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Strictly No Elephants

by Lisa Mantchev

Summary

Strictly No Elephants is a story about a unique friendship and the value of belonging.

Having a tiny elephant as a pet and friend makes it difficult to fit in. In Strictly No Elephants, Lisa Mantchev tells a story about the caring relationship between a boy and his elephant and the desire to be accepted and find a place to belong.

Read aloud video by LiberatEd

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

Strictly No Elephants, a book about a boy and his pet friend, a tiny elephant, explores issues regarding friendship and belonging. The two friends are close: they spend time together, they take care of one another, they support one another, they wear matching red scarves. In the story, the boy and his elephant attempt to attend a pet club meeting only to find a sign on the door declaring “Strictly No Elephants.” The boy is dejected, and the elephant supports and leads the boy away, setting aside his own fear of cracks on the sidewalk for his friend. The two encounter a little girl and her pet skunk who have also been turned away from the club. The new friends decide that they should start their own pet club, one in which “All Are Welcome.”

With the first set of questions, children are asked to consider the nature of friendship. Friendship is one of a set of important relationships that children are familiar with. It is distinctive to them. Children are asked whether people can be friends with their pets, in the process evaluating whether friendship requires equal standing between the two individuals. Children are asked what makes people friends instead of strangers or acquaintances. Does friendship require similarities or common interests between people? Does it require certain feelings between people? Finally, the set of questions challenges children to consider whether having friends is good.

Many relationships people engage in are good because they confer benefits. But many relationships are also demanding because they create responsibilities. The second set of questions concern the responsibilities of friendship and how meeting those responsibilities or failing at those responsibilities makes a person a better or worse friend. A central feature of Strictly No Elephants, the boy and the elephant demonstrate care and regard for one another. When the elephant is afraid of the cracks on the sidewalk, the boy is accommodating and patient. When the boy is sad, the elephant takes the lead. This set of questions also introduces the idea that friends have a responsibility to accept one another and to help each other around their fears.

The final set of questions focuses on belonging and acceptance. The central conflict in the book is the rejection of the boy and his elephant from the local pet club which has a “Strictly No Elephants” policy on the door. This introduces the issues surrounding clubs, club membership, the desire to belong, and the value of accepting differences.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Nature of Friendship

  1. In the book, the little boy has a tiny pet elephant. Can you be friends with a pet? Why or why not? If so, what makes a pet your friend?
  2. What makes someone a friend as opposed to just someone you know or a stranger? Do you do things with them or for them?
  3. Do you need to feel a certain way towards someone in order for him/her to be your friend?
  4. The little boy and the elephant are alike in some ways. Do people need to have things in common in order to be friends?
  5. Is having friends good? Why or why not?

Responsibilities of Friends

  1. What kinds of things does a good friend do? What makes someone a good friend?
  2. What kinds of things does a bad friend do? What makes someone a bad friend?
  3. The tiny elephant is afraid of cracks on the sidewalk and the little boy lifts him over the cracks. Are there things you are afraid of that your friends “lift you over”? Like what? Should you help your friend overcome fears?
  4. When the boy and the elephant are turned away from the pet club, the elephant forgets about his fear as he leads the boy away. Why does the elephant brave his fear? Should you set aside your fears for a friend?
  5. The little boy accepts the elephant’s quirks, such as the elephant’s fear of cracks. Should friends be accepting of his or her buddy’s unique habits, likes, fears, etc? Why or Why not?
  6. Do your friends reflect something about you?
  7. Do you have responsibilities towards your friend? If so, what are they?
  8. Do friendships take work? Like what?

Belonging

  1. In the book, the little boy tries to attend a meeting for a pet club. What is a club?
  2. How many members does a club need in order to be a club? Can there be a club of one?
  3. The little boy and the elephant run into a little girl and her pet skunk who were also prohibited from the pet club. They decide to start a new pet club. What do you need in order to start a new club? Do members need to share something in common? What kind of rules does the new club have?
  4. What kinds of clubs are there? What kinds of clubs can there be?
  5. Is it okay for a club not to include everyone? For example, is it okay for a chess club to be for chess players and not for checkers players? Is there a good way of turning someone away? If so, how?
  6. In the book, the little boy tells us that having a tiny elephant for a pet means that you “never quite fit in.” What is it about the elephant that makes the little boy stand out?
  7. What does it mean to fit in? Is it okay to not fit in?
  8. What does “All are welcome” mean to you? Does it mean that the members of the first club are welcome into the new club?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Jessica Mejía and Emily Knuth (November 2020).

Download & Print Email Book Module Back to All Books
Back to All Books Illustrated book cover for Strictly No Elephants that features an illustration of a large green door with a big wooden sign on it that says "Strictly No Elephants." On the doormat in front of the door, a small boy with brown hair and a red scarf looks up at the sign. A small elephant with a matching red scarf sits next to him. 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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