Friday, 28 August 2015

Little Platos and monthly philosophizing - Clémentine Beauvais

In the past year, as highlighted by my post a couple of months ago, I've become increasingly interested in philosophy for children. What fascinates me, among other things, is the astonishing variety of approaches that are ingeniously being created and deployed in various philosophy for children movements. There's much to learn from the ways in which philosophy for children writers and practitioners harness the distinctive powers of all kinds of formats, narratives, styles and types of discourse to enrich and diversify their purposes. 

I've been keeping an eye on what's going on on the continent, and after Wonder Ponder last time, I thought I'd introduce to you two others that take radically different perspectives. 

The first one is a publisher called Les petits Platons, which specialises in very high-quality fictionalised philosophical biographies of famous thinkers, from Socrates to Heidegger, from Lao-Tseu to Hannah Arendt. The graphic identity is edgy and sleek, the writing beautifully precise and elegant.  

Le Cafard de Martin Heidegger

The premise of the series is that children are not just able to play with complex ideas - a now commonly accepted notion, at the root of Philosophy for Children movements - but that they are also able to understand and appreciate the coherence of a system of philosophical thought in relation to its creator's life and historical context. It's not pure non-fiction, though - most of the Petits Platons books are heavily fictionalised, the style sometimes lyrical, the biographical elements selective and purposeful, with plenty of magical realism and fantastical elements.

Visite d’un jeune libertin à Blaise Pascal

In France, the Petits Platons series are very successful, and the publisher has done gorgeous box sets sold, among other outlets, by Le Monde and the quite bohemian-bourgeois Télérama. It's been sold to dozens of other countries, and, miraculously for a non-Anglophone book, to America - the series will be published in English in September by University of Chicago Press. Sounds elitist, but there's nothing forbidding about this mixture of dreamlike illustrations and solid historical facts, dramatic tension precipitating years of peaceful meditations into one striking concept, and the visible embodiment of these ideas into people. 

I remember, as a child, being struck by the pages devoted to Hypatia and Simone de Beauvoir in a big book of philosophers I'd been given by a well-meaning aunt. It seemed surreal to me that there could be women in a book of philosophers. I hope Petits Platons readers in America and elsewhere are equally struck by the variety of life experiences, backgrounds, and profiles that can coalesce into 'being a philosopher'. 

Another country, another medium, another perspective: the monthly magazine for children Philéas et Autobule, in Belgium. 

Que faut-il pour être heureux ?
'What do we need to be happy?'

I've written a number of short stories for the magazine in the past few months - very short stories: two pages long - and I've very much enjoyed reading the magazine itself. It's anchored in the tradition of children's monthlies, very popular in the francophone world (a common gift for children is a subscription to a monthly story magazine). But as far as I know, it's the only children' monthly that specialises in philosophy. 

All the traditional ingredients are there: one-page comics with recurring characters, multiple-choice personality tests, documentary features, games, trivia, and short stories; but all geared towards playing with ideas, thinking about how they fit together and with different worldviews. Philosophers are mentioned occasionally, but they're not centrestage. 

I'm impressed by the scope of media, techniques, formats, discourses that philosophy for children movements has invested. It's made itself fiction, non-fiction, card game, self-help book, comic, questionnaire, poem, play, conversation; it's in bookshops, magazine booths, on the internet, on video, and of course in the immaterial, everyday practices of teachers, activity leaders and philosophy for children experts. 

I admire this versatility not just for what it says of the strength of philosophy in current informal or extra-curricular educational endeavours, but also for what it can teach me about my own writing pratices; about how much more I could, or should, explore.


Clementine Beauvais writes in French and English. She blogs here about children's literature and academia. 


Penny Dolan said...

Fascinating! A whole area of writing for children that I don't really know enough about - so thanks for this. (I was going to end "I'm not really aware of" which ends awkwardly, but putting "of which I'm not aware" sounds almost heavy handed now, in this context. Language is a funny, mutable thing!)

Enjoyed your post about your squabbling languages on your blog, Clementine.

Clémentine Beauvais said...

Thank you! hehe those crazy prepositions in English... takes years to know of where to put them in about from.

Richard said...

Ah yes. Churchill on ending a sentence with a preposition: "This is the sort of pedantry, up with which I cannot put."

I'm afraid I am unable to study philosophy in any great detail. I've no great interest in history and I just keep getting angry at the philosophy itself. "No, no, that's wrong. How can you ever have thought that was true?" But I'd certainly respect anyone who could explain it clearly enough for children.

Stroppy Author said...

My Big Bint was a philosophy fiend as a small child. She had a DK book of philosophers and read it all the time. We did plenty of philosophical debates, too - it's such a rewarding subject to explore with children because you can work with the ideas without having to know anything specific. Anyone can argue about whether it is right to kill criminals, whether there is any absolute moral code and whether we can know if 'reality' exists without a huge corpus of factual knowledge.