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Elvira

by Margaret Shannon

Summary

Elvira is about a dragon who doesn’t fit typical dragon stereotype, raising questions about differences, beauty, and identity.

Elvira the dragon is different from the other dragons. She doesn’t like breathing fire or eating princesses. But that doesn’t mean Elvira feels bad about herself!

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

Elvira by Margaret Shannon is a story of a young dragon who is born looking and acting just like all the other dragons. Yet as she gets older, Elvira becomes different. While the other dragons are interested in fighting with each other and eating princesses, Elvira prefers to make daisy chains and design dresses. Because of her differences, Elvira is bullied by the other dragons and made fun of. She finally chooses to leave and go live with the princesses.

At first she is also ostracized by the princesses, but when they realize that she wants to be one of them instead of eating them, they adopt her as their favorite pet. They dress her in pretty dresses and paint her nails. One day Elvira’s parents mistake her for a big princess who looks tasty to eat. When Elvira makes it clear that she is a dragon and not a princess, they take her home so she won’t be mistaken for a princess again. At first, when the other dragons hear that Elvira has returned, they visit to pick on her. But, instead, they are excited by her dresses, and she makes dresses for them also.

The book Elvira deals with aesthetics, which is a branch of philosophy that studies beauty and art. Elvira is interested in things she finds pleasing, such as beautiful dresses and daisy chains. The other dragons find things like fighting to be pleasing. This makes her different from the other dragons. Elvira also deals with ethics, a branch of philosophy that deals with things such as morals, or what is right and what is wrong. Elvira’s morals tell her it is wrong to eat princesses. This is at odds with the ethical system of the other dragons, who think it is quite all right to eat princesses. Finally, Elvira deals with the philosophical issues of epistemology, a branch of philosophy that studies how we know things, and ontology, the philosophical study of existence and identity. For example, how does Elvira know it is wrong to eat princesses? Also, what does it mean for Elvira to have an identity that is different from all the other dragons?

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Differences

  1. Have you ever identified with people who were different from you?
  2. Have you ever felt different from your friends or parents?
  3. Did you enjoy being different or did you find it hard?
  4. Have you been picked on for being different?
  5. Do you think it’s okay to pick on somebody who is different? Why or why not?
  6. Elvira leaves her family because she is different. Have you ever wanted to run away because you were different?
  7. Do you think running away to a place where you feel the same as others is the solution to feeling different?

Beauty

  1. Elvira thinks that daisy chains and dresses are beautiful. What things do you think are beautiful?
  2. The other dragons find pleasure in fighting and picking on other people. Do you think fighting is pleasurable? Why or why not?
  3. At the end of the book the other dragons realize that dresses are pretty. Have you ever thought something was ugly, but later changed your mind to think it was beautiful?
  4. What do you think makes something beautiful or ugly?

Identity

  1. When Elvira encounters her parents after having lived with the princesses, her parents do not recognize her. Has anyone ever thought you were someone else?
  2. Have you ever mistaken someone for someone else?
  3. How did Elvira convince her parents she was Elvira?
  4. What makes Elvira herself?
  5. What makes you yourself?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Heather Slutz. 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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Back to All Books Illustrated book cover for Elvira featuring a dragon wearing a colorful, frilly dress and a flowery hat that covers her eyes. She's carrying a big, brown suitcase overflowing with fabric supplies. 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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