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Miss Tizzy explores questions about giving and receiving, imagination, and intergenerational friendships.
Miss Tizzy is an elderly, eccentric woman who is beloved by all the neighborhood kids. They love her colorful house, vibrant garden, and quirky clothes – but most of all, they love the special attention she gives to them. This book chronicles several activities that Miss Tizzy orchestrates for the children, which they always perform together. One day Miss Tizzy falls ill and spends some time in bed, and her child-friends make kind gestures to cheer her up and demonstrate their love for her.
Read aloud video by Ms. Cunningham
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
Miss Tizzy addresses several philosophical ideas. These include, but are not limited to, the nature of giving, the criteria of friendship, the value of creativity, and the role one should play when a loved one is sick. Children may also want to explore ideas pertaining to death, as the book’s ambiguous end leaves the reader wondering if Miss Tizzy’s final days are numbered, or if she will soon recover.
Giving and Receiving
Miss Tizzy always seems to have a fun activity planned for the children, such as picking flowers, baking cookies, roller skating, gazing at the stars, playing instruments, making puppets, and even delivering hand-drawn pictures to neighbors on rainy days. In this way, she is constantly giving the children a chance to engage in cheerful and creative projects. When Miss Tizzy becomes ill and must spend her days in bed, the children reciprocate all that Miss Tizzy has done for them by delivering homemade cookies, hand-drawn pictures, a puppet show, a concert, funny hats, a tray of tea, and a brand new pair of roller skates to Miss Tizzy’s house. The book concludes by stating how happy and peaceful these gifts cause Miss Tizzy to feel. The relationship of the children to Miss Tizzy, and the actions they perform for each other, raises questions about the nature of giving and receiving.
The discussion might turn to the question of what counts as a gift, but a deeply philosophical dialogue will most likely examine the ethical criteria for giving – that is, should we give, and when? This criterion can be established within the realm of friendship, as with Miss Tizzy and the children, or it can move to broader communities, such as with people living in different parts of the world. Are we obligated to give to those we do not know, who live far away? The moral philosopher Peter Singer once argued that people must donate far more resources to suffering groups and individuals than is normally thought acceptable in Western cultures.
And what about the desire for one’s gift to be reciprocated? Should we expect a gift in return at some point in the foreseeable future, after we give to another person? A philosophical view within ethics called altruism states that individuals must give to others without expecting anything in return. Opposing views, such as egoism, argue that one’s self should be prioritized over others, and giving is not an obligation.
Miss Tizzy and the children have a strikingly special friendship. What is the importance of their relationship? In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle explains that one may obtain friendship to find pleasure, utility or a virtuous role model in another person. Are all of these reasons justified? Are there others? When philosophers have talked about the conditions for the existence of friendship, they have discussed mutual caring, intimacy and shared activity. What else may constitute friendship? Could the act of reciprocal giving, as discussed above, be a requirement?
Another topic for discussion is creativity, as Miss Tizzy and the children create unique experiences and objects together. This contrasts sharply to those who rely on (and pay) others to produce these things for them, acting less as creators in their own experiences, and more as spectators. Is one preferred? What kind of value is found within this creative self-sufficiency? Philosophy has looked at the value of imagination, how it differs from other mental states, and how it can serve as a guide for future possibilities.
Towards the end of the story, Miss Tizzy becomes ill and stays in bed instead of playing with the children. The children make her happy by bringing her gifts. An area of discussion that overlaps with the topic of giving is that of sickness. Children can discuss how we should treat others who are ill and why. They can explore the role that positive states of the mind play in healing.
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
Giving and Receiving
Miss Tizzy gives many gifts to the children by providing them with new and fun experiences. When Miss Tizzy becomes sick, the children reciprocate her generosity by bringing her gifts as well.
- When you are given something, do you feel that you need to give something to that person?
- If you give something to someone, do you expect something in return?
- Which makes you happier: giving or receiving a gift?
- Does doing things for others make you happy?
- Is friendship a gift?
Miss Tizzy and the children have an unlikely friendship.
- Why do the children like Miss Tizzy?
- Are there different types of friendship?
- What makes someone a good friend?
- Should we expect things from our friends? If yes, what kinds of things?
- Why do we have friends?
Miss Tizzy and the children create unique experiences and objects together.
- Do you think it’s important to create your own activities and objects? Why or why not?
- Is it ok to allow others to create all of the activities and objects that you play with?
- Is it acceptable for adults (such as Miss Tizzy) to engage in imaginative play? What about if children are not present?
- Where do creative ideas come from?
Miss Tizzy becomes sick and must stay in bed, and the children attempt to cheer her up by bringing her gifts.
- Why is Miss Tizzy happy even though she is sick?
- How should we treat others when they are sick?
- How can you show those who are ill that you care about them?
- Do the types of gifts that the children give to Miss Tizzy contribute to a sick person’s recovery? How can they?
- What is the role of peace and happiness in the process of recovering from an illness?
Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Tracy Brannstrom. Edited June 2020 by The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics.
Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our Resources page.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.