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4.8 out of 5 stars
The Three Questions [Based on a story by Leo Tolstoy]
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138 of 143 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2002
Format: Hardcover
"There was once a boy named Nikolai who sometimes felt uncertain about the right way to act..." He wanted to be a good person, but was unsure how to accomplish his goal. Nikolai had three important questions...When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do? "If only I could find the answers to my three questions... then I would always know what to do." So he decides to seek the counsel of Leo, the turtle. "He has lived a very long time. Surely he will know the answers I am looking for." But as he reaches Leo's home, high in the mountains, disaster strikes, and without even thinking Nikolai takes action, and in the process finds the answers he's been searching for..... Based on Leo Tolstoy's short story, Jon Muth has authored a reflective and inspired picture book retelling of The Three Questions. His simple and eloquent text, with its gentle message of compassion and living for each moment, is enhanced by lovely and evocative watercolor artwork in quiet and subdued tones. Together word and art answer Nikolai's questions in a captivating and engaging way..."Remember then that there is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side. For these, my dear boy, are the answers to what is most important in this world." With an Author's Note at the end to augment the story and introduce Tolstoy and his works, The Three Questions is a perfect fable for youngsters 5-9, and is sure to open interesting and thoughtful discussions.
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50 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on February 15, 2005
Format: Hardcover
What is the best time to do things? Who is the most important ones? What is the right thing to do? So I hope that doesn't give it away for you, but that's the book's central search...a boy Nikolai, his three friends Sonya the Heron, Gogol the Monkey, Pushkin the Dog, and the final answers are facilitated by Leo the wise Turtle. The watercolor art is the true gem in this book and the Zen-exercise in the meaning of life takes a close second.

"The Three Questions," is currently my two year old's nightly request...although he sometimes asks for the three questions and sometimes ask for the "Nikolai" book. The writing is really to engage children of older ages but something about the characters, language, and pictures connect with children and adults of all ages.

The esoteric Zen exercise may seem a little off-putting or prententious to some, but it gets kids thinking about morality and ethics at an early age. It gets kids thinking about what is the best approach to life and an approach to be mindful about the present and others.

A wonderful wonderful book with beautiful art throughout. This one comes recommended as a magical treatise on thinking about life.

--MMW
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on April 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a beautiful and very touching book with a special message of love, compassion and introspection. These themes could be deep for a child but they are conveyed with characters and images that captivate and draw in the reader, whether young and old. The story is very touching and nurturing and the themes are ones that a person is never to young to be introduced to. I collect children's books and count this one among one of my favorites.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on May 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The three questions What is the right thing to do? Who is the most important one? And when is the best time to do things? are very tricky questions to answer. These three little questions have a different anwser every time. A young boy tries to find the answers with the help of an old turlte and his animal friends the heron, the monkey, and the dog. The young boy finds the anwsers by helping a mother panda bear and her cub. Now i wont tell you what the answers are, so you will have to read it on your own.

The young boy in this story is very intelligent and very helpful. The author John J. Muth uses excellent words that actully make you think on what is happening. He doent go out and say what the problem is. He also expresses a really good lesson on life. I think that this is a great book for the ages 6-12. Me, being 13, dont read many short stories anymore. But i loved this book. I believe that you will love it too if you get it now!
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
Author Jon J Muth certainly understands the uncertainties that children face. His main character, Nikolai, asks his three best friends the questions he thinks are most important. If he only knew their answers, he believes, he will be a good person. Recognizing his friends' limitations, however, Nikolai wisely seeks further for his answers, and visits a wise old turtle. The turtle never answers him directly, but when a storm comes up and two panda bears are in danger, Nikolai dashes to their aid without a thought for himself. In his action, he finds answers.

This is a gentle tale, told well. Muth's illustrations are graceful and elegant, and beautifully enhance the many moods of the story. Based on a short story by Leo Tolstoy, who is probably best-known for War and Peace and Anna Karenina, The Three Questions succeeds in getting children to think of being of service to others. And to realize that, contrary to what advertisers would have us believe, life isn't about getting; it's about doing.

