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A Gift from Papá Diego

by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Summary

This story considers a variety of topics from disappointment, to patience, to love.

A Gift from Papá Diego is about a 6-year old boy named Diego. Diego lives in Texas and wishes desperately to be reunited with his grandfather who lives in Mexico. Diego asks for a Superman costume for his birthday in hopes of being able to fly to Mexico to visit his grandfather. He is disappointed when he realizes the costume does not give him the ability to fly. The story ends with a surprise visit from Diego’s grandfather, and the whole family has a wonderful birthday celebration.

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

There are several philosophical concepts in the book A Gift from Papá Diego that merit exploration. Some of them include love, reality, disappointment, and patience. The book presents simple messages about love and reality and how these virtues are recognized not just here in American but also in many other countries as well. The sets of questions are designed to introduce topics through specific examples in the book, and then look at these same concepts in a more abstract way. The idea is to help guide children in more in-depth questioning, allowing them to come up with their own conclusions.

The theme of superheroes comes up in the book when Diego dreams about becoming a superhero to have the ability to fly and visit his grandfather in Mexico. The questions aim to get the children thinking about what is real and what is not. What is it that does or does not make someone a superhero? The topic of superheroes allows for a discussion of philosophical issues about reality and fantasy.

The theme of disappointment comes up in the story a couple of times. It occurs first when Diego is told that it is too far for his grandfather to come and visit, and then again when he receives the Superman costume only to find out that he cannot fly. This set of questions was developed to initiate discussions of feelings of disappointment and to realize that it is not necessarily always a bad thing to experience these feelings when things do not go as one wishes. It also initiates children to think about how others may feel if they let someone down. Disappointment can be hurtful, but at the same time, it can also be a valuable experience from which we can learn.

The theme of patience occurs in the story when Diego has to wait all day to open his presents. The excitement and anticipation involved make it even more difficult for Diego. Patience can be a difficult concept for children to understand. It is not something that we always have — nor should we. It is there sometimes and not other times. Why is that? For instance, we would not want to exercise patience if someone were seriously hurt and need to receive medical attention immediately. However, we may want to work on being more patient when it comes to issues that do not require urgent reactions. Sometimes the experience of being patient and having to wait can be more fulfilling than the actual experience itself. It forces us to recognize the anticipation.

Diego daydreams about having the ability to fly and going to visit his grandfather. Daydreams can be very powerful. They can provide ways for children to escape, to sort things out, to try out new ideas or identities. Daydreams help to provide a link between truth and reality, what can be and what may never be. Can a daydream be real, or do the events in a daydream actually have to occur in order for it to be real?

The theme of love is exemplified in the story when Diego talks about missing his grandfather, when his sister Gabriela tells her parents why Diego wants the costume, and when his parents bring the grandfather to Texas for a visit. The aim of these questions is to get children thinking about love and the many different ways we view love. Is it a feeling, emotion, action, thought? How can love mean so many different things?

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Superheroes

Diego wants a Superman costume for his birthday so he can fly to see his grandfather.

  1. What is a superhero?
  2. Can real people be superheroes?
  3. Do you think that superheroes are real? If they are not real, then what are they?
  4. Do you believe in superheroes?
  5. Do you think that Superman is a superhero, and if so, why?
  6. What makes someone a superhero?
  7. Do you have a favorite superhero?
  8. Do you have a hero?
  9. What is the difference between a hero and a superhero?
  10. What other types of heroes are there?

Disappointment

Diego is disappointed to find that he can not fly to see his grandfather when he puts the Superman costume on.

  1. Do you think that Diego’s parents intentionally set him up for disappointment by buying him the costume knowing that he would not be able to fly?
  2. Do you understand what it means to be disappointed?
  3. Have you ever experienced disappointment?
  4. What did it feel like?
  5. Do you think it can ever be a good thing?
  6. Do you think it is possible to feel disappointed without feeling sad?
  7. Have you ever disappointed someone? If so, how did it make you feel?

Patience

Diego has to wait all day to open his presents.

  1. Diego had to be patient and wait all day to open his presents. Have you ever had to be patient and wait for something that you really wanted?
  2. How did it make you feel?
  3. Did you learn anything from the experience?
  4. Do you think that patience is a good thing? Why or why not?
  5. Can you think of a situation where being patient may not be a good thing?

Dreams

Diego very much wants to go and visit his grandfather.

  1. Diego daydreams about flying to see his grandfather. Do you think daydreams are real, and if so, why?
  2. Are daydreams anything like the dreams you have at night when you go to bed?
  3. Do you think you have control over your daydreams, or do they just happen?

Love

Diego loves his grandfather very much.

  1. In the story, Diego loves and misses his grandfather. Have you ever felt that sort of love towards someone in your life?
  2. If so, how did you know it was love?
  3. Diego’s sister Gabriela was mean and made fun of him. Do you think it is possible to treat someone like that and still love them? Why or why not?
  4. What other types of things can you love?
  5. Is the love of something like your favorite food the same as the love you feel towards someone?

Original questions by Nancy Soudant. Guidelines for philosophical discussion by Gareth Matthews. Edited June 2020 by The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics.

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