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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: Visual Philosophy for Children

Cruelty declared apt for children

Ellen Duthie

Yesterday this fantastic review by Kim Kindermann of the German edition of Cruelty Bites published this month by Moritz Verlag (Grausame Welt?) was aired on German public radio Deutschlandfunk Kultur.

Here is a translation of the review. Long live Grausame Welt?!

Far from your typical read-aloud book for children:  Cruelty Bites , by Ellen Duthie and Daniela Martagón, approaches the subject in a playful way. (Moritz Verlag / imago / Westend61)

Far from your typical read-aloud book for children: Cruelty Bites, by Ellen Duthie and Daniela Martagón, approaches the subject in a playful way. (Moritz Verlag / imago / Westend61)

Deutschlandfunk Kultur

 LESART. 26.02.2019

Kim Kindermann

 Cruel situations and scenes, described and illustrated by two authors: Cruelty Bites invites children to think about good and evil. A very successful book about a very difficult subject, in our reviewer’s opinion.

"Let’s try pinching very hard. Any reaction?” says the card, showing a boy tied down to a table. The scientists experimenting on the child are rats. On another card, a man has been locked up in a cellar by a group of children. "Now you stay down here and think very carefully about what you’ve just done!" they say. And on another card, a girl is biting her own arm.

Three scenes, three cards. Three of a total of 20. All of them are square. On one side, we see a cruel situation: a girl kills an ant, some lions eat a goat, a mother and father serve a stew made with cat meat, some children pull a girl’s hair, a father holds down his son firmly to give him a shower. On the back of each card, lots of questions on the theme.

 Off with the rose-tinted glasses!

Philosopher Ellen Duthie doesn’t actually offer any answers as to what cruelty is. She asks where cruelty starts, what about the victims, what about the perpretrators, and whether an act might be less serious if it doesn’t last too long.

 Step by step we are invited to analyse the situation. The focus is always on the questions. What do you find cruel about it? Have you ever experienced a similar situation?

It is demanding. Ellen Duthie does not only ask children to deal with this difficult problem; she also tells them cruelty exists. So off with the rose-tinted glasses"! The world isn’t all pretty.

But should we ask children questions? Yes, we should! Because children live in this world, with all its shadows too; children see and also experience situations that are not easy. The sooner they learn to classify situations, to give them a name and understand their own feelings, the sooner they might try to avoid being cruel. Here, that happens because they are allowed to experience different situations playfully.

 Dialogue and reasoning about violence

But also because these cards invite readers to comment. Unlike your typical read-aloud book for children, here exchange and reasoning occurs. That is good. The format also contributes to this.

The cards allow several children at the same time to engage in dialogue about different aspects of cruelty and to reason with each other. Duthie manages to make you want to speak about a subject that many would rather avoid altogether.

Daniela Martagón’s illustrations are also a great success in this regard. On the one hand, they are simple, in black and white on a colour background, and reminiscent of cartoons. On the other hand, they play with the absurd as a mechanism of distance. Like the rats, that keep the children in cages as test subjects. Or the girl who bites herself, and whose enormous sharp teeth seem to belong more in the mouth of the cat that is standing opposite her, with its hair standing on end.

 Illustrations that don’t miss a beat

There’s nothing pretty or cute about the illustrations, which clearly hone in on the cruelty of the content. This is stressed further by the bright background colours: pink, orange, blue, green and yellow. They act like a flag: Attention! This is important!

And yes, this book of cards is important. Let’s state it clearly: children ought to be taken seriously. We can and should speak about subjects such as cruelty with them, philosophise with them.  

What is more, we can start early on, with no rush: Cruelty Bites is perfect for preschoolers and primary age children. What is ok and what is not? Where are the limits and to what extent can they shift? It is never to early to start talking about all of this.

Ellen Duthie, Daniela Martagón: Cruelty Bites / Mundo cruel
German edition translated from the Spanish by Paula Peretti 
Moritz Verlag, Frankfurt / Main 2019 

 

Original German review here.

