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I Want a Hug

by John A. Rowe


I Want a Hug is a story about the power of friendship and love in overcoming physical differences.

The only thing that Elvis the Hedgehog wants is a hug. Traveling around town, Elvis politely asks people for a hug only to be turned down because he is “prickly as a pine needle.” Even as his attempts seem to prove futile, he hears Colin the crocodile asking someone for a kiss. Elvis agrees to give Colin a kiss, and for that, Colin gives Elvis a big hug.

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

This is a story of young Elvis the hedgehog on a mission to get a hug. After much disappointment and rejection, it seems he won’t be getting a hug after all. But his consistent courage and determination eventually land him a big hug. This story raises many philosophical issues such as physical differences and deformities, love, friendship, and altruism.

The first set of questions deals with the mental and physical differences that sets people apart from each other. The questions are meant to introduce ideas as to why some people are treated differently for physical differences they possess. Hopefully, it will elicit some thought about discrimination and mistreatment of others. Our society today is very judgmental towards people that are different from the majority. This treatment is often negative and discriminatory in nature. Attempt to relate these ideas to the children and see if they have ever been treated or treated others differently because of their physical differences. Introduce the idea of the Golden Rule; one should treat others as one would like to be treated themselves. How should we treat other people? How do you, as an individual, want to be treated? Expand the conversation to include how we treat others when they are different from us.

Another topic introduced in the storybook is the idea of love: we all deserve to be loved and treated kindly by others. It is apparent in the story that the other characters are showing their love for one another by giving and receiving hugs. Questions of what is love and who deserves to be loved should elicit a fair amount of discussion. We use the word love to describe many things such as our love for food, love of animals, love of friends, and romantic love. What sets these apart? Does giving a hug mean you love someone? Challenge the discussion group about different situations in their lives and whether they are considered love. Attempt to create a definition of love with the children by asking what they think the three most important qualities of love are.

Furthermore, this discussion could be continued with friendship and altruism. Did Colin and Elvis become friends at the end of the book, or was it just generous of Elvis to give Colin a hug? Friendship is an abstract concept and is a good starting point for a discussion. Humans are social beings and thrive on human connections. Friendship is a necessity in our lives and is extremely important in defining who we are. Some argue that a best friend is someone who provides a balance, emotionally and mentally, to the friendship. Others would argue that a friend is someone who shares common values and beliefs and is therefore very similar. What makes a friend a friend? When do you call someone a friend? What characteristics are essential for a best friend? Each individual might have a very different definition of friendship. See if the group can narrow down the necessary qualities of a friend. This can then be tied in with altruism. Altruism is the act of providing something of value without assumption of reciprocation of similar actions. Some would argue that we have a moral obligation to appease this concept, while others would contend they are just random acts of kindness. Do we only do nice things for our friends or can we do unselfish things for people we just met? Encourage the group to think of examples from their own lives.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Ideas to stimulate conversation

Ask the group to put themselves in Elvis’ or Colin’s shoes and see what they would do.

  1. If you were Elvis, would you give up, or would you keep trying?
  2. Would you hug Elvis? Why?
  3. Would you kiss Colin? Why?
  4. Have you ever felt sad like Elvis?
  5. Does a hug make you feel better?
  6. Is there anyone in particular who gives you hugs that make you feel better? Who?

Physical Differences

Elvis was consistently discriminated against because of his permanent and unchanging physical differences.

  1. Why did the characters not want to hug Elvis?
  2. What makes you different from your friends or classmates?
  3. What makes you the same as your friends or classmates?
  4. Do you ever treat people differently because they look or act different than you? Why?
  5. Have you been treated differently because you look different than other people? Was this treatment positive or negative?
  6. How do you want to be treated by your classmates, friends, and family?
  7. How should we act towards others?
  8. In what situations is it necessary to treat others differently than the way you want to be treated?


There are many types of love, and what defines love is different for everyone. Does something like a hug symbolize love?

  1. When Elvis kissed Colin, does that mean they love each other?
  2. Do you love your family? Friends?
  3. What is love? (Use the board and the children’s ideas to formulate a definition.)
  4. What kinds of actions show that you love someone?
  5. What things make love of a friend or family different?
  6. Why do you love some people and not others?
  7. Do you treat people that you love differently? What kinds of things do you do for people that you love?
  8. Who deserves to be loved?
  9. What does it mean to feel love?

Friendship and Altruism

Elvis eventually meets Colin, they both received what they desired, and they were happy.

  1. Do you think Colin and Elvis are friends now?
  2. Tell me about your best friend.
  3. What makes you a good friend?
  4. What do you look for in a friend?
  5. Are some friends better than other friends? What makes them better friends?
  6. What kinds of things do you do for your friends?
  7. Are you only kind to your friends?
  8. Do you help others even when they are not your friends?
  9. Provide an example when you helped someone you didn’t know. Did this make you feel good?
  10. How do you expect others to respond when you complete a random act of kindness for them?
  11. What obligation do you have to help others?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Nick MacLeod. 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 Cover image for the book I Want a Hug with an illustration of a small and very cute fuzzy grey creature in a diaper. The creature looks up imploringly at the viewer and stretches its arms out for a hug. It is standing on a sidewalk littered with a bus ticket. A large leg and foot slant out of the corner, indicating a person walking past 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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