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Winston of Churchill

by Jean Davies Okimoto

Summary

Winston of Churchill explores the issues surrounding climate change including three key subjects of leadership, blame, and war.

The polar bears of Churchill, Manitoba live their lives in fear of climate change. A bear named Winston, renowned for his leadership and bravery, rises above them all to take charge and save their homes on the ice. Winston proposes that global warming is not the fault of polar bears at all; there was nothing that they did to make it worse, except for Winston’s smoking habit. Winston decides to protest the humans who caused climate change, but Winston’s wife refuses to join until Winston can quit his smoking habit.

Read aloud video by Churchill Library

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

Three key themes of leadership, blame, and war can be explored during the facilitation to introduce politics to a younger audience.

Leadership here is presented as a flawed concept. First, Winston is the apparent leader simply because he is the strongest. There is no form of election or representation of other bears as possible candidates, which suggests that Winston’s leadership is similar to that of a dictatorship in which he determines all the actions of the other bears with their full cooperation. Winston’s leadership is never questioned by any polar bears except for the ones who are closest to him. Winston’s wife and cub are the only ones to oppose Winston and because of their opposition, significant changes are made. They could be seen as being representative of the voice of the minority. This is especially relevant to children, because it promotes their importance in the way decisions are made around them. Children themselves are a minority, because they are often sidelined by the decision making done by adults.

This story also explores themes related to blame and responsibility. It is not solely the fault of humans that global warming has increased; it is also the fault of the polar bear’s leader, Winston, who smokes. If the children are able to acknowledge the transition from Winston’s smoking habit to a much greener alternative, they will have just learned the ability of self realization in which they themselves can revise their own positions in the light of someone else’s criticism. Furthermore, the polar bear’s projection of blame onto unsuspecting tourists resembles the inability to take responsibility for one’s own action or the inability to identify the actual source of causation and mistaking the causation as something that is “most likely” the culprit. When identified, the children learn not to jump to immediate conclusions and instead to appreciate the process of responsible action, free from blame and guilt.

War here is a metaphor for the polar bear’s struggle against the humans in a fight to preserve their homes. Overlaps between the historical Winston Churchill and the fictional Winston of Churchill as well as current leadership can be explored to identify the traits prominent in a real leader during wartime and during a peaceful setting. In this way the children can compare the leadership they know to previous leaders to really understand the measures that were taken during the war without actually having to know the atrocities that happened.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Leadership

Winston was a fierce, brave bear, and when Winston spoke, every bear listened.

  1. How did Winston get so important?
  2. What qualities does Winston have?
  3. Do the other bears listen to what Winston says? Do they have a choice?
  4. Was it embarrassing for Winston to be questioned by his wife and cub? Did the wife and cub make a good point?
  5. Would it be okay for Winston to do bad things? Would other bears follow if he did bad things?
  6. Who’s the most important bear in this book? Would you say that this bear is the leader?

Blame

Ice is melting because it’s getting too warm around here…

  1. Was it right for the bears to say that global warming was the fault of humans?
  2. If Winston had not changed his cigar into a twig, would all the blame still be on the humans?
  3. The polar bears protested to the nearby tourists. Are those people to blame?
  4. Would the polar bears still protest if it wasn’t the humans fault? Was there really a point to protesting?
  5. Is it possible for the blame to not belong to the humans or the bears? Were the bears mistaken?

War

We will fight for our ice. We shall never surrender.

  1. There is a recurrent use of the word “fight.” Why is this specific word used so often?
  2. Winston Churchill was actually a wartime leader. Do these Winstons share common traits?
  3. Was the Bear’s protest/’defense’ actually effective?
  4. Would Winston still be a strong leader if there was no global warming issue?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion archived here. 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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Back to All Books Illustrated book cover for Winston of Churchill featuring a drawing of a large polar bear standing in the center of a group of smaller polar bears behind him. The big polar bear holds both paws in a "V" symbol, like a politician might. 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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