Did you know that Jean Piaget, the eminent child psychologist, had collaborated on a children’s story book? Several years ago, when I met a former student of Piaget’s, Prof. Anne-Nelly Perret Clermont, and because of my long-standing obsession with Piaget’s work, I was excited to know more about him: How was he as a teacher, what was it like to be in his class and so on. Of course, I was also eager to know about the children’s book that I had heard about but never laid my eyes on. When Anne-Nelly returned to Neuchâtel, she remembered my enthusiasm, and very generously sent me a copy of the book. I have placed some pictures for you to see. Thank you, Anne-Nelly. Here is a brief extract from the story that Niklas Gilsdorf helped translate for me. On Cutting Chai today, we present ‘How the mouse discovers the world after a stone fell on its head’.
A Mouse Was Hit on the Head by a Stone and So Discovered the World
In the 1960s, Jean Piaget collaborated on a children’s book with the well-known illustrator Eteinne Delessert. Piaget was by then a well-established child psychologist and his advice was sought to make the book more comprehensible to children.
The story is about a five-year-old mouse who had lived under the ground for his entire young life, until one day, when he became so curious and eager to explore life a little further that he tries to make a special room for himself. As he digs a tunnel, a stone that comes loose and hits him on the head, shocking him. The stone had managed to open a view to the sky and brings in daylight. For the first time, the little mouse is able to see himself, his paws and his fur in the daylight. Looking up he asks the sun, “Who are you? I’ve never seen you before… Are you the one who is hurting my eyes?” to which the sun replies, “Yes, because I shine so brightly… I am the sun, and I am very old. I came a long, long time ago.” Filled with curiosity, the mouse then asks the sun where and how had he got his shine. “Once a gentleman lit me with a huge match,” the sun replies. “Every morning he throws me high in the sky and I shine; but in the evening he catches me again. Then night takes my place.” The little mouse, peering out of his little room under the ground, discovers the world, the wind and the rain, the snow and flowers, and also the moon. “Those little lights all around you, what are they? Are these little bits of moon?”, he asks. “No, those are stars,” the moon answers. “Stars are little sparks that have come together. They shine in the night like the eyes of a cat.” The mouse at last comes out of his hole and joins the sun for a long journey on which they will meet many new friends!
I am not sure if this translation is accurate, but I hope you get a gist of the story. As one can see, the questions that the little mouse asks are inspired from Piaget’s own enquiries into children’s understanding of natural phenomena. Anyone who has been bitten by the Piaget bug during student days would have spent long hours with ‘Children’s understanding of natural phenomena’ and other writings by Piaget. And, some of us may have also tried our own hand at interrogating children with similar queries, and being charmed with their answers. In an earlier post on Masala Chai, we covered some conversations that might be of interest to you. Here is a link in case you wish to (re-)visit the post: https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/masalachaimusings.com/1215
Wishing you happy holidays, Masala Chai will now return with more stories in the New Year!
In case you wish, here’s a link to the book: https://www.amazon.com/Mouse-Head-Stone-Discovered-World/dp/0385091060