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Only My Dog Knows I Pick My Nose

by Lauren Tarshis

Summary

Only My Dog Knows I Pick My Nose explores important questions of authenticity and integrity.

The hero of Only My Dog Knows I Pick My Nose might seem like the perfect boy to most of the people around him. He eats his vegetables and shares his toys with his classmates. However, he acts quite differently when he’s around his dog.

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

Only My Dog Knows I Pick My Nose raises a variety of philosophical questions about authenticity. Distinguishing between something that is authentic and something that is not becomes more complicated when the idea of authenticity is applied to people. What does it mean to be oneself or truly represent oneself? The philosopher Bernard Williams relates authenticity to one’s sense of self when he defines authenticity as “the idea that some
things are in some sense really you, or express what you are, and others aren’t.” It seems like it may be inescapable to be oneself, but sometimes our thoughts and actions are not expressive of who we consider ourselves to be at the core. What does it mean to be ourselves at the core? One philosophical argument in response to this question is that your true self is the version which is free from cultural and social pressures and has the ability to make self-determined goals.

This story invites children to think about what their “true self” looks like. Which values accurately depict who you really are? What people are you around when you act most true to yourself? Authenticity is a concept that children might not understand at first. They are likely to initially believe that it’s morally and socially acceptable to change how you act depending on the situation. The goal of this discussion is to make them question that belief and wonder which version of themselves is their truest self. We want them to think about both the moral and social implications of acting differently in situations, as well as what that means for their sense of self.

Being your most authentic self requires being honest with yourself and potentially those around you. Integrity, or the ability to act morally and honestly regardless of who is watching, is an important ideal for children to learn as they are growing up. Kids might lean towards believing that they can act differently around different people, but it is a good idea to discuss that there are some things that aren’t good to do even if you are alone. In these cases, integrity is valuable. This book introduces the idea of self awareness, or noticing that you might act differently with different people; however, it also engages with ideas of how such behaviors build a sense of integrity with that audience. Essentially, people trust the version of a person that they interact with, so if they find out that their version is not the most authentic version, that can shatter one’s perception of that person and their trustworthiness. With this in mind, it is interesting to pose the question: Does acting with integrity depend upon acting authentically?

Moral integrity does not mean trying to match societal standards of morality. Therefore, what may be a socially immoral action can still fall within one’s personal bounds of integrity. So which one has more weight, social or personal integrity? And how does that impact decision making? Depending on which path someone chooses, it is also important to understand the emotional impact of attempting to maintain either version of oneself (especially if it feels as though you have to sacrifice one to maintain the other). The children may challenge their own moral beliefs based on how their behaviors are perceived by themselves and how they think they’re perceived by others.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Initial questions to lead into discussion:

  1. Do you feel like you have different versions of yourself?
  2. What does it mean or look like to be your true self?
  3. Do you feel like you are your true self around everyone?
  4. Do you act differently at school and home? Why? Is this okay?

Authenticity

  1. How does your behavior change depending on who you are around? (friends vs. siblings vs. parents vs. teachers vs. pets)
  2. Why do you think your behavior changes depending on who you are around? Is this a good thing or a bad thing (or neither)?
  3. Do you think it was okay that the boy puts forth a different image to his parents vs. his dog?
  4. Which version of yourself is the real you? Are all of these versions of yourself the real you?
  5. Who do you feel most like yourself around?
  6. Do you feel like you act like your true self most of the time? Why or why not?

Integrity

  1. Is it okay to do a bad thing as long as no one sees? Have you ever done this? Did you feel bad afterwards?
  2. Is an action bad even if it doesn’t hurt anything/anyone else?
  3. Does how you act in front of people matter more than how you act in a private setting? Why?
  4. Is how others see you more important than who you really are/how you see yourself?
  5. Are you still a good person if you do bad things when no one is looking?
  6. Are you the same person regardless of the way you act in front of others? Why or why not?

Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our Resources page.

Activity

Story Matrix

Create a story matrix on the board in your class and discuss with your students. Ask them in which situations they would feel comfortable doing the actions that occurred in the book and why they’d be more willing to do them in front of certain people vs. others.

Would you do this in front of adults? Would you do this in front of friends? Would you do this alone? Why?
Pick your nose
Feed dog your broccoli
Not brushing teeth
Not sharing toys
Running around
  1. What is common between the situations in which you act differently?
  2. Is it fake to act differently in front of different people?
  3. When is it okay to act differently in front of certain audiences and when is it not okay?
  4. Which of these behaviors in each scenario reflects the “true” you?
Download & Print Email Book Module Back to All Books
Back to All Books Cover illustration for Only My Dog Knows I Pick My Nose by Lauren Tarshis featuring a watercolor illustration of a white boy with red hair whispering to his little brown dog under the bedcovers. 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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