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The Honest-to-Goodness Truth

by Patricia C. McKissack

Summary

The Honest-to-Goodness Truth explores how to tell the truth tactfully: when, how, and for the right reasons.

When her mother catches her in a lie, Libby is punished and vows to tell only truths. As Libby begins to tell the truth about everything and everyone, her friends become angry with her. But since she thinks that she’s doing the right thing, Libby finds it hard to understand why her truth-telling turned out to have an unanticipated outcome. It takes Libby being on the receiving end of irreverent truth-telling for her to understand the importance of the honest-to-goodness truth.

Read aloud video by Daphne Snowden

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

Knowing when to tell the truth, how to tell it, and with what attitude to tell it is one of the most difficult things for people to learn and do. While there are rules of thumb that people subscribe to such as “You shall not lie,” or “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” there are no hard and fast rules that people widely accept. Truth-telling is unavoidable. It is hard for adults sometimes to know whether or how to tell the truth; it is even harder for children to make these types of judgments.

Children are regularly confronted with the moral decision to tell the truth. The Honest-to-Goodness Truth both highlights precisely why children have a hard time with truth-telling and provides an opportunity to discuss myriad subjects regarding truth and lies.

In The Honest-to-Goodness Truth, Libby struggles with conflicting messages. While she feels that lying is bad, she finds out quickly that the rule “Never tell a lie,” can get you into difficulties. The truth, in some situations, can damage relationships, can offend, and hurt feelings.

The book provides an opportunity to discuss why telling the truth matters and why it’s good, how the truth affects others, and how the truth affects yourself. Children are asked to consider what it feels like to tell the truth, be told a truth, tell a lie, and be told a lie. In doing so, they can consider the subject from multiple perspectives. Additionally, the book introduces children to the idea of making promises to themselves to do better and to be better. How does one acquire the virtue of honesty? Students will learn to think about the importance of telling the truth, but more importantly, they might consider how to tell it in a tactful and respectful way.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

The Nature of Truth

  1. Why is honesty a good character trait?
  2. Imagine a good person such as your mom, dad, or teacher. Is that person honest?
  3. Do you want your parents or your teachers to be honest? Why or why not?
  4. Do you want your friends to be honest? Why or why not?
  5. Should you be honest to your parents, teachers, and friends? Why or why not?

On Lying

Libby is punished for lying to her mother. When she gets caught, she vows, “From now on, only the truth.”

  1. Why does Libby lie to her mother?
  2. Why do people lie?
  3. Is it ever hard to tell the truth? Why? Can you think of an example? Why was it hard?
  4. Is it ever easy to tell the truth? Why? Can you think of an example? Why was it easy?
  5. How does Libby’s lie affect Mama, Ol’ Boss, and herself?
  6. Who did the lie hurt the most?

How the Truth Affects You

After Libby gets caught in a lie, she feels upset and nervous about it.

  1. How do you feel about yourself when you lie?
  2. How do you feel about yourself when you tell the truth?
  3. How do you feel when someone lies to you?
  4. How do you feel when someone tells you the truth?
  5. Would you rather know the truth or not have your feelings hurt? Is that right?
  6. Libby vows, “From now on, only the truth.” Why does she make that promise to herself?
  7. Do you ever make similar promises to yourself? Can you give an example?
  8. Why does Libby feel relief after she got caught?

How the Truth Affects Others

All of Libby’s friends are upset with her for telling the truth.

  1. Why were Libby’s friends mad at her? Should her friends have been mad at her?
  2. What harm can be caused by being honest?
  3. What benefit can come about by being honest?
  4. Should you tell the truth even when it’s uncomfortable? Can you think of an example?
  5. Should you be careful about how you tell the truth to spare someone’s feelings? Why?
  6. Why does Libby apologize to her friends? Is it because she told the truth or because of how she told it?

Libby tells her teacher that another student didn’t do his homework.

  1. Do you think it was right for Libby to do that? Why or why not?
  2. Is there a difference between telling the truth and tattling on someone?
  3. When is it right to tell on someone? When is it wrong?

Libby’s mother tells her that “Sometimes the truth is told at the wrong time or in the wrong way, or for the wrong reasons. And that can be hurtful. But the honest-to-goodness truth is never wrong.”

  1. What is the “honest-to-goodness truth”?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Ronteau Coppin archived here. Revised book module by Jessica Mejía and Emily Knuth.

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 The Honest-to-Goodness Truth featuring a little girl holding onto some fence posts. She's smiling and has a thought bubble of the book's title, "The Honest-to-Goodness Truth." 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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