The beginning of this book - and the part I had access to via the preview function - starts out well enough. We are introduced to Andrea, and immediately to a situation where she determines that fighting solves nothing. It then jumps to a hypothetical situation of Andrea's cat being hit by a car and we are walked through Andrea's struggle between two concepts she knows to be right and realizing that they can't both apply to the situation. Should her cat be 'put to sleep' and spared inevitable pain or kept alive, suffering, in an effort to delay inevitable death. Before Andrea makes her choice, the question is offered, aptly, to the reader. Then next page shows Andrea choosing the difficult but most logical choice -- to end her cat's life, and thus, his suffering. I found this portion of the book to be precisely what I expected in terms of reader interaction and the promotion of free thought the book is supposed to be based upon.
The question regarding Andrea's cat posed on page 20 of the 76-page book, is essentially the last real thought-inducing question posed to the reader. Allow me to express my surprise here, as I believed that this book would gently guide its reader to conclusions, rather than stating them outright.
There are some pages following this discourse which discuss the concept of morality and there being 'good people who do believe in god(s)' and 'good people who do not believe in god(s).' Appropriate enough.
Then it jumps into small segments of 'do and don't' lists, ie. 'Do be fair.' or 'Don't cheat' and most of these have little follow-ups on the 'why' of explaining the reason these are or are not things we should do. I honestly expected more. As in, I expected that rather than laying down a bunch of adult concepts spelled out in simple kid language, that the adult concepts would be geared toward a kid audience on a kid-level while still maintaining their core ideas.
Perhaps the following example will demonstrate this fairly succinctly. On page 48, addressing the topic of honesty it gives this example: "Suppose a woman you know comes to your home and says she needs somewhere to hide because her husband has been beating her up." Huh? Really? Because dozens of 5 year olds are running their own covert battered women's shelters?
I begin to question, with that last example, what age audience this is supposed to be geared toward. On one hand, the illustrations and tone of the writing seem quite well matched to an early grade-school child. It is written in simply-worded text that my five year old daughter could easily read herself (though I certainly intended to read it over with her first). But when you touch on a prickly topic like battered women, something that hopefully most children will not have to encounter, you open up some rather uncomfortable possibilities. The one that comes to my mind is my daughter going to school and telling her teacher than if daddy ever beats mommy, she won't tell him where mommy is. Parents out there may grasp why this would be an undesirable outcome of broadening their child's mind..... For children who have already encountered real-world domestic abuse, I think it's fair to say they have bigger fish to fry than pondering whether providing shelter to battered women whilst being honest with the husband is the moral high ground. The subject matter is too mature and could have been better chosen given the potential age group.
Later, on page 57, the Golden Rule is addressed. I'm quite fond of the Golden Rule and its endless applications. As I understand it, in its most common form, states "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Barker has a different take on it and says it means, "Some people are kind to others because they want to be treated the same way themselves." That's actually a quite different thing. Amazing how you can change words around ever so slightly and convey an entirely different concept. Barker goes on to demonstrate this glaring difference by saying, "But other people are kind because they think human beings are valuable, not because they want a reward." I find this perplexing. Perhaps I've gone my whole life interpreting the phrase "as you would have them do unto you" incorrectly, but I always believed that you treated others the way you would ideally like to be treated -- though that may not necessarily be the way they actually treat you in return. It's a form of empathy, you know? One that comes from the most valid source of logical data one has for interpersonal relations - their own interpretation of how the actions of others effect them. If an action effects you negatively, then you should not visit that action upon another being (human or otherwise). Which, going back to the initial scenario, could have easily been the logic for euthanizing the pet cat. If your death were inevitable and you were suffering greatly, would you choose euthanasia or would you prolong your life, suffering, dignity beyond reason? I would have euthanized the cat because I would ideally hope that another would use their own insight to do the same for me in a similar situation. I would still euthanize the cat, even if someone chose not to euthanize me were the tables turned, because my moral compass is internal and greatly based on my experience of personal pain and suffering and the experience of watching others needlessly endure it. That is all to say, I find the section on the Golden Rule to be off- perhaps influenced by a negative connotation with its general association with religion?
This book is presented and titled as being a guide for young thinkers. But as I got progressively further into the book, it seemed to be laying out a sort of moral dogma, with little justification, and requiring little thought and contemplation from the reader. Dogmatic presentations of moral thinking are precisely what I believed the book was created to counter, and I feel it fell flat. This is even more sad because on each and every page I can see the author's *intention* and then as he carries that good idea along he almost seems to trip himself up on it and it just gets regurgitated on the page in ineffective form. By the end I felt that the ability to think your own way through it was rather squelched by the 'do and don't' tone it takes on.
I bought this book as part of a long-term plan to counter Christianity-based indoctrination that has been directed at my daughter. As an atheist of many years, I find it difficult to stand idly by and let her believe that what little she has been fed by religious infleunces represents the thinking of the entire world. I'm terribly disappointed to say I don't this will make its way into our 'Chrisitanity-unschooling' curriculum. Which is a shame, because I've looked extensively and can find nothing else like it.
I plan on returning this book. It will be my first book return on Amazon. But I feel our money could be better spent on educating our daughter about -- well anything. Mythology, eastern religions, philosophy, ethics, science and the cosmos.... There are a lot of paths to free thought. But this one, I believe, is too forward, too black-and-white, and not informative enough to be the optimal one.