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Extra Yarn

by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen


Extra Yarn invites the reader to ask questions about the nature of magic and the relationship between money to happiness.

Annabelle finds a box of colorful yarn and knits sweaters for everyone in her town. She has so much that she moves on to knit sweaters for trees and buildings and cars. She never runs out of yarn. One day an archduke offers to buy her box of colorful yarn for ten million dollars, but Annabelle refuses to sell it. At night, the archduke steals the box of yarn, but when he opens the box, he finds it empty.

Read aloud video by AHEV Library

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

Children often believe in magic. The world is magic to a newborn baby, before it even knows what the word means. As children grow up, they watch cartoons and movies with flying cars, talking animals, and characters who defy every possible law of nature. This all seems normal to them, until someone tells them that these things are impossible, that they’re “magic.”

In Extra Yarn, magic comes up for two reasons:

  1. The yarn in the box never runs out
  2. When the archduke steals the box, the yarn disappears, only to later reappear for Annabelle

Extra Yarn can be used as a portal into the discussion about magic. The book may not play an important role in the discussion, but that is good because you want the children to be able to think beyond the book. Early on in the discussion, ask the kids who believes in magic and who does not. Hopefully, some of them no longer believe in magic and will dismiss all seemingly magical occurrences. However, this is interesting, because even the children who do not believe in magic will be able to talk about the possibility of magic.

Unlike a lot of philosophy for children discussions, this discussion may not revolve around disagreement. Should the group agree that the box is in fact magic, go on to talk about the definition of magic and the characteristics that make an object magical. Delve into the fine line between magic, science, and tricks. Could a rainbow be magical for someone who does not understand the phenomenon? Science does some seemingly magical things every day, but we do not call it magic. Why not?

What makes something magic? If your teacher were to walk into class one day and fly circles around the room before proceeding with the lesson, the whole class would no doubt be very surprised. A lot of people may even go on to the extent of denying it ever happened, regardless of what they saw with their own eyes. This is because we have never seen anything like it happen before, and we believe it to be scientifically impossible. And some of us believe that scientifically impossible things cannot happen. But, if someone were to explain that due to certain gravitational forces and other variables, it is scientifically possible that a person could fly, then the “magic” becomes no longer magic but cool science. Similarly, we all think magic tricks are real until someone explains them to us, and then they lose their magical quality. So is everything that is magical simply something that is unexplained? Is magic something that has to be seen with the eye? What about when Annabelle realized Nate was just jealous of her sweater? How did she know that? Was that magical? If so, what’s the difference between that sort of magic, and the magic of the box of yarn?

All these are very interesting and important questions when it comes to deciding whether there is a place for magic within one’s world. Children will come to understand that everyone has their own interpretation of things, but that doesn’t mean disagreement is inevitable. Meanings and impressions can and will overlap, and the book teaches children how to proceed deeper into a discussion even after a consensus is made. Just because everyone agrees does not mean that there is nothing more to be said.

In addition to the questions on philosophy of magic discussion, there are also several questions on other topics that can be brought up through the reading of Extra Yarn. The kids can discuss how money does not always buy happiness, evidenced by Annabelle’s refusal to sell her box of yarn. Annabelle is also very generous with her yarn. Why is that important? What makes sharing valuable, and why does Annabelle give away her yarn so freely?

Questions for Philosophical Discussion


  1. Could the events in this story have really taken place?
  2. Could Annabelle’s box of yarn really exist? Why or why not?
  3. Can we say that the box of yarn was magical? Why?
  4. Does magic exist? Why do you think so?
  5. What makes something magical?
  6. When a magician makes a rabbit come out of a hat, is that magic? (Or is it a trick?)
  7. If we agree that the box was magical, why was it only magical for Annabelle?

Money and Happiness

“Ten million!” shouted the archduke. “Take it or leave it!”
“Leave it,” said Annabelle. “I won’t sell the yarn.”

  1. Why didn’t Annabelle want to sell the yarn?
  2. Would you have sold the yarn? Why or why not?
  3. Ten million is a lot of money. Do you think Annabelle should have sold the yarn?
  4. Why do you think the archduke was willing to pay so much for the box of yarn?
  5. Would the archduke really be happy if Annabelle had sold him the yarn?
  6. Would Annabelle have been happy if she had given the archduke the yarn?
  7. Can money buy happiness?

Generosity & Sharing

  1. Is it good to keep giving things away?
  2. Assume that Annabelle would be very sad if the yarn ever ran out. Should she keep the yarn safe for special occasions only or keep giving the yarn away to things that don’t even need it, like pickup trucks and buildings?
  3. Can we get happiness from giving away things? How?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Chan Jamin. 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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