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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

The Philosophy Club reviews Cruelty Bites

Ellen Duthie


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.


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. 

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?  


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.).