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Clifford is a Star

by Norman Bridwell

Summary

Clifford is a Star considers the merits and shortcomings of fame and also examines the nature of friendship and privacy.

Clifford and Emily Elizabeth are best friends who do everything together. When Clifford is given the chance by a man from Hollywood to become an actor, he becomes very popular as a dynamic actor and makes many friends and fans. Suddenly Clifford lives in a large house, and has an extravagant diet. However, after experiencing the negative effects of fame, he changes his mind about being an actor and goes back to his life with Emily Elizabeth.

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

Clifford Is a Star asks several important philosophical questions: What is it to be a star? Which type of lifestyle defines someone as a star? When does someone have a right to privacy?

The first set of questions explores the nature of being a star. These questions intend to lead children in discussing the appearance of someone who is a star. The discussion follows from the part of the book where a man from Hollywood pointed out that Clifford can be a big star. The question here is “how can we identify people from their appearance?” It is important to discuss this topic, because there are people who are stars or popular in different fields such as music, art, and athletics. It can also be noted that people have difference appearances, so how can we tell if someone is a star by just looking at them. At this point, children can point out different features of people who they consider to be stars. You can also ask children if they have been told of someone who is a star, but they couldn’t recognize that before by just looking at their appearance. The important thing here is to get two sides, one agreeing and the other disagreeing that people who are stars have a specific appearance. These two sides will help build into a more philosophical discussion of how one can identify people’s talents from their appearance.

The second set of questions discusses characteristics of the life that someone who is a star lives. The philosophical question here is “which type of life defines someone as a star?” This is an important question to discuss, because we live and observe many things about lifestyles and the way different celebrities interact with others. Referring to the book, one can see that “Big stars live in big houses, eat fancy food, wear shiny things, immortalize their footprints in cement and have many fans,” but not all people are driven by a materialistic type of life that comes with wealth and fame. You can discuss what it means to be a star and engage the children about what type of life style makes someone look like a star. You can ask children if it is possible to be a star and live a normal life. This will help to create two sides, with one side reflecting Clifford’s life with Emily and the other side reflecting Clifford’s life in Hollywood. At this point, you can discuss with children the kind of life they would like to live if they were stars. Because Clifford had lots of fans, one can infer the importance of fans in making someone a big star. “Is it possible to be star without fans?” This question helps to define the importance of popularity in making someone a star and leads to even further discussion on the expectations that fans have of celebrities.

The third set of questions investigates the issue of privacy. Philosophical questions that can be discussed in this section are, “When does someone have a right to privacy?” and “How should someone react when their right is abused?” It is important to discuss this topic with children, because privacy is an important thing in life; people need time to be alone, gather their thoughts, or simply have some rest. Certain situations can hinder a person from having this opportunity: in the book, Clifford wanted some peace and quiet but he had to go to parties all the time.” It’s evident that Clifford doesn’t like to go to parties all the time, so why does he still go? Why couldn’t he tell his fans that he wanted some privacy? Why was he not willing to express his feelings? It is important to talk about expressing feelings, because children have a lot to say about their hidden feelings when they are mistreated. It is at this point you can discuss with children how certain situations may pressure someone to not speak up when their rights are being abused.

The fourth set of questions discusses the meaning of friendship. The philosophical question that rises in this discussion is What makes someone a best friend? This is considered philosophically important, because several factors determine the degree of friendship among people. The idea of friendship also focuses on the extent and reasons to which individuals build relationships of ranging strength. Clifford and Emily Elizabeth are described as good friends; because they play together, swim together, and slide in the snow together, developing a theme of enjoying each other’s company. When Clifford takes the opportunity to act in movies filmed in Hollywood, the question which arises is Are they still best friends regardless of the new situation? Clifford and Emily can no longer spend time together and this factor can potentially affect the strength of their friendship. The goal here is to discuss with the children the features of friendship and what distinguishes between being regular or best friends. Discussion with children can go further as you ask them to identify the changes in Clifford and Emily Elizabeth’s relationship as they are away from each other. When Clifford goes back to Emily Elizabeth, an important point arises: can friendships change? Can someone be your best friend, shift into a regular friend, and go back to being a best friend later? Let the children have a dynamic discussion on friendship and its variations while directing them to discuss what makes someone a best friend.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Nature of being a star

One day, a man from Hollywood said, “This dog can be a big star”

  1. What do we mean by star?
  2. Does Clifford look like a star?
  3. What features define Clifford as a star by just looking at him?
  4. Was a man from Hollywood right to point out that Clifford can be a star?
  5. Have you ever known a star that doesn’t have the instant appearance of a star?
  6. Have you ever seen a person who is not a star but with a star’s appearance?
  7. Is it possible to tell someone is a star by just looking at them?
  8. How can someone’s identity be determined from their appearance?

Characteristics of a star

Big stars live in big houses, eat fancy food, wear shiny things, have pretty pools, put their footprint on the cement, and have many fancy things.

  1. Which type of life is Clifford living in Hollywood?
  2. What makes him change his life?
  3. Was it important for him to live such a life in Hollywood?
  4. Do all stars live fabulous lives?
  5. Have you ever wished to live like Clifford? Why?
  6. To be star, must you have an extravagant life?
  7. Is it possible to be a star and live a normal life?
  8. Is popularity important for someone to be a star?
  9. Which type of life defines someone as a star?
  10. How can identity define someone’s life?

Popularity and private life

Clifford wanted some peace and quiet. But he had to go parties all the time

  1. Does Clifford want to go to the parties every time?
  2. Why doesn’t he tell his fans that he needs privacy?
  3. Do you think Clifford is in fear of losing his fans if he disappoints them?
  4. Have you ever had to do anything that you didn’t like? Why did you do it?
  5. How did you feel when a situation forced you into doing something?
  6. What were your reactions after and before doing something that you weren’t willing to do?
  7. When does someone have a right to privacy?
  8. How should someone react when their right is abused?

Friendship

Clifford and Emily Elizabeth are best friends

  1. Was Clifford Emily Elizabeth’s best friend? Why?
  2. Clifford leaves Emily Elizabeth when he goes to Hollywood. Is he still Emily Elizabeth’s best friend?
  3. How about when Clifford leaves Hollywood and goes back to Emily Elizabeth? Does he remain her best friend?
  4. Tell us about your best friend and why your best friend is different from other friends.
  5. Do you and your best friend do everything together?
  6. Is there any difference between you and your best friend? How?
  7. Why does your difference still make you and your friend best friends?
  8. Would you trade your best friend for fame, money, and popularity?
  9. Are there any values, either shared or different, that can define friendship?
  10. What makes someone a best friend?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Chuwa Joseph. 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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