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Late for School

by Mike Reiss


Late for School prompts us to unconsider whether exaggerating is the same as lying and if some exaggeration is permissible.

Smitty tells of his troubles in getting to school on time. As he tells his story, the reader begins to question and later doubt his credibility. His determination includes walking through tar in his socks, sailing through Times Square on his backpack, climbing out of a whale’s spout, escaping a humongous ape, deterring a T-Rex, and scolding a metallic bird – only to find that he is early for school. He then sits down for a nap and awakens late to the evil eye of his teacher for whom, as the reader realizes in the end, this tale is spun.

Read aloud video by Lauren Salome (reading starts at 1:09)

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

The first philosophical issue in this book is lying, with the second being excuses.

The reader is asked to wonder if tardiness is excusable, whether a person has one valid excuse or several. In the stories that Smitty weaves, although ranging from different topics, they all hold one thing in common- they take things that exist and inflate their qualities and attributes, and actions into an exaggerated, embellished story that is unbelievable, though entertaining. The illustrator does a fabulous job so that the story conveys such life it’s impossible not to love. We are asked to question what a lie is. Can it be based on a truth? How far can one exaggerate and call it a lie instead of a tall tale? If we present a tale as truth is that lying? Or must it be believable? The author (through Smitty) takes the reader on an incredible journey that’s full of creativity and laughter while we identify falsity no matter how colorful.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Truths and Lies

Smitty told us many stories, all of which were amazing.

  1. Did you believe everything Smitty said?
  2. Was some of it hard to believe?
  3. If something is hard to believe, does that mean it is not true?
  4. How real do you think Smitty’s story is?
  5. Do you think Smitty was lying when he reports all the things he did on his way to school?
  6. A lot of his details are exaggerated. Is that lying? Is adding onto a story and embellishing it the same as lying?
  7. If a story is so unbelievable that it is clearly untrue, is it a lie?
  8. Have you ever told a story that wasn’t true?
  9. Did the person believe you? If not, did the person think you were lying?
  10. Is it wrong to lie? If so, why?
  11. Are there different kinds of lies?
  12. In order to explain himself to the teacher, Smitty lied. Is there ever a good reason to lie?
  13. Are you lying if you leave something out of a story? If so, why? Or why not?
  14. Are you lying if you add something to a story? If so, why? Or why not?
  15. Does a story have to be believable to be a lie?


Smitty said that he lives by one rule: “…I am never late to school…”

  1. Is it possible to live by one rule and never break it?
  2. Do you think that Smitty’s rule about never being late to school is a good one? Do you think he can always follow it? Is it OK to break your one rule, like Smitty broke his by being late to school?


Smitty had the best of intentions to be on time.

  1. Why did Smitty try so hard not to be late for school?
  2. Have you ever been late for anything? Was it a bad thing being late? Why was it a bad thing to be late?
  3. Even with a valid excuse, is it still wrong to be late? What counts as valid?
  4. Even when bad things happen, why do we try not to be late?
  5. If someone is always late, what do you think about that person? Why do you think that?
  6. Do you think it’s “better late than not at all”?
  7. If someone has a good reason that they were late, does that make it OK that they were late? if so why?


Smitty dealt with many strange and huge things.

  1. If you were Smitty, would you have turned back at some point? Or would you have gone through everything he did to get to school?
  2. If not, is that giving up? Why is perseverance respected? (Especially in extreme circumstances)

Dreams and Reality

Smitty woke up on Monday after falling asleep outside the school.

  1. Do you think his adventure to get to school was just a dream? Why or why not?
  2. How do we know if he was or was not dreaming?
  3. Have you ever had a dream that was so vivid you thought it was real?
  4. How do you know you’re awake now?

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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