Frog and Toad at the Academy: Gareth B. Matthews on how children’s literature goes philosophical

Maughn Rollins Gregory, Megan Jane Laverty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Gareth B. Matthews (1929–2011) inaugurated the study of philosophy in children’s literature by simultaneously arguing (1) that philosophy is essentially an encounter with certain kinds of perplexities, (2) that genuine philosophical perplexities are readily found in many children’s stories, and (3) that many children are capable of appreciating and enjoying them. He wrote 58 reviews of philosophical children’s stories and co-authored a series of teacher guides for using such stories. Following Matthews’ example, others have produced resources recommending children’s stories as stimuli for intergenerational philosophical dialog. In our research, we study and systematize the different ways that Matthews understood children’s stories to go philosophical. Here, we introduce five of those ways: philosophical story irony, philosophical story fancy, thought experiment, philosophical fable, and philosophical story realism. For each of these ways, we define a set of literary elements and describe the kind of philosophical perplexity they invite, illustrating with examples from children’s literature reviewed and discussed by Matthews. We intend our article to shed new light on Matthews’ scholarship, to guide (ourselves and others) in locating some of the elements in children’s stories that occasion different types of philosophical perplexity, and to spark new conversations among philosophers and educators about this promising field.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)297-315
Number of pages19
JournalPolicy Futures in Education
Issue number3
StateAccepted/In press - 2022


  • children's literature
  • fables
  • Gareth B. Matthews
  • philosophy
  • philosophy for children
  • thought experiments


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