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Billy’s Booger

by William Joyce

Summary

This is the story of an imaginative boy who learns to be proud of his uniqueness.

Billy’s Booger is the story of a boy named Billy, who loves to draw and express his imagination but soon learns that everyone might not feel the same way about his extravagant ideas. One day, the librarian, Mrs. Paisley, opens a contest to all of the students to see who can create the best children’s book. While Billy thinks his new book, “Billy’s Booger”  is brilliant, others do not. Billy learns that he does not have to feel accepted by everyone in order to feel proud of himself. 

Read aloud video by Tiana Wilson Addai-Mensah

 

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

Billy’s Booger is about being different and learning to take pride in those differences you have from other people. In philosophical terms, this book deals with differentiating imagination from reality and the concepts of disappointment, rejection, and acceptance. 

Imagination/Reality

This story raises the question about what is real and what is not real. The audience constantly watches Billy imagining and creating new things because he thinks the life he lives can be too boring at times. As the story progresses, it becomes obvious that Billy uses his imagination a lot more than paying attention to reality. It is important for the readers to recognize the difference between reality and Billy’s imagination. The activities and sports Billy finds boring in his PE class are real whereas the comic stories that he enjoys so much are fantasy. As Billy writes his children’s book for the contest, he takes a lot of ideas from his imagination when creating it. We know this because the story about his boogers could never be true and would have had to be made up and then deemed fictional. The audience should discuss the differences between imagination and reality in Billy’s life and why he may enjoy using his imagination more. These differences show what kind of person Billy is and why he may take so much pride in his book. 

Rejection

Billy appears to experience rejection for the first time in his life in this story. Sometimes when Billy comes up with his wild, unique inventions and ideas they are often quickly dismissed by his principal and parents but never more than that. When Billy steps out of his comfort zone and submits his personal work for many others to judge and see, he is emotionally jolted when they do not find the same humor and amusement in it that he always does. Billy feels confused at the thought of people not only disliking his work, but also not enjoying it in the slightest. This feeling upsets him and appears to discourage him from creating his own inventions and ideas. 

Readers can acknowledge Billy’s feelings throughout the story and recognize how rejection makes him feel as well as how it changes his outward behavior. In expressing himself to others, he was vulnerable and ended up getting hurt. In the end it was worth it but he didn’t feel that way at first or recognize that something good could have come out of this initial rejection. The audience should discuss how rejection can make a person feel as well as how it can affect someone’s behavior and confidence. It also should be noted how brave it is for people to be vulnerable with one another and that it takes strength to be able to put one’s personal thoughts and ideas out into the open.  In the book, after Billy’s book idea was rejected it was very noticeable that he temporarily became a quieter version of himself. 

Acceptance

The concept of acceptance and being accepted by the people around you runs throughout this book. It can be intimidating when people are vulnerable with one another and share their individual ideas because these same ideas are often things they care deeply about. In doing this, people want their ideas to be accepted and embraced. When this doesn’t happen it can be very scary and prevent them from ever subjecting their personal ideas to others again. Billy put lots of time, effort, and personal thought into his book and submitted it in hopes that his ideas would be accepted and he would win the book contest. Billy was proud of his work and took pride in what he created. When reading, the audience recognizes how Billy felt when he was working on his book, how he felt when he submitted it, and how he felt after discovering others’ opinions on it. In comparing all of Billy’s emotions throughout the book, the reader can recognize the changes Billy goes through as the story continues. 

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Imagination/Reality

“Billy wished school was more like the ‘funny pages’ …”

  1. Is the story Billy writes real?
  2. How do you know it is not real?
  3. If something is not real, what is it?
  4. What does it mean to imagine?
  5. When you imagine, is it always about things that are not real?
  6. When can you use your imagination? What for?
  7. Can imagining be bad?
  8. Can imagining distract you from reality?
  9. Can you imagine but also know what is real at the same time?

Rejection

“Billy is normal now, it’s weird…”

  1. How did Billy feel about his book when he was finished and first submitted it?
  2. Can it be scary to tell and show people your own personal ideas?
  3. Who didn’t like Billy’s book?
  4. How did Billy feel when he lost the book contest?
  5. What did you notice about Billy’s behavior that changed from the beginning of the book?
  6. Can getting rejected take away the feeling of accomplishing something? 
  7. What does it mean to be disappointed?
  8. How do you feel when things don’t go the way you want?
  9. Do you tend to become more attached to the things you create yourself?
  10. How would you feel if you worked really hard on something and someone didn’t like it?

Acceptance

“This made Billy smile in a Billy-sort-of way…”

  1. Was Billy really proud of his work?
  2. Do you think Billy wanted other people to like his book?
  3. How does Billy feel about himself after his book is rejected?
  4. Do you think he takes pride in his work or is ashamed after getting rejected?
  5. How did Billy feel when he found out others liked his book?
  6. What does it mean to feel/be accepted?
  7. How does it feel to be accepted by others?
  8. Do your friend’s sometimes have different ideas than you?
  9. How can you make your friend’s and their ideas feel accepted?

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

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Back to All Books Cover illustration for William Joyce's picture book "Billy's Booger" featuring a young white boy with brown hair and glasses reading a book upon which is perched a small green creature. Download & Print Email Book Module

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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