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Earl the Squirrel

by Don Freeman
FILTERS: grade-1-2, prek-k


Earl’s mom wants him to find and crack his own acorn – but how can he do it independently?

A mother squirrel wants her son, Earl, to be independent. He goes to get an acorn and a nutcracker from his friend, Jill. His mother is furious about him getting help from Jill, so Earl goes on an adventure to find his own acorn. He eventually finds the acorn by himself and earns his mother’s compliments.

Read aloud video with a focus on making predictions by Storytime with Tristan

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion


Discussing the issue of independence with children or with teenagers can make them think of their own experience of being increasingly independent. Earl grows up from a baby squirrel taken care of by his mother to a teenager squirrel assisted by a friend, to a grown-up squirrel picking up acorns by himself. Some children in the group may find themselves in one of the same positions that Earl was. Earl goes on a journey to find an acorn as a quest for independence. Some of the children in the class might have done something similar to Earl, trying to do something without the assistance of their family and friends to feel more successful. They might realize the difference between a gift and a reward. Earl sees all those acorns scattered on the ground, but he climbs up a tree instead to pick one because he cherishes the reward of his own effort rather than a gift taken for granted. The children have probably received a lot of things from their families and friends; like Earl, when they start to value the reward of their own efforts, it shows a sign of independence.

Dependence on Technology

Children using a smartphone to navigate on a walk instead of using a map and compass share a lot of in common with Earl using nutcracker instead of chewing. In the children’s case, their parents probably think that new technology makes the children’s life less adventurous than their childhood. As an adult, the mother squirrel is more independent when it comes to technology because she did not grow up in a world full of nutcrackers and other tools. In the class, the children may find that technology gives people an excuse for not doing things by themselves.

Risk versus Reward

The children in the class may have played games like “Dare” and “Chicken,” in which they have had to take a risk in order to win or face a punishment. Earl risked his life to seek an acorn on his own. Is it worth it? Sometimes the children will underestimate the risk, just like what Earl did when he left home. He could have been poked by the bull’s horn when it charged toward Earl. Lucky for Earl, he successfully saves the scarf before the bull could hurt him. In real life, good luck cannot keep children from danger. They have to be able to take risk into account when they decide to try something new. At the moment when Earl’s scarf dropped he had two choices: to pick it up or to leave it there. Realizing the risk but still being willing to take it is a brave and dangerous act. The question is if he really made the right decision at that moment. If he just left the scarf there, the story may not be as interesting, since he would appear to be a “chicken,” but at least he would certainly be safe. The children in the class may make different choices when it comes to risk versus reward, offering ample opportunity for discussion.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion


  1. When does Earl become an independent squirrel?
  2. Do Earl’s mother’s criticisms help him to be more independent? Why?
  3. Why does Earl get his own acorn, despite all of the acorns scattered on the ground?
  4. What is the difference between a gift and a reward?
  5. What makes someone independent?
  6. Is being independent the same as being alone?
  7. Does earning a reward help people to be more independent? If it does, how?

Dependence on technology

  1. Would a nutcracker improve the squirrel’s life?
  2. Why do you think Earl’s mother does not like the nutcracker?
  3. Does new technology make people’s life easier? Give examples.
  4. Could too much technology make things worse? How? (Relate to the examples in question 3.)
  5. When do people rely too much on new technology? Why would they do that?
  6. Are we better off with or without the new technology? Why?
  7. Is technology destructive? If it is, what danger does it bring to human?

Risk versus Reward

  1. Why does Earl leave home with out telling his mother?
  2. Why does Earl start his adventure? What is he trying to prove?
  3. What would have happened if his scarf did not fall?
  4. Is it worth it if Earl were to be attacked by a bull for seeking an acorn? Why?
  5. If you were Earl, would you reach out your hand for the scarf when the bull is coming? Why?
  6. How important is the reward in a game?
  7. When is it okay to take a risk for the reward?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Yanking Li. 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 Illustrated book cover for Earl the Squirrel featuring a black-and-white drawing of a lively squirrel and acorns on a white circle. The squirrel is wearing a bright red scarf and is holding an acorn. 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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