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Clifford the Champion

by Norman Bridwell


Clifford the Champion provides an introduction to discussions about difference and conformity and also about types of love and altruism.

Clifford the dog enters a contest to find America’s Super Dog. When competing with the other dogs, he is unable to perform as well as them because he is different. In the end, however, Clifford is able to use his unique abilities in a beneficial way.

Read aloud video

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

Clifford the Champion covers many topics that could be used to facilitate a philosophical discussion. The first is difference and conformity. A second, broader topic is the different types of love and the necessities of a relationship that includes helping others, including a conversation on altruism. Finally, the group can examine exclusionary rules in sports, and the expectations coded into those rules.

The first set of questions focuses on being different versus conforming. In the book, Clifford is different from the other dogs and does not excel in the competition. Society today puts a lot of emphasis on fitting in and conforming. Peer pressure is a complex issue, and being different from the norm can sometimes be difficult. What makes something or someone different? Could it be a matter of perspective? The questions in this section are designed to get the children to define what being different means to them and relate it to their own lives, while engaging them in a discussion of whether being different can be beneficial or not. Can being different have a positive outcome, regardless of whether it benefits others or yourself? Some of the later questions broaden the discussion to center on peer pressure and on how society views being different.

The second set of questions discusses love and what is necessary for a loving relationship. Emily Elizabeth loves and is still proud of Clifford, despite him being different from the other dogs. Most loving relationships in our lives are defined by some fundamental necessities that the relationship couldn’t exist without. Some examples the children might use are communication, caring for one another, good looks, etc. This section will discuss what degree of “normality” one has to have to retain a relationship and whether a large deviation from normality can harm a relationship. Some of the initial questions are designed for the students to relate to their own lives and determine how changes would affect those relationships. In terms of pets, would you still love your pet if it became different one day? What if it lost its fur? The last few questions discuss different types of love, and what separates love that is resilient to adversity from other types, as well as the prerequisites of a loving relationship. Creating a chart to visualize the characteristics can help the participants pinpoint the fundamentals of a loving relationship: split the board into two sides and write all the opinions on one side. Use the other side to write down three opinions the class can agree on as the most important or necessary.

The third topic explores the ability to help others and altruistic behavior. Clifford helps the other dog in the story even though the other dog beats Clifford in the competition. If faced with a real-life situation that parallels the book, not everyone would act in the same way Clifford did. These questions are designed to help the kids engage in a conversation about altruism and concern for others’ welfare – why did Clifford act unselfishly? . This section also gives the kids ample opportunity to participate by discussing how they might have reacted if they were Clifford. The last several questions are designed to specifically focus on whether or not we have an obligation to help those in need and what it means to act selfishly or unselfishly.

The final philosophical set of questions discusses rules, and especially how rules in sports can be exclusionary. Although people of short stature are allowed to play basketball, the game’s rules and design make it a serious challenge for most shorter people to do so well. Therefore, rules can exclude individuals. This set of questions is designed to first engage the children in determining how rules excluded Clifford in the book and also how and if such rules might exist in their school. The latter questions address whether or not this kind of exclusion is fair and if a universal standard should exist.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Being Different

Although not by choice, Clifford is different from the other dogs.

  1. What does it mean to be different?
  2. Have you ever been different from your friends in something?
  3. In what ways is Clifford different from the other dogs? In what ways is he the same? (Create a chart outlining the differences and similarities).
  4. Is it bad to be different? Can you think of situations where being different is useful?
  5. Should individuality/being your own person be something to be strived for? Why/Why not?
  6. Who dictates what is “normal” and what is not normal or “different”?
  7. What is peer pressure? To what extent should peer pressure influence one’s decisions?

Types of Love

Despite losing the competition, Emily Elizabeth still loves Clifford.

  1. Do some of you in the class have pets at home? What makes your pet different?
  2. Would you still love your pet if they lost their fur? Would your pet be worse than other “normal” ones?
  3. What reasons are there to change your opinion of someone if they become different? How different does one have to be for your opinion of them to change?
  4. Are there any types of love that can withstand all types of adversity? What separates this kind of love from others? What is resilience?
  5. What is needed to love someone? (Write all the answers on the board and encourage the class to narrow their choices down to three things they agree on.)


Although he was losing, Clifford helped the other dog.

  1. Have you ever helped someone who you didn’t know, and if so, in what way? How did you feel after you helped them?
  2. Would you have helped the other dog? Why or why not?
  3. Was it right for Clifford to help the other dog, even though he was losing the competition? Does this make Clifford the “bigger dog”?
  4. Should we help others or give something of value when we receive no benefit in return? What if helping others harms us? Should we still do it?
  5. Do we have an obligation to be concerned with the welfare of others? To whom do we owe help and why? (Society, neighbors, family members, etc.)
  6. When does it become selfish not to help someone?

Exclusivity in Sports

Because of the nature of the rules, Clifford lost the contest.

  1. In the dog contest, some rules needed to be followed. What are the rules in this contest?
  2. Do any rules in the contest exclude Clifford? How do they work against him?
  3. Can you think of rules in sports at your school that exclude some people or make it harder for them to do well because of differences they might have? (If the students cannot think of one, provide an example of how in basketball, the hoop’s height excludes those who are physically short)
  4. Are rules that exclude others fair, or should rules incorporate exceptions to adapt to who is playing the game?
  5. Should there be a universal standard for performance in sports?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Edward Manolii. 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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