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This Is Not My Hat

by Jon Klassen

Summary

This is Not My Hat raises philosophical questions relating to stealing, punishment, lying, and trust.

A little fish steals a big fish’s hat while the big fish is asleep. The little fish thinks that he will get away with it, but the big fish wakes up and starts following him. A crab sees the little fish swimming into tall plants, and the crab promises he won’t tell anyone where the little fish went. But the crab points the big fish to where the little fish is hiding. The big fish swims into the plants where the little fish is hiding and swims out wearing his hat.

Read aloud video by Buttons Tales

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

Introduction

This is Not My Hat by John Klassen raises philosophical questions relating to stealing, punishment, lying, and trust. The main event in the book is a little fish stealing a big fish’s hat. While it is not explicitly stated, the illustrations suggest that the big fish finds the little fish, eats the little fish, and takes back the hat. The eating of the little fish can bring up questions about the nature and severity of punishment. Finally, the book sparks questions about lying and trust because the crab, who sees the little fish and promises not to tell anyone where the little fish went, ends up telling the big fish where the little fish is.

Stealing

Stealing is a central theme in This is Not My Hat. The little fish steals a hat and decides to keep it, even though he knows that it is not his and that it is wrong to steal the hat. This raises the question, “why was it wrong for the little fish to take the hat?” Are there any circumstances under which it would be okay for the little fish to steal the hat? In order to facilitate this conversation, we will use alternate scenarios to guide the students along the right course: what if the little fish really needed the hat? Would that make it okay for the little fish to steal the hat? Would that even be stealing in the first place, or would he be taking what is rightly his? What if the big fish really hated the hat? What if the little fish just found the hat and didn’t know that anyone owned it? The children could take this discussion in many directions. They could answer that, while it was wrong for the little fish to take the hat because it was not his, it maybe would have been okay for him to take the hat if he really needed it, or if the big fish didn’t like it in the first place, or if the little fish did not realize that it belonged to anyone. In this way, the book could be used to get at an idea commonly held by children: “finders keepers, losers weepers.”

Punishment

At the conclusion of the book, we are led to believe that the big fish eats the little fish and takes the hat back. After discussing the issues relating to stealing, it is natural to then transition into questions relating to punishment, and whether the punishment of the little fish by the big fish is fair. The first issue that comes up is whether the little fish should be punished at all. Did the little fish deserve to be punished? Discussion about this issue can revolve around the reasons for punishment and the students might recognize that people are often punished after they do something wrong. But “why” are people punished after they do something wrong? There are many reasons for punishment, such as retribution, rehabilitation, and social protection; but in this case, it seems like the primary motivation for the punishment of the little fish is retribution. However, students might bring up other reasons (for example, someone might be punished so that they do not do the crime again; punishment could be used to deter people from committing crimes). It might also appear that the punishment is far too severe for the crime and the fairness of punishment can be brought up. How severe should a punishment be after a certain crime is committed?

Trusting

Trusting is a subtle theme in Klassen’s book that crops up when the crab sees the little fish swim away with the stolen hat and says that he won’t tell anyone where the little fish went. While this scene is brief, it can generate a fruitful discussion. In order to make this conversation accessible to the students, we will begin by asking the students about trustworthy people in their life and why they trust them. We will also tie this theme directly into the book by asking: if you were the little fish, would you have trusted the crab? Why? Their answers will likely get at what it is that makes a person trustworthy: qualities that the person has (such as loyalty), the specific person (a mother, a sister, a friend), actions that the person has done that have proved their trustworthiness, or the absence of lying. In this way, our initial questions will ultimately help the children to think deeply about the culminating questions of whether or not it is ever bad to trust people, and what it means to trust somebody.

Lying

Lying is another more subtle theme in the book. The crab tells the little fish that he won’t tell the big fish where the little fish is going. But immediately afterwards, the crab tells the big fish that the little fish is in the plants. Was it okay for the crab to lie to the little fish? There are a variety of responses that could be given to this question. It could be argued that one ought never lie and that therefore any instance of lying is wrong. But on the other hand, it could be argued that the situation and the consequences of lying should be considered when thinking about whether it is okay to lie. It does seem that there might be certain situations where it should be okay to lie (for example, should you lie to a bully who is asking you where the kid is that they want to beat up?). Students can discuss whether it was okay for the crab to lie to the little fish given that the little fish is a criminal in some sense. In lying to the little fish, the crab allows the big fish to get back what is rightly his.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Stealing

“This hat is not mine. I just stole it … I know it’s wrong to steal a hat. I know it does not belong to me. But I am going to keep it.”

  1. Was it wrong for the little fish to steal the hat? Why or why not?
  2. If the big fish never found out that his hat was stolen, did something bad happen to him?
  3. Let’s say the little fish did not steal the hat, but found it instead. Would it be wrong for him to take the hat? Is “finders-keepers” a good rule? Would it be stealing in this case?
  4. If the little fish really needed the hat, would it be okay for him to steal the hat? What is the difference between wanting something and needing something?
  5. Why is it wrong for other people to steal your things?

Punishment

“The big fish swims into the plants and eats the little fish.”

  1. Have you ever been punished for something you did wrong? Did you think the punishment was fair? Why or why not?
  2. Is it okay that the big fish punished the little fish for stealing his hat? Why or why not?
  3. Should the big fish have eaten the little fish, or should his punishment have been smaller?
  4. Why do we punish people?

Lying

“There is someone who saw me already. But he said he wouldn’t tell anyone which way I went.”

  1. Was it okay that the crab lied to the little fish? Why or why not?
  2. Have you ever lied when you were trying to do something good?
  3. Is it okay to lie to bad guys?
  4. Is it ever okay to lie?

Trusting

“There is someone who saw me already. But he said he wouldn’t tell anyone which way I went.”

  1. Who do you trust in your life? Why?
  2. Would you have trusted the crab if you were the little fish? Why or why not?
  3. Is it ever bad to trust people?
  4. What does it mean to trust somebody?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Caroline von Klemperer and Andy Rodgers. Edited May 2020 by The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics.

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 excellent resource guide for talking to children about issues of race and culture in literature. They also have a guide for navigating tough conversations.

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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