to a children's event. After her initial nerves, and reshaping her presentation plan to suit the actual crowd before her , Daniela got started. 

For some time now, we have been aware that the best way of explaining and "selling" our project is for it to be seen in action, and that is what happened magically and spontaneously in Valladolid on the day of the presentation.  

Daniela herself recounts the experience in detail:  

Daniela took specially designed cards for the event, showing our cat stew scene, with plenty of questions from all angles at the back. 

Daniela took specially designed cards for the event, showing our cat stew scene, with plenty of questions from all angles at the back. 

 

I was already slightly nervous, but when I saw such an incredibly varied audience, comprised of local kids and grandmas, illustrators from across the world and people who'd just dropped in to have a nose about, I got even more nervous. I had prepared for a "highly professional" interview/talk aimed at illustrators and perhaps a couple of booksellers or publishers.  

My fear was that I would frighten away the assistants who thought they had come to a children's activity. So I took a deep breath and decided to go for it, starting out strong with our cat stew, the scene on the cover of Cruelty Bites, the first Wonder Ponder box launching at the end of the year. 

fter handing out copies of this scene, it wasn't long before the murmurs started, and then the occasional giggle among the audience, and I'm glad to say, for me, this made the tension disappear as if by magic.  

I asked what was going on in the scene. The response was rather timid to start with, although everyone's eyes were wide open. Then the first answers arrived: "Those people are about to eat a cat!" And I asked whether anyone in the room had ever eaten cat stew?"Nooooooo!", the reply was unanimous. "Why not?", I asked. "It's disgusting", said one kid. "But how do you know? Have you ever tried it?", I asked.

"I have", a grandmother sitting in the third row said casually. "And it was good too".  

The audience busy looking at the scene and the intriguing questions on the back.

The audience busy looking at the scene and the intriguing questions on the back.

Many of us were rather taken aback. "It was during the war and we were hungry", she added. Another of the grandmothers then spoke. "It´s true, they'd often say it was rabbit stew or something else, but who knows how often we've actually eaten cat?". 

Suddenly, what only a few moments ago had seemed to us a unanimous no-no, became a memory for some and a potential reality for the rest of us. And this opened up new questions. If cat is yummy, why don't we usually eat it? Why do we think it's cruel to kill some animals and not others? What would we never ever eat? "Insects", said someone. I said that in some places in Mexico 'chalupines' (grasshoppers) are toasted and eaten, all nice and crispy, and maguey worms make a very elegant dish indeed. "I think they're delicious". Many pulled a disgusted face, but they didn't think there was anything wrong in doing it.  

"What about eating humans?", I asked. "¡No!" "Never ever?" We sat there thinking and then remembered those stories of people in accidents in isolated places who find themselves in desperate and extreme conditions, with no access to food whatsoever. "In that case it's different, because it's about survival", said one of the girls in the audience. We felt this reply was decent and many of us agreed that the situation changes depending on the circumstances.  

However, it is not always out of need that we kill. Sometimes it has nothing to do with that at all. "Would you like to see another scene?" "Yes!" So we showed our ant-killing girl on the screen.  

Daniela was brave to admit she had killed an ant or two in her life. 

Daniela was brave to admit she had killed an ant or two in her life. 

I asked whether anyone in the room had ever killed ants like the girl. Oddly enough, none of the children present said anything, but all the adults there, including myself, raised their hands and giggled. One boy said it was never right to kill ants. Someone said it was justified if they came into our pantry. Another boy said ants were useless, they had no purpose. One man said that anteaters do need ants to feed themselves. But none of us remembered having seen any anteaters around Valladolid. 

Is it ok to kill things that are uselesss or have no purpose? Many said it wasn't. However, we do so very often. Why?  

In order to speak a little about the origins of Wonder Ponder, I then asked "What is philosophy?" Nobody said a word. "Has anyone ever heard of the word philosophy before?" Utter silence. "Perhaps some of the adults here studied philosophy at school?" The audience remained in silence. It seems the word philosophy is slightly intimidating. So I shared part of what philosophy means for me: asking questions, thinking about why we think what we think and comparing it with what other people think or have thought in the past.  

I then asked the audience if they thought what we had done that afternoon was of any use. Is asking philosophical questions of any use? Many said yes: "it's a way of sharing" said some; "it helps us improve our thinking", said others; "it's also a good way of getting to know each other better", said someone else. I asked the children present whether they had thought these questions were too hard. "No", they replied. I told them that since we started the project, some people (by no means all) had said to us that we couldn't hand those materials to children without giving them the answers, and that, in any case, an adult would have to be present, because on their own they might get afraid or become traumatised. 

I asked the children if they had felt afraid when they saw these images. The all said no. "If you found this box at home, would you have a look at it on your own?" One girl said that if it was someone else's property she wouldn't open it. "What about if it were your box?" I asked. "Oh, yes, in that case, I would open it", she replied. Why are adults so scared of children asking themselves these questions, when children are anything but scared by them? 

