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Benjamin’s Dreadful Dream

by Alan Baker
FILTERS: knowledge, reality


Benjamin has a dreadful dream. Discussing his terrible nightmare can help kids explore the nature of reality and bravery.

When he can’t sleep one night, Benjamin decides to have a snack, but instead he finds himself in the midst of surprising adventures with piles of food, firecrackers, water, and bubbles before finding himself back in bed again. Was it all just a dream?

Educators, please note that this book is no longer in print, and is not readily available.

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

This is a story about an adventure that Benjamin the hamster has one night when he can’t sleep and gets up for a snack. Fantastical and random things happen to him and, although it feels very real, it turns out to be a dream. This story involves philosophical issues dealing with reality, dreams, feelings (both physical and mental), risks, and bravery.

The first set of questions is designed to spark a discussion regarding the difference between dreams and reality. This exploration can involve identifying the characteristics of reality and dreams and understanding the various sensations and experiences that differentiate the two. This theme raises issues of what really is a dream. A dream may be interpreted as one’s imagination displaying mental images and/or emotions, which gives us opportunities to analyze deeper meanings of why we dream and how we dream. There is a conflict between dreams being real and dreams not being real. Some children believe our thoughts are real. Therefore dreams may be considered real because we imagine and/or think them. Others may believe dreams are not real because for anything to be real it has to have a verified existence. These questions will thus explore the differences, if any, between dreams and reality.

The second set of questions expands on the idea of reality, where the children can discuss the qualities and defining factors of real things. Since some dreams feel real the discussion can include an analysis of the quality of “real.” These questions can lead to the discussion of standards by which one judges what actually exists or not. For instance, questions like, “Are unicorns or monsters real?” can be posed to understand the characteristics of reality. This question set can also explore the place that dreams have within reality. One argument can be, “Since they feel real and are an experience, they are real,” while another person can express that, “Dreams are not real because it didn’t happen in real life.” Such a discussion can potentially lead to an understanding of reality and existence. Although the difference between “alive” and “real” is not a concept introduced specifically in the question set, depending on the direction of the discussion, this concept may be debated as well.

The next question set deals with the idea of “feeling.” This will involve returning to the idea of feeling something during your dream and whether or not that feeling is real or not. Also, this question set is designed to spark discussion on the possible difference of feeling with your heart/mind (mentally feeling cold) and your body (physically feeling cold). During a dream one may feel a certain way and continue to feel that way after they have awaken even when that dream and its situation have ceased. This may lead to arguments such as “if your mind/heart tells your body you are feeling cold, then you are feeling cold,” as opposed to, “if your body isn’t physically feeling cold, then despite what you may think, you are not cold.” This may lead into a discussion of which feelings are real and/or the difference between feelings and emotions (depending on the direction of the discussion).

The meaning of risks are analyzed in the next question set. When was the last time you took a risk? Was it thrilling, scary, or both? What is a risk? A risk could be something for sheer adventure or a life-altering decision. The discussion will touch upon what one really means by risk? One could say that it depends on each individual’s feelings. It could be any act that one is afraid of taking. Risks differ from person to person because what may seem risky to someone else may not be risky to you. Are risks good or bad or both? Some will say they are good because it will enhance the quality of life. Some will say it is bad to take risks because you put yourself in a difficult position. In general, the risks we take can say a lot about who we are. Also, people will make the generalization that taking risks are an act of bravery.

The last set of questions is designed to discuss what it means to be brave. Acts of bravery can range from dealing with a spider crawling up your leg to risking your life for someone. Are you brave if you do something that is not dangerous? An act of bravery can differ depending on each situation and each person. People can be scared if they do something brave. Can we be brave and not be scared?

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

The Meaning of Dreams

When Benjamin woke up he asked, “Was it all a bad dream?” Benjamin wondered if he was dreaming.

  1. Do you think Benjamin was dreaming? Why or why not?
  2. What do you consider a dream?
  3. Does everyone dream?
  4. Do animals dream?
  5. How do you know when you are dreaming?
  6. Do you only dream when you are asleep?
  7. How do we dream?
  8. Do dreams feel like reality?
  9. Can some dreams become reality?
  10. How can dreams become reality?
  11. Do things you dream about exist in reality? Explain.
  12. If your dream felt real does that mean it was real?


  1. Are unicorns and monsters real?
  2. How do we know if something is real or not?
  3. Does something have to breathe, eat, and sleep to be real?
  4. Are objects real?
  5. Do you have to see or feel something for it to be real?
  6. Are thoughts real?
  7. If something is not real, what is it?
  8. Do you believe what is real because other people tell you what is real?

The Nature of Feelings

Benjamin felt many different things in his dreams, from emotions to feeling wet from the bucket of water.

  1. Can your body be cold even if your body is feeling hot?
  2. Can you be happy and sad at the same time?
  3. Do your physical feelings control your mental feelings?
  4. Do your mental feelings control your physical feelings?


Benjamin took a risk by reaching for an apple and ended up falling in an unknown area.

  1. What is taking a risk?
  2. Is it good or bad to take risks?
  3. When you took a risk was it scary, thrilling, or both?
  4. How do you feel when you take risks?
  5. Do you have to be brave to take risks?

The Meaning of Bravery

Benjamin decided to hold on to the rocket and let it take him where ever the rocket was going?

  1. Was this brave of Benjamin?
  2. What does it mean to be brave?
  3. Have you ever done anything that is brave?
  4. Why was it brave?
  5. Do you have to do something dangerous to be considered brave?
  6. Are you brave if you do something that isn’t dangerous?
  7. Is bravery a good feeling? Why or why not?
  8. Do you have to be scared to be brave?
  9. Can you be brave if you are not scared?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Somera Khan and Taryn Hargrove. Edited June 2020 by The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics.

Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our Resources page.

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About the Prindle Institute

As one of the largest collegiate ethics institutes in the country, the Prindle Institute for Ethics’ uniquely robust national outreach mission serves DePauw students, faculty and staff; academics and scholars throughout the United States and in the international community; life-long learners; and the Greencastle community in a variety of ways. In 2019, the Prindle Institute partrnered with Thomas Wartenberg and became the digital home of his Teaching Children Philosophy discussion guides.

Further Resources

Some of the books on this site may contain characterizations or illustrations that are culturally insensitive or inaccurate. We encourage educators to visit the Association for Library Service to Children’s resource guide for talking to children about issues of race and culture in literature. They also have a guide for navigating tough conversations.  PBS Kids’ set of resources for talking to young children about race and racism might also be useful for educators.

Philosophy often deals with big questions like the existence of a higher power or death. Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our resources page.

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