What if life is a dream? Or an illusion? Or a good old story? New title in the Wonder Ponder Visual Philosophy for Children series to explore Reality, Imagination and Dream

Ellen Duthie

Pinch Me title image.jpg

COMING IN MAY 2018.
Coming soon, the new title in the Visual Philosopy for Children series by Wonder Ponder, Pinch Me!  We are not quite ready to publish the cover, but the above is a close-up of the title on the cover. Woohoo!

PINCH ME!

What if life is a dream?
An illusion?
Or a good old story?
When you pinch yourself, does it hurt?
And does the pain prove you are not dreaming?

 Can we trust our senses?
If our eyes sometimes trick us, might they always trick us?
How do we know that the world is as we perceive it and not as a fly or a dog sees it?

If you could connect to a machine that made you live and feel only good things, would you want to connect to it forever?

Can a made-up story be real?
Can a photograph lie?
Are some witnesses more reliable than others?
 
What is real? And what is not so real?
What do you think?

Half-way between a book and a game, Pinch Me! comes in a box and invites readers aged eight and over (adults too!) to think about reality, imagination and dream in a way that is both serious and seriously fun.

The box provides plenty of opportunities for younger and older readers to explore the differences between real and pretend, real and alive, our senses and what they tell us about the world, and to wonder whether we could be dreaming or not. It also contains scenes that are likely to spark wondering and pondering about virtual reality, fiction and reality, fake news and representation in selfies, in a way that is both relatable and destabilising, as well as riveting.    

Part of the critically acclaimed Wonder Ponder, Visual Philosophy for Children series, Pinch Me! is designed for children to look at, read and think playfully about by themselves, accompanied by an adult or in a group, in educational, play or family contexts.

Themes:  reality ·  imagination ·  dream ·   memory ·   the five senses ·   perception ·   fiction/reality ·  real/pretend  ·   reliable information ·  real/virtual ·   philosophy for children.

Content
·   14 illustrated scenes.
·   More than 100 carefully worded questions designed to spark a rich and well-oriented reflection without leading it to pre-established conclusions.
·   3 blank cards for readers to design their own philosophical scenes and pose their own questions.
·   Brief guide for children and adults.
·   Ideas for wonderpondering. Suggestions for use.
·   A-3 thematic poster.

About The Wonder Ponder Visual Philosophy for Children series
Wonder Ponder introduces readers to philosophy’s big questions in a way that is playful and appealing. Engaging scenes and intriguing questions prompt reflection and discussion, encouraging children to develop their own thoughts and arguments and to build a visual and conceptual map of the issue addressed in each box.

Interested in learning more about the Visual Philosophy for Children series by Wonder Ponder? Check out our website and our online shop

Do children have the right to keep some things private from their parents?

Ellen Duthie

One of the characters from  Whatever You Want . She won't tell us her name because she'd rather keep it private. 

One of the characters from Whatever You Want. She won't tell us her name because she'd rather keep it private. 

In our new title, Whatever You Want, Ellen Duthie and Daniela Martagón invite people, small, medium and large, to explore freedom and many other related concepts: safety, limits, rules, choice, free will, privacy and more.  

Like all the titles in our Visual Philosophy for Children series, Whatever You Want feeds on extensive, rich and careful work in workshops with children and adults before and during the creation process.  

At Wonder Ponder we ask, we listen, we dialogue, we observe. We draw up a general map of questions on the core issue and see which questions are of particular interest to children of different ages, so that we can then attempt to condense them in the scenes we finally select to be included in the book.

Because of the way we work, starting off with a prior philosophical map of questions and then using it to gather real concerns and spark further questions from children in our workshops and at the schools we work, our Wonder Ponder books do not only contain questions and situations designed by adults for children. They also contain many questions in the other direction: questions and concerns put forward by children and teenagers which, when put to adults, can open up an interesting dialogue between generations. 

One of the issues that frequently comes up in workshops on freedom with children (with teenagers, yes but also with younger children) is privacy.  'Do we have to tell our parents everything or are there parts of life we can keep to ourselves?'  

