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Please Try to Remember the FIRST of OCTEMBER!

by Dr. Seuss

Summary

This story explores questions about patience, money’s relation to happiness, and the origin of our values.

In Please Try to Remember the First of Octember, a child is told of all of the wonderful things that he could own. However, the child will not be able to get these things–at least, not until the first of Octember.

Read aloud video by Ms. Read’s Bedtime Stories

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

The story serves to teach a number of ideas, one of which being patience. The boy is told that he can have anything he wants, but that he must wait before he can have them. Various reasons are given as to why they can’t be given to him immediately, such as the weather being “too dusty” or even just arbitrarily “too soon.” This poses the question as to whether or not these things are worth the wait. How does one determine that what they want is worth the cost of time? The book is very open ended regarding this subject, so it is left to the reader to come up with the answer. The reasoning behind how someone can determine this may be difficult to explain to another person (particularly children, whose vocabularies may not be well developed). Possible answers range from “I just know” to “I don’t know.” We might look at the problem as a utilitarian would, and assign “utils” to the rewards as well as to the time spent waiting for it. We would then determine if the reward was worth the wait or if our time could be better spent elsewhere. People also have a different sense of attachment to different things because of a values dissonance. For example, someone could value food over shelter. Children, however, are different from us in that they tend to view time more slowly than adults due to their perspective of time. For example, 15 minutes may seem like nothing to us because we have several years of perspective and memories. A child has a much shorter experience in life, and they may not remember much of their first and second years of life, giving them a different perspective (difference between 15/10000 and 15/100). Therefore, the child would likely see the problem differently than adults, assigning different values to the rewards and to the time used to get what they want.

A second reason that the boy will have to wait is because money rains from the sky mostly in Octember, so it is suggested that the only reason that these objects will be brought to him is because only then will he have the money to pay for all of it. Therefore, if one considers the things that the boy wants to be a means to an end, with the end being the boy’s happiness, then the items take on a purely instrumental value. If the money that rains from the sky is also a means to an end, then it too takes on instrumental value. Therefore, the child seems to be linking the acquisition of money indirectly to happiness. Does money, however, make one happy? The narrator seems to say that it is not necessarily the money itself that would make the child happy, but rather what he could do with it (namely, buying the various things that a child might want). Adults today can be divided over the answer to this question–some believe that the acquisition of wealth would make their lives better, while others may value money and capital lower than other things in their lives, such as companionship or legacy.

It is worth mentioning that in the story, the child never says what he wants, rather the narrator tells the child what he may want (with the exception of one page with a list of things that the boy wants, but these things are not mentioned in the narrative). All that we see is the child’s imagination about these various things and what he can do with them. The reality of what these things entail may be different than what the child expects.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Patience

After reading “April’s too gusty”

  1. Was there ever something you really wanted? Why did you want it?
  2. Did you get it in the end? If not, why?
  3. What would you ask for on Octember the first?
  4. Does knowing for sure that you’re going to get it change anything?
  5. Do you think it’s better to wait for something? Why or why not?

Values

On the page where the boy is writing a list

  1. Look at the things on the boy’s list. Does the boy need all of these things?
  2. Why would the boy want these things?
  3. Would you want anything on this list? Why?
  4. Do you think the boy will really be happy with the things that he gets?
  5. Do you think that when he gets these things, they will be as good as he thinks they are?

Happiness

After the end

  1. Do you think the boy will be happy when the first of Octember comes?
  2. Do you think he will be happy the day afterwards? One week? Six months?
  3. Let’s say Octember only comes once in your life. Would you be happy before and after Octember?
  4. If Octember only came once a lifetime, would that change what you want from it?
  5. How would you feel if you could get what you wanted all of the time? Would that change how you feel about the things you got?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Morgan Patrie and Thanasi Andreoglou. 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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Back to All Books Illustrated book cover for Please Try to Remember the First of Octember featuring a boy and a brown dog turning to view the words, "the FIRST of OCTEMBER!". The boy has light skin and blond hair. He's wearing a red and white striped shirt and blue jeans. 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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