One of the boys had the courage to get up and come up to us to take a better look at the Cruelty Bites box, and even took it with him to his seat to browse through all the contents. 

This boy was curious to look at, touch and read through the  Cruelty Bites  box.

This boy was curious to look at, touch and read through the Cruelty Bites box.

On the scene in the background, a very first sketch of a cover for Wonder Ponder magazine.   

Do you want to see more? The audience all seemed interested in hearing more, so I put on the presentation I had prepared originally. 

I told everyone how Ellen Duthie, Raquel Martínez Uña and I had thought up the name Wonder Ponder and how the idea of the visual philosophy for children boxes had gradually developed. I also showed them how, starting with a series of questions on a particular aspect of cruelty, I came up with an illustration, and then all the changes the illustration went through until getting to the final version.  

We looked at a few more scenes from Cruelty Bites, I showed them all the characters and our little Wonder Ponder man, with his curious eyes. And that was it for the evening.  

Some of the assistants generously left their comments and proposals for issues they would like to see addressed in future Wonder Ponder boxes. 

How can we make the world a better place? /     It unsettles me that the intelligence of animals is measured by how well they obey their owners. Same goes for students and teachers. Thoughts? /   The value of money. Why do some things cost more than others? Is expensive always better? Does free mean poor quality? Who decides the value of things? /   What is art for? /   Take this to schools and teacher training courses /   I think it is an incredible project for children to learn how to think and have a judgement of their own from an early age for them to be free and not fear beign different. This may make lots of adults uneasy, as they lose power over their children, but they should encourage them to be free and curious. /   Scene on violence. /   Why do we ask questions? 

How can we make the world a better place? / It unsettles me that the intelligence of animals is measured by how well they obey their owners. Same goes for students and teachers. Thoughts? / The value of money. Why do some things cost more than others? Is expensive always better? Does free mean poor quality? Who decides the value of things? / What is art for? / Take this to schools and teacher training courses / I think it is an incredible project for children to learn how to think and have a judgement of their own from an early age for them to be free and not fear beign different. This may make lots of adults uneasy, as they lose power over their children, but they should encourage them to be free and curious. / Scene on violence. / Why do we ask questions? 

It was a very pleasant affair and we closed the event with a nice glass of wine in the quiet gardens of Casa de José Zorrilla, with the heat of the day giving way to a welcome evening breeze.

The Casa de José Zorrilla was a stunning setting for the presentation, indoors and outdoors.  

We would like to thank all the fellow illustrators and friends who were able to make it, as well as all the other people in the audience, and in particular the team of Ilustratour for inviting us and accompanying us on our first public presentation. We had a great time and we really enjoyed the opportunity of sharing Cruelty Bites with such a varied and participative crowd of people. I learnt a lot from the experience!

(c) Wonder Ponder (An imprint of Traje de lobo S.L.).

Is it possible to be cruel to oneself?

Ellen Duthie

One of the scenes in Cruelty Bites, our first Wonder Ponder, Visual Philosophy for Children box is about self-cruelty, raising questions such as:

  • Have you ever told yourself off or hurt yourself for something you’ve done? Do you remember why? Do you think you were cruel to yourself? 
  • Do you think people who hurt themselves should be stopped?  
  • Is it possible to be cruel to oneself? If so, who is the victim and who is the aggressor? 
  • Do you think you should punish yourself when you do something you think is bad? 

These are some of the sketches illustrator Daniela Martagón drew, trying to work out what the best representation of self-cruelty might be to include the Wonder Ponder Cruelty Bites box. 

Sketch by Daniela Martagón, preliminary study for  Cruelty Bites  by Wonder Ponder. A) Pull out or pull one's hair. B) Bang head against the wall. C) Not allow oneself any play or enjoyment. D) Insult oneself. E) Slap oneself. F) Bite oneself. G) Not feed oneself. H) Burn oneself.  

Sketch by Daniela Martagón, preliminary study for Cruelty Bites by Wonder Ponder. A) Pull out or pull one's hair. B) Bang head against the wall. C) Not allow oneself any play or enjoyment. D) Insult oneself. E) Slap oneself. F) Bite oneself. G) Not feed oneself. H) Burn oneself.  

And after a great deal of thinking, changing and trying it out, here is the scene that finally made it into the box: 

Wonder Ponder will be launching in November 2014. Stay tuned for more tidbits about it all here. Enjoy.

Cruelty Bites, the first Wonder Ponder box was published on 20 November 2014, World Philosophy Day. The second box, I, Person, will be launching in May 2015. Stay tuned for more news and tidbits. 
 

(c) Wonder Ponder. (An imprint of Traje de Lobo S.L.)