A nine-year-old girl complained at one workshop: 'My Mum is always asking me what I've been up to and she wants to know every little detail. But I don't tell her everything because there are some things I like to keep to myself'. When asked what sort of thing she preferred to keep to herself and whether they were things she somehow feared telling her mother, she answered: 'Oh, no. It's got nothing to do with fear. It's not because they are bad things. They're just mine. They're mine and I don't feel like sharing them with anyone else'. Sparked by this sentiment and other similar feelings of other people in the group, we engaged in a riveting dialogue about the right to privacy.  

Usually, when adults speak of children's right to privacy, we tend to focus our attention on the protection of the private nature of pictures and personal information in an increasingly public world, for instance, or on the right to remain anonymous of celebreties' kids, to give another example. We focus on home-outwards privacy. But what about home-inwards? Do children have the right to a private life their parents don't know of? If so, from what age? Do children have the right to have private correspondence? What aspects of their lives is it acceptable - or desirable - for us to be informed of? Where is the line between protection and intrusion? From what age does a child have a right to this kind of privacy? 

There are at least two scenes in Whatever You Want that trigger wondering, pondering and questioning on these issues. The first puts forward a possible world where a thought reading machine has been invented. 

On the back of the scene, some of the questions suggested are: 'Why do you think the doctor is reading the boy’s thoughts? What thoughts do you think the reader has detected? What would you do if other people could read your thoughts? Can you control what you think? Imagine this thought reader really existed. Who should be able to use it, who with and what for?'

The second scene (for this one you'll need to resort to your imagination) shows a boy inside a wardrobe with the only company of a sweet kitten. He has made himself a great little den, with everything required to enjoy his freedom. Some of the questions on the back are:  

'Do you think the boy in the scene is free? Is feeling free the same as being free? Is it possible to be freer when hiding than when in front of others?' And then that seemingly simple yet rather hard question to answer. 'Do children have the right to keep some things private from their parents?' 

These are questions that are far from easy to answer, whether you are a child or an adult, and, precisely because they are not easy, they are also the most interesting type of question to share and the most fascinating kind of question to explore. Questions posed by children for other children, by adults for children and by children for adults, all of them great for wondering and pondering freely. 

So, do children have the right to keep some things private from their parents? 

What do you think? 

Find out more about the Wonder Ponder series of Visual Philosophy for Children here

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.).

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.)

A sketch of the creative process

Ellen Duthie

The creative process behind the Wonder Ponder, Visual Philosophy for Children, boxes is fascinating and rewarding. A philosopher, an illustrator and an editor working together, feeding off each other's suggestions and feeling the thrill of getting it just right.

Each box starts with a description given by the philosopher to the illustrator of a series of scenes mapping a given philosophical topic. Sometimes it's quite detailed and specific, others it's more of a list of the kind of questions the scene should elicit.

Then there's a lot of sketching, a lot of work on the exact composition of the scene, a lot of character work and to-ing and fro-ing, a lot of added suggestions and nuances, many of them philosophically enriching, by the illustrator.

And then philosopher, illustrator and editor sit down and look at it as critically as possible, before showing it to kids and getting teachers to try them out, and tweaking it based on their reaction and interpretation, to make sure they really spark interest and offer sufficient complexity and variety of perspectives for it to lead to sustained and engaged dialogue.

And then comes the text... but for now we just wanted to share a couple of fun character sketches for the zoo scene in the first box in the series, Cruelty Bites, to be launched at the end of the year.

Here is the finalised version:

'Take me with you!'

'Take me with you!'

Now, you see this centipede-ish alien?

He came second in our choice of alien.

See all these other alien sketches and the early sketch of the scene with the tiger facing the other way?

The how many eyes question was a tricky one and the tiger... we just didn't think it worked as well as those deep, sad eyes in the final version.

And it took quite a few efforts to get the boy in the cage just right, as you can see in the last image.

sin título-4.jpg

Nothing's easy, but it's all great fun!

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

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