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I’m Not a Baby

by Jill McElmurry


I’m Not a Baby questions labels and identity when it comes to growing up.

There once was a boy named Leo Leotardi who has lived his life always being called a baby by others, regardless of how old he becomes or the feats he achieves. He is called a baby by his parents, and even wears a bonnet and booties to his first day of school. He is then called a baby throughout life by his classmates, his family, his wife, and even his boss at his first day of work. It is not until he has a baby of his own that his family admits that Leo is not a baby after all.

Read aloud video by Grandma “B” Reads to Me

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion


It seems that an important issue addressed in Jill McElmurry’s I’m Not A Baby is that of growth and maturity and the question of when someone may be referred to as a baby, an adult, a child or etc. Many different stages of Leo’s life are examined, and his capabilities and how the rest of the world views him adjust.

Compared with other periods of society, children in the modern world are subject to much more consideration and protection than they have been in the past. During the Industrial Revolution (circa 1850), for example, there was little distinction in terms of children’s role in society. In the mid 1800s, child labor was rampant in factories, coal mines, mills, and chimney sweeping. In fact, children as employees were generally treated worse than their adult counterparts, receiving lower wages and working in very dangerous situations. In at least the past hundred years, however, children have been treated less and less like adults, and their role today is far different than it was in classics such as Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. More information on child labor and the treatment of children during the Industrial Revolution can be found here. Today, children are seen as important to the future, and are to be protected and attended to. Different things are expected of them at different stages in their lives, and they are prevented from exposure to certain elements of society until they are considered by the adults responsible and ready and mature enough to handle them.

The question of when a person is ready to take on certain responsibilities and what title they deserve based on age is a theme within I’m Not A Baby and it is addressed by blurring the line and questioning when we ought to stop referring to somebody as a baby, a child, a teenager, etc. In using this book for a philosophical discussion, children could be encouraged to discuss how Leo should be treated at the various stages of his life, at what point he was no longer truly a baby, and at what point calling Leo a baby seems ridiculous to them. By considering such problems, the children will start to develop an opinion of how people of differing ages should be considered and treated.

Titles, Labels, and Identity

A great deal can be inferred, correctly or incorrectly, from what a person is called. Someone’s nickname, title, or label may help others assume what kind of person someone might be or give insight into the life of a person they may not know well. Jill McElmurry’s I’m Not A Baby! addresses labels by having the family of her main character, Leo Leotardi, give Leo the label of “baby,” which follows him throughout most of his life. Through discussion about labels, the question of identity may arise, leading the students to ask, “what makes me different from other people?” An in-depth analysis of identity as a philosophical concept can be found here.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Age and responsibility

Leo is constantly regarded as a baby, regardless of how old he appears to be.

Questions to ask before reading

  1. What are some of the characteristics of adults? What are their privileges and responsibilities?
  2. What are some of the characteristics of children? What are their privileges and responsibilities?
  3. What makes children and adults different?
  4. When is somebody an adult? Is there a certain age when you become an adult? If not, how do you know when you are an adult?

Questions to consider during each stage of Leo’s life

  1. Do you think Leo is still a baby?
  2. Do you think it is strange to call Leo a baby?
  3. Do you think Leo is being treated as somebody of his age should be treated?

The children may be told to think about these questions as the story is read, so that they can get a clear idea of how old they believe a person should be when they enter a new stage of life. An activity based on this may also be possible. For example, the stages of Leo’s life could be numbered and then the children could be asked to write on a slip of paper the number of that stage and then their yes/no answer to one of the questions. Then, the papers could be collected and the stage that most people consider a turning point could be determined.

Questions to ask after reading

  1. Explain when (if ever) and why you thought Leo was no longer truly a baby.
  2. Explain when (if ever) and why you thought it seemed ridiculous to call Leo a baby.
  3. How did Leo’s privileges change as he got older?
  4. Why did Leo’s privileges change?
  5. How did Leo’s responsibilities change as he got older?
  6. Why did Leo’s responsibilities change?
  7. Why are adults treated differently from children?
  8. Is there a certain age when every person should be treated differently?
  9. Do you think everybody the same age should be treated the same way? Why or why not?
  10. Do you think people of different ages should be treated the same way? Why or why not?
  11. How do you think people should be treated depending on their age?

Titles, Labels, and Identity

Leo’s label, “baby,” seems to be known by everybody, and follows him everywhere he goes.

Questions to ask before reading

  1. What are some examples of labels or titles people are given?
  2. Why are people called these things?
  3. What are examples of things people might enjoy being called, and what are some examples things they may not enjoy being called?
  4. What makes these things different?

Questions to ask after reading

  1. Can a nickname or title change what people think of you?
  2. If someone is called by a certain nickname or title, as Leo has been, can that change who they are or who they become?
  3. Do you think that it was okay for others to call Leo a baby when he claimed he wasn’t?
  4. Should people decide what they want to be called, or should what they are called be decided by the rest of society?
  5. Why do people have nicknames and titles? What makes these things important to society?
  6. Are labels damaging or beneficial to society?
  7. What is identity?
  8. What makes people unique?
  9. Is it possible for somebody to not have an identity?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion archived here. 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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