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I Know a Lady

by Charlotte Zolotow


I Know a Lady is a heart-warming story of a young girl’s love for her elderly neighbor.

When Sally wonders what it must have been like for her favorite elderly neighbor when she was a little girl, the reader finds out just how much Sally loves her neighbor. She imagines herself as the woman in her youth, and how there must have been a nice elderly neighbor whom she too loved very much.

Read aloud video by Lydia Laputka

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

I Know a Lady is a heart-warming story of a young girl’s love for her elderly neighbor and the deep appreciation she has for all that the old woman does for the neighborhood children.

At first look, this story is not one that lends itself to any kind of deep philosophical investigation. However, a little scratching at the surface, and we can find a variety of philosophical themes worthy of discussion. The many sets of questions below focus on different topics that emerge as the story is told. While many of these questions leave the story behind, and explore the individual topics more autonomously, it can be an interesting exercise to relate these discussions back to the story.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

The lady on the block lives alone.

  1. Do you think it would be difficult to live alone?
  2. Why do you think it is easier for some people than for others?
  3. Have you ever been alone for a long period of time? Was it easy or difficult?
  4. Can you think of an example where it might be good to experience being alone?
  5. Is being alone the same as being lonely? Do you think the lady on the block is lonely? Why or why not?

The lady gives her neighbors daffodils, zinnias, chrysanthemums, and red holly berries.

  1. Why do people give presents? Think of several reasons.
  2. Do you think that there is an important need for giving gifts? What if people didn’t?
  3. Do you need a reason to give someone a present?
  4. Is there ever a time when it might be wrong or bad to give or accept a gift?

The lady waves to the neighborhood children on their way to school. She smiles at them on their way home.

  1. Why are people sometimes friendly?
  2. Is being friendly similar to giving a gift? In what ways? Is it different in any way? How?
  3. Is it important for people to be friendly to one another? Why?
  4. Do other animals besides people do things to be friendly to one another? If so, what?
  5. Are these actions important to understanding the animal?

The lady invites the neighborhood children to celebrate Halloween and Christmas.

  1. Why do people celebrate special days such as Halloween, Christmas, and Hanukkah?
  2. Does your family celebrate a special day that other families do not celebrate?
  3. What are some of the traditional stories that accompany holiday celebrations?
  4. Is it important to know the customs for celebrating holidays? Explain your answer.

The lady knows Sally’s name and the name of Sally’s dog.

  1. Is it important to know a person’s name? Think of several reasons.
  2. Can you be friends with someone without knowing his or her name? Explain your answer.
  3. Is it important to know the name of a cat or dog?
  4. Can you give an object any name you wish? Why do some people name pets, places, and objects?

The lady was once a little girl.

  1. Can you imagine what the lady was like as a little girl? If so, how can you tell?
  2. Do you ever imagine yourself as an elderly man or woman? Explain your answer.
  3. Have you seen photographs of your parents or grandparents as children? Are these pictures interesting? Explain your answer.
  4. Have you seen a photograph of yourself as a baby?
  5. How do you feel about seeing yourself much younger?

When the lady was a little girl, perhaps she knew an older woman who did the same things that the lady does now.

  1. Do you suppose your mother imitates what her mother once did or that your father ever imitates his father?
  2. Do you ever copy your older brother’s or sister’s actions?
  3. Do you ever copy the older children at school?
  4. Is it important to copy others? If so, when?
  5. Do animals ever copy one another? Explain your answer?

Sally imagines trading places with the lady.

  1. Can you imagine your parents as children? What might they have been like?
  2. Can you imagine being the mother or father of your teacher? What might you be like?
  3. Can adults and children be friends? Explain your answer.
  4. Why is it good to have friends your own age?
  5. Why might it be good to have older or younger friends?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Gareth Matthews and Jayme Johnson. 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 I Know a Lady featuring two children, an old woman, and a dog in a garden. The children face the old woman as she tends to her many plants. 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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