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The Rainbow Fish

by Marcus Pfister

Summary

The Rainbow Fish can begin a discussion on the nature of sharing, beauty, and happiness.

In the beginning, the most beautiful fish in the ocean does not want to share one of his shining scales with a little blue fish. All the other fish in the sea ignore him after this and he does not understand why. He goes to the wise octopus for advice, and she tells him to give away his scales. Rainbow Fish reluctantly gives away all but one of his scales. In the end, he is less beautiful than he was before, but he has new friends and is now the happiest fish in the sea.

Read aloud video featuring Ernest Borgnine

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister is a book about a unique fish with shimmering scales. Other fish admire him and request some of his scales because they want to share in his beauty. At first reluctant, Rainbow Fish eventually relents and finds he enjoys sharing his scales.

The book offers a number of philosophical topics for discussion. First and foremost, it raises the idea of sharing. Sharing is a topic that is foremost in children’s minds. Here they will be asked to consider: why people can be reluctant to share, the relationship between sharing and happiness, when it is okay to share and when it is okay not to share, and the role of sharing among friends.

The next topic is beauty. Rainbow Fish is exceptional for his beauty. He’s described as “the most beautiful fish in the entire ocean.” Students can consider important questions regarding beauty. What makes someone or something beautiful? What is more beautiful exterior beauty or character beauty? Is being unique what makes something or someone beautiful? And finally, is it beautiful to be a person who shares?

Finally, The Rainbow Fish provides an opportunity for students to think about the nature of happiness and the good life: how happiness relates to sharing, beauty, friendship, and feelings. Can one be happy and friendless? Can one be happy without being beautiful? What role does others’ admiration of you have on your happiness?

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Sharing

  1. Have you ever owned an item that you didn’t want to share? What was it? Why didn’t you want to share it?
  2. Did it make you happier or sadder to share the item?
  3. Was Rainbow Fish wrong not to share his scales?
  4. Are there some things it’s okay for you not to share? If so, what and why?
  5. Imagine that Rainbow Fish gave away all his scales. Would that be a good thing for him to do?
  6. Was the blue fish asking too much of Rainbow Fish to share his scales?
  7. Do you share with your friends? Do you share everything with them?

Beauty

  1. What makes Rainbow Fish beautiful?
  2. If you had scales like Rainbow Fish, would you be beautiful? Why or why not?
  3. What makes a person beautiful: the way they look, they way they behave, both, or something else?
  4. What is more beautiful: the way a person looks or the way a person behaves? Which one lasts longer? Which one leads to greater happiness?
  5. Rainbow Fish is unique or one of a kind. Does being unique make someone beautiful?
  6. When Rainbow Fish shares his scales, does the sharing make him beautiful? Why or why not?
  7. Is it good for Rainbow Fish to spread his beauty? Why or why not?

Happiness

  1. Does sharing at least sometimes make a person happy? Why or why not?
  2. Does being beautiful make a person happy? Why or why not?
  3. Does having friends make a person happy? Why or why not?
  4. Can you be happy and not beautiful?
  5. Can you be happy and friendless?
  6. Is the octopus right? Is having friends more important than being beautiful?
  7. When the octopus says, “… You will discover how to be happy,” is she saying that what Rainbow Fish thought of as happy before wasn’t actually true happiness?
  8. Does being admired make you happy?
  9. The book says that Rainbow Fish grew more and more delighted as he gave away his scales. Is this true in all cases? If not, give examples.
  10. Rainbow Fish was happy with his scales, and he was happy with his new friends. Are there different kinds of happiness?
  11. Are they true friends if one of the main reasons they like Rainbow Fish is because he gave them something pretty?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion archived here. Revised August 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 Cover image for The Rainbow Fish with an illustration of a beautifully patterned fish swimming in the ocean amongst some coral. The fish has multi-colored scales, and some of them even have glitter! 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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