Book Bag

Last modified: Thursday, August 01, 2013


By Thomas Wartenberg

John Wiley & Sons/Wiley-Blackwell

Thomas Wartenberg, a professor of philosophy at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, has spent a good part of his career examining the connections between philosophy and popular culture, from movies to literature to art. He is also the creator of a website,, that’s dedicated to helping adults discuss philosophical questions with young children.

In his latest book, “A Sneetch is a Sneetch and Other Philosophical Discoveries,” he looks at the surprisingly profound thought and questions that can be raised in children’s literature, even for very young readers. Drawing from 16 picture books, including the classic Dr. Seuss story “The Sneetches,” Wartenberg offers a basic primer on philosophical issues that parents and children can examine together.

In the Dr. Seuss story, for instance, a group of creatures discriminates against another group that is virtually identical, except for the fact that the first group has small stars on their bellies and the second does not. Wartenberg uses the tale to examine the implications of discrimination, particularly the difference between its immorality and its irrationality, with suggestions on how to frame a discussion with children.

Wartenberg also looks at stories such as William Steig’s “Shrek,” later adapted for a sequence of popular animated films, and Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree,” a tale that delves into the issue of environmental ethics. Throughout the book, he also offers text blocks that discuss specific philosophical ideas in more depth, and he includes short profiles of notable philosophers.

His overall intent, he says, is to show that philosophy is not as abstract as one might think — and that young children’s endless questions might mean more than a harried parent realizes.

“Kids and philosophers seem determined to place obstacles in our way,” he writes. “[But] the reason they both keep asking ‘Why?’ is that they refuse to skip over those confounding aspects of reality that most of us ignore as we attend to our everyday concerns.”


By David W. Goodwin


David Goodwin of Shutesbury has spent much of his life involved in the natural world, in particular working for the state Bureau of Forestry and as a natural resources researcher/lecturer at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Now he’s turned his hand to fiction with his first novel, “Slave Camp Nightclub,” a story he says is loosely based on a dream he had while living in Boulder, Colo., in 1976.

The narrator, Dean, is a college student spending a summer between classes in a vegetarian communal home in “the most quintessentially student infested neighborhood” in Boulder. While flinging a Frisbee one day outside the house, Dean and his buddies Iggy and Eric get approached by a good-looking woman in a car who asks them if they’d like to earn a few bucks working in a rock quarry.

This is no ordinary quarry, though: This one comes with a private nightclub, open only to people who work in the quarry, where tired employees can “unwind and let [their] hair down.” Not only that, the Sugarloaf Quarry Nightclub is chockablock with varied characters and misfits that are sure to offer a bunch of college students additional thrills and adventures.

Dean and his pals already have pretty full lives at their vegetarian hippie house, which isn’t easy to give up, but the promise of something different at what they jokingly call “Slave Camp Nightclub” has much appeal — and when they take the plunge, they will experience the magic of the club and try to figure out what is real and what is imagined.


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