When is a Picture Book Not a Picture Book?

When it’s about Socrates. I saw Wise Guy: the Life and Philosophy of Socrates by Mark David Usher somewhere online recently and thought

H’mmmmm. A picture book about Socrates? How odd. I should check this out.

It helped that the cover shows this cherubic little guy with a laurel crown (or very kinky hair…I can’t decide which) on his head, lounging atop a Greek temple looking very sweet. Now, if anything says “Socrates” it’s sweet and cherubic, right? H’mmmmm. H’mmmmmm. H’mmmmm.

Anyway, I put it on hold borrowed it from Fairport. I opened it, admired the illustrations, then began to read. And knew immediately that the author knew nothing about writing for children. (If you know Socrates or have attempted to read this book, you’ll get the pun in the last sentence.)

Now maybe I’m too far removed from reading picture books to my kids, but really. The reviews recommend this book for “budding philosophers” ages 8 and up. Maybe my kids are a little further down on the philosophy scale than some, but my recollection of the extent of their attempts at philosophy at age 8 involved questions like “Why do I always get stuck on the soccer team that never wins?” and “How come peas taste like dirt?”

There are just some subjects that should remain in the realm of adulthood, and Greek philosophy is one of them.

3 thoughts on “When is a Picture Book Not a Picture Book?”

  1. I hated the one philosophy class in college so much that I walked out halfway through the final exam. I sat there, calculated whether I’d still pass the class or not without the final, realized I would, and left. I would have been much better off with Wise Guy, that’s for sure. 😉


  2. It’s quite possible that my somewhat painful past with Greek philosophy has colored my view of Wise Guy. I read Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Poetics at a very dark time in my life and perhaps I’ve never fully recovered from the experience. Or it could simply be that I’ve always loved Greek mythology, poetry, and plays and found the philosophers a bunch of windy old men.

    Even so, I did like the part in Wise Guy about Socrates being in jail and all his friends coming around and dancing.


  3. I really liked that book when I read it, but more in a I-love-this way than a I-think-kids-should-all-read-this way. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what kids are going to respond to and what they won’t, and what they’ll find interesting and why. The Snickets are like this. Many kids I talk to get something completely different out of the books than I do (in other words, they don’t necessarily think of them as “hilarious,” and look at me like I might be Count Olaf when I call the books funny). There was an issue of The Horn Book a couple/few years ago that focused on whether adults can really be considered valid judges of children’s books or not. As I recall, one article was suggesting that there was something wrong with adults who read a lot of children’s literature (to which I was like, “Um, HEY! That’s all I read!”). Anyway, I’d love to sit down with a whole group of kids and a bunch of copies of a book like this, let them peruse it, and hear what they make of it….


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