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The Invisible Boy

by Trudy Ludwig

Summary

This story raises questions about appearance, belonging, and friendship through the eyes of a young boy.

The Invisible Boy is a story about Brian, who feels like he is never noticed by the other students in his class. He isn’t picked for kickball, doesn’t get invited to a birthday party, and struggles to find a partner for a group project. But when a new student joins his class, he learns that friendship starts with a small act of kindness, and that can make you feel a little less invisible.

Read aloud video by Alex Green 1st Grade

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

Trudy Ludwig’s book The Invisible Boy is a touching story that poses moral questions about appearance, belonging, and friendship. Brian feels invisible to his classmates and teacher, and turns to colorful drawings as a way to make himself feel better. When other kids make fun of the new student Justin, Brian empathizes with him and decides to befriend Justin through a drawing. This leads to a friendship that makes Brian feel more visible and confident in himself.

Throughout the book, Brian’s appearance becomes more colorful as he makes friends and feels less invisible to those around him. Experiences similar to Brian’s occur most in marginalized groups that feel neglected or invisible within the society, such as the elderly, orphans, and people experiencing homelessness. The sense of detachment that comes with feeling invisible can have mental consequences and lead people to make questionable choices in order to feel visible and gain acceptance from others. It is important to stress the difference between how we choose to act upon those feelings of invisibility; specifically whether we use those feelings to cause harm or, like Brian, to empathize with others instead.

Even from a young age, humans have a deep sense of belonging and seek to form bonds with those around them. Brian wants a friend, but moreover he wants to be seen, feel included, and have a sense of belonging with his classmates. Feeling like you don’t belong can lead to a negative impact on one’s social skills and mental health, which means that accepting others despite their differences is all the more important. How can you make someone feel like they belong? Why is that important? In addition, it is important to stress that a child’s worth should not hinge on the amount of groups they belong to, as every group may not align with their personal ethics. The Invisible Boy helps to answer these questions and more, creating a further understanding of why the desire to belong drives people to act a certain way.

According to the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, every friendship that is formed is connected to some form of desire, pleasure, or goodness. In terms of friendships that are based on desire, people expect to derive some benefit from befriending each other, whether that be to trade services or build a useful connection. For friendships rooted in pleasure, people are attached to each other through an external quality, such as appearance, humor, or popularity. A friendship rooted in goodness is created when both people see the goodness in each other after learning more about each other’s moral compass and personal character. These contrasts can provide the base for a discussion on what forms a “good” friendship, as well as what makes up a “good” friendship. In Brian’s case, his friendship with Justin seems to be rooted in their mutual recognition of the other’s “goodness.” What are the differences between each form of friendship? Is one fundamentally stronger than the rest? This story makes it easier for children to see how our ethical values guide the friendships we form and teaches children the importance of forming healthy friendships.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Appearance and Self-Worth

“Can you see Brian the invisible boy? Even Mrs. Carlotti has trouble noticing him in her classroom.”

  1. Why do Brian’s classmates leave him out of group work? How do you think that makes him feel?
  2. What happens to Brian’s appearance when Justin picks Brian to be in his group for the project? How do you think he feels?
  3. What does it mean to be “invisible”?
  4. Why does Brian become more colorful as the book progresses? How does this relate to when Brian feels invisible?
  5. Have you ever felt invisible? Why did you feel that way?
  6. Would you rather be laughed at or feel invisible?
  7. Is it ever bad to be the most visible person in the room, like Nathan and Sophie?

Belonging

“He sits there wondering which is worse — being laughed at or feeling invisible.”

  1. What does it mean to belong?
  2. Does Brian belong to a group? Does he feel like he belongs to a group?
  3. Have you ever wanted to belong to someone or something?
  4. Why do Emilio and Justin invite Brian over to sit with them? Would you invite Brian to sit with you?
  5. Have you ever acted a certain way to avoid feeling invisible? Have you ever acted a certain way to belong or fit-in to a group more?
  6. Do you need to belong in every group? What are some groups you want to belong in? What are some groups you don’t want to belong in?

Friendship

“Maybe, just maybe, Brian’s not so invisible after all.”

  1. What does it mean to be a friend?
  2. Why do none of the children want to be friends with Brian?
  3. Are Brian, Emilio, and Justin friends at the end of the book? How do you know?
  4. Should we be friends with people who are different from us and have different talents and skills?
  5. Have you ever been friends with someone for a long time? How do you treat them differently than someone you just met?
  6. What made you want to be friends with someone? Did you expect to gain anything from it?
  7. Is it okay to be friends with someone for your own benefit?
  8. Is it okay to be friends with someone just because they are popular or funny?

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

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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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