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Chrysanthemum

by Kevin Henkes

Summary

Chrysanthemum raises questions about perfection and bullying.

From the day she was born, Chrysanthemum was told she had the perfect name. On her first day of school, Chrysanthemum learned that others did not think her name was perfect. She was bullied by the other children for having such a long name and for being named after a flower. This bullying at school continues until one day the other kids in her class are introduced to the charismatic and lovable music teacher Mrs. Twinkle. She expresses a different opinion about the name which results in a change of heart from Chrysanthemum’s classmates.

Read aloud video by Storybook Nany Read Aloud

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

Chrysanthemum raises questions regarding perfection and bullying. From the very beginning of the book the word “perfect” is used repeatedly. It is used by Chrysanthemum’s parents about their little girl, as well as about her name. What does it mean that her parents call her perfect? Is it possible for a person to be perfect? Is it possible for a name to be perfect? What does that mean?

Starting on her first day of school, Chrysanthemum is relentlessly teased about her name. As a result, she begins losing faith in the perfection of her name. She starts wishing her name was different and simpler. The story provides an opportunity to think about meanness and the apparently trivial reasons people use to mistreat each other. Why do people tease each other? How, ideally, should people treat each other?

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Perfection

Ever since Chrysanthemum was born her parents told her that her name was perfect, and so was she.

  1. Can a name be perfect? If so, how?
  2. Suppose your family decided to name your dog “Spot,” and your friend says to you, “Spot is a perfect name for your dog!” What do you think they mean?
  3. What does the word “perfect” mean to you?
  4. Can a person be perfect? Why or why not?
  5. What does a perfect person do? What is a perfect person like? Can you think of an example?
  6. What would make a perfect person perfect?
  7. Do you think there can be a perfect characteristic about someone or a part of someone that is perfect?

Bullying

On Chrysanthemum’s first day at school, the other students made fun of her before getting to know her, and only after hearing her name.

  1. Why do you think the class laughed when they heard Chrysanthemum’s name?
  2. Would you have laughed at Chrysanthemum’s name? What if by doing so it hurt her feelings?
  3. How should her classmates have reacted to hearing Chrysanthemum’s name? How should they have treated her?
  4. After her first day of class, Chrysanthemum wishes she had a different name. Do you think she should feel badly about her name because they laughed at her?
  5. How should she have reacted?
  6. Chrysanthemum’s mom thought that the bullying was caused by jealousy. What is jealousy?
  7. Have you ever been jealous of someone else? Why?
  8. How did you treat the person of whom you were jealous?
  9. In the end, the classmates change their minds about Chrysanthemum’s name because of their fondness for Mrs. Twinkle. Was that a good reason to change their minds? If not, can you think of other reasons? What are they?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Lydia Varon archived here. Edited July 2020 by The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics.

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

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Back to All Books Illustrated book cover for Chrysanthemum featuring a mouse wearing a pink dress, pink shoes and a pink bow. She's standing on a field next to a yellow chrysanthemum flower, which is twice as tall as she is. 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 excellent resource guide for talking to children about issues of race and culture in literature. They also have a wonderful guide for navigating tough conversations.

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

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