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Milk and Cookies

by Frank Asch


Milk and Cookies examines questions about perception, reality, and our emotional reactions to what we know aren’t real.

When Baby Bear thinks he sees his grandfather feeding a dragon during a visit one winter’s day, he can’t get the idea out of his head! After falling asleep, Baby Bear dreams the dragon emerges and asks for food. Baby Bear feeds the dragon milk and cookies and wakes up crying. Through Baby Bear’s experiences, the reader comes to question if we can always believe what we see, the difference between reality and dreams, and what it means to be afraid of something, even if we know it isn’t real.

Read aloud video by Waternut

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

The questions are broken up into three sets based on topic, but can easily be connected to each other during the discussion. It may be that during the discussion, these topics will organically overlap, and that is perfectly fine. However, the way they are set up here is meant to facilitate a progression from perception and belief in reality to perception and belief in dreaming, before finally discussing the legitimacy of belief and emotions in fictional settings.

The first question set focuses on what it means to perceive something and the beliefs that are attached to such perception. Doubtless, the children will have experienced a time when they thought they saw (or heard, felt, smelled) something that wasn’t actually there. This phenomenon of mistaken perception demands an account explaining what it means to sense something, and when/if we can ever believe that what we are experiencing with our senses is real. Why is it that our eyes can play tricks on us? Is there something wrong with our eyes? Or our mind’s interpretation of what our eyes pick up? When are we justified in believing what we see? The importance of this section is to get the children thinking about what it means to “see” something, and how this process contributes to their beliefs. It seems that at times even “reality” can lead us astray.

The second question set takes up this thread of questioning reality, or at least our perception of it, and asks whether we can apply the same questions to dreaming. What is the difference between reality and dreaming? Is there any sense in which dreams ARE real? What makes something “real,” anyway? Baby Bear seems to see the same qualities of a “dragon” (mouth, breathing fire) in “reality” as he does when he is dreaming. What makes one experience more believable than the other? Finally, as Mama Bear asks, whatever gives Baby Bear the idea that there is a dragon in the cellar? This raises the issue of where dreams come from. Where does Baby Bear get the idea of “dragon” in the first place? Most children will be familiar with the concept of a dragon. But where do the fantastical creations of their own dreams come from? Experiences from reality? Movies? Books?

Finally, the last set of questions raises the issue of how we react to what we know isn’t real. Often we have emotional reactions to things we know aren’t real. When we watch a scary movie, for example, we know that the villain on the screen isn’t really coming for us, and if anyone asked us afterward, of course, we would say the monster doesn’t really exist. Why, then, can we justify being afraid of these things we “know” aren’t real?

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Perception and Belief

  1. Have you ever been tricked by your eyes? Ears? Other senses?
  2. Why does Baby Bear think he sees a dragon?
  3. Would you have believed there was a dragon?
  4. Is Baby Bear right to think there is a dragon?
  5. Can we always trust what we see?
  6. When should we trust what we see?

Reality and Dreaming

  1. Does Baby Bear believe the dragon is real?
  2. Is the dragon “real” in Baby Bear’s dream?
  3. What makes something real?
  4. What is the difference between dreams and reality?
  5. How do you know when you are dreaming?
  6. Can dreams be real?
  7. Where do dreams come from?

Fiction and Emotions

  1. Have you ever been scared by a dream?
  2. Can we be afraid of a dream?
  3. Have you ever been afraid of something you know isn’t real?
  4. Why do you think we are often afraid of things we know aren’t real?
  5. Is it okay to be afraid of something you know isn’t real?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Alexandra Chang. 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 Milk and Cookies featuring a little brown bear watching a gray dragon happily eat a plate of cookies. The dragon is sitting at the table, holding a glass of milk and a cookie. The bear is in green pajamas and looks unhappy. 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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