[...]
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on April 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I love this book. I haven't read a children's book since I was 10, but I think this is a book that is in fact life changing. Here is an excerpt. Nikolai, the young protagonist, asks three questions, "When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do?" Leo (a turtle) replies, "Remember then that there is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the onewho is standing by your side....This is why we are here."
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Jon J. Muth's "The Three Questions" is a beautiful retelling of Tolstoy's short story with the same title. In Muth's version, a young boy named Nikolai wants to know the answers to his three questions: When is the best time to do something? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do? After consulting with his friends (a monkey, dog, and heron) and not truly satisfied with their answers, Nikolai decides to go see Leo, the wise old turtle who lives further inland. Once he arrives at Leo's house, Nikolai is moved to action when he helps Leo with his garden, saves a mother panda and her cub from a storm, and in the process finds the answers to his three questions...

I found myself as engrossed in this story as my second grade class did. Muth's watercolors are beautiful and lifelike, his writing is both poetic and factual, and he has made this story engaging to both child and adult audiences. The story's powerful message of love, respect, and kindness towards others makes "The Three Questions" and ideal book for young audiences... especially if you are trying to reinforce theses characteristics. So visit the library, shop online, or go to your nearest bookstore and get a copy of this wonderful book; you won't regret rediscovering Tolstoy through a child's eyes.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I'm a fan of Muth's other children's books, Zen Ties and Zen Shorts, but somehow had missed this one until a friend gave it to my kids recently. As other reviewers have already covered, it's based on a short story by Tolstoy, and is about a young boy who is struggling to find the answer to three questions that he thinks are the key to behaving rightly in the world. The story and 'moral' are gently presented, and didn't turn my kids (who are suspicious of any book trying to 'teach' them something) off. As in all Muth's books, the pictures, especially of the animals and nature, are lovely and dreamy.
Although Muth's other books have 'Zen' in the title, none of them, including this one, are really Buddhist in a religious or exclusionary sense. The answers to the three questions given here are really about caring and mindfulness in the present moment - themes that might be said to be the heart of ethical behavior for anyone of any religion or philosophy, or none. For me, it was a wonderful way to talk with my kids about how acting rightly or with integrity has more to do with paying attention and being kind then following a proscribed set of rules. If you want a way to open that discussion with your own kids too, this is a great way to do it. Really a beautiful book all the way around.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 4, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Nikolai, a young boy, seeks the answers to three of life's most difficult questions. Soft delightful watercolors enhance the setting throughout as we learn about Nikolas's questions. Since the text is very simple, the warm pictures add detail and help develop the setting and characters in the readers mind. Nikolai's animal friends, Sonya the heron, Gogol the monkey and Pushkin the dog answer his questions according to their respective animal behaviors. Nikolai is not quite satisfied with their responses so he turns to Leo, the wise old turtle, for answers. Leo is the only animal who is personified so completely that he seems human. While visiting Leo's house there is a big storm. The colors darken to show that the climax is coming. Nikolai rushes out to rescue a mother and baby panda. Afterwards, still unsure of the answers, Leo must explain to Nikolai that he has already demonstrated his knowledge of the answers by helping the injured pandas. The blue sky and light colors return as the answers are finally clarified in Nikolai's mind. This delightful book reminds us that we already know the answers to our deepest questions. We just need to look within ourselves to find them.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
A wonderful fable based on a story by Leo Tolstoy about a young boy named Nikolai with three questions about life.

- When is the best time to do things?
- Who is the most important one?
- What is the right thing to do?

He asks his animal friends, the heron, the monkey, and the dog for help. Nikolai gets conflicting and confusing advice from his friends, as we often do from our friends, so he searches out the wise old turtle Leo.

In his visit with Leo he finds the answers. You'll have to get the book to find them yourself.

I, and my children, really enjoyed The Three Questions and I think you will too.
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