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by Leo Lionni


Cornelius is a story about jealousy, sharing, and friendship.

This story is about a crocodile named Cornelius who learns from a monkey how to walk upright. This enables him to see far beyond the bushes and spot fish from above. Though Cornelius thinks that his abilities are special, his fellow crocodiles are not impressed. In the end, Cornelius walks away angrily after his friends and family still don’t seem to care about his cool tricks. But as he walks away, Cornelius looks back and sees everyone trying to stand on their heads, just like the monkey had shown Cornelius.

Read aloud video

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

This story provides an opportunity for children to discuss the various ways we show and hide feelings. It also asks us to think about how pride and jealousy affect our perceptions of others and of ourselves.

Cornelius’s friends and family remain unimpressed every time he shows them something new he has learned. Throughout the book, they seem not to care, and yet in the end, we see them trying to do what Cornelius had shown them. Their feelings did not match what they said. It seems they were afraid to admit that they were interested in a crocodile who had abilities that they did not.

Cornelius’s friends and family didn’t seem to value him and his differences. While Cornelius was making the most of the difference that he was born with by learning new and unusual skills, the other crocodiles do not acknowledge that there is anything special about him. What reasons might they have for appearing indifferent to Cornelius’s accomplishments?

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

When Cornelius told his friends and family about his accomplishments.

  1. Was Cornelius bragging, or was he just proud of what he could do?
  2. If you think he was bragging, do you think he knew he was bragging?
  3. Should people be proud of the skills they have even if they are born with them?
  4. Do the other crocodiles have a good reason to be annoyed by Cornelius?
  5. Do you think that Cornelius’s peers were selfish when they wouldn’t admit that they were fascinated by the new things he was learning to do?

When Cornelius turned around and saw the other Crocodiles actually interested in Cornelius’ new tricks.

  1. What are some of the ways we show our feelings?
  2. Do the words that we say show the feelings that we have? How can you be sure that someone feels the way she says she does?
  3. Have you had an instance when what you said doesn’t match how you felt?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Sanaa Sayani. Edited June 2020 by The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics.

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

Download & Print Email Book Module Back to All Books
Back to All Books Cover image for Cornelius featuring a cut-out paper illustration of a brown crocodile. He appears to be smiling and is standing on his hind legs and walking! 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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