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Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me

by Eric Carle


Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me encourages a discussion about reasoning, epistemology, and the conflict of imagination and reality.

Monica peers out her window and is greeted by the moon, which to her seems close by. Hoping to play with the moon, she stretches her arms out, but try as she might she is unable to grab the moon. She asks her father to get the moon for her. He grabs a very long ladder and places it atop a very high mountain and reaches the moon. As the moon gets smaller, Monica is eventually able to play with it, and she is overjoyed.

Animated read aloud video by Illuminated Films

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

The story deals with questions of reasoning and epistemology. There are two forms of reasoning present, logical vs. illogical, reality vs. imagination. Monica wishes for something impractical; it is impossible to take hold of the moon. However, her father (whether pretending or actually doing so in the book) grants her wish and gathers the moon. The story may be refusing objective knowledge, that is, the idea that we can only know what has been seen and proven. If we have not seen a ladder reach the moon, or the moon in the hands of a playful child, it must not be real. However, it may also be pointing out that there are different ways to see and understand the world. An understanding of reality as well as of imagination are equally important for knowledge. With imagination, many things are possible.

It is important to explore the different interpretations and implications of this book. Perhaps the story lies. It proposes what may be considered a dangerous or illogical notion, ‘ask, and you shall receive.’ Monica is given the moon by her father. Still, the moon eventually shrinks and returns to the sky. Maybe the lie is a way of pretending more than simply a form of deception. This is similar to the idea behind the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus; adults know the truth. However, they continue to endorse these myths to their children. Monica cannot actually play with the moon, but the myth of its presence allows for her imagination to run free. The tension between imagination and logic are key to an understanding of the epistemological issues raised by the book. While children likely know that the moon is impossible to hold, they still carry impractical wishes that they hope may come true. What then, is the distinction between reality and fantasy? What do we know about the moon? What is the difference between believing that there is a man in the moon or that it is made of swiss cheese?

Carle may be pointing out that imagination is helpful in looking at the world around us. For both children and adults alike, imagination can be a helpful way of gathering information about the world and concepts that are difficult to understand. Not everyone is an astronomer, but the ability to imagine what is unclear is helpful. Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me shows us that there is something important about being able to imagine even those things we know to be impossible. Another aspect of the book that is helpful for the discussion is the physical book. Again there is the idea of touch and understanding. If we see something and are able to touch it, it must be real. The book unfolds, revealing a very long ladder as well as a large moon.


Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Monica wants to play with the moon, but can’t reach it.

  1. Why can’t Monica reach the moon? Is it impossible for her to reach it?
  2. Has there ever been something that you wanted but couldn’t get?
  3. Can you think of an example of something that you want currently, but it seems impossible to get?
  4. What do you do if it’s impossible to get what you want?

The father uses a ladder to climb up and talk with the moon.

  1. Can ladders reach the moon?
  2. Could a moon listen to you? If not, why not? Why would you talk to it?
  3. What is the moon made of, how do you know?
  4. How long would it take to reach the moon?

Imagination vs. Reality

  1. Do you think the story is pretend or real?
  2. What sorts of wishes can come true?
  3. Are there things you wish would come true, but know are impossible? Why do you wish for them?
  4. How are dreams different from waking?
  5. How do you know whether a play or TV show is real or not?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Lucia Sekoff. 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 Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me featuring the moon and a small ladder leaning against it, painted in a collage style. Markings on the moon resemble a smiling face. There are four stars in the brushstroke-textured sky. 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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