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The Three Questions [Based on a story by Leo Tolstoy] Hardcover – April 1, 2002
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Nikolai is a boy who believes that if he can find the answers to his three questions, he will always know how to be a good person. His friends--a heron, a monkey, and a dog--try to help, but to no avail, so he asks Leo, the wise old turtle. "When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do?" Leo doesn't answer directly, but by the end of Nikolai's visit, the boy has discovered the answers himself.
Award-winning illustrator Jon J Muth's lovely watercolors are the most appealing aspect of this book about compassion and living in the moment. The simple Zen-based profundity of the boy's philosophical exploration may escape young readers, but they will enjoy the tale of a child who, in doing good deeds (for a panda and her baby, no less!), finds inner peace. Muth based his story on a short story of the same title by Leo Tolstoy. (Ages 5 to 9) --Emilie Coulter
From Publishers Weekly
Muth (Come On, Rain!) recasts a short story by Tolstoy into picture-book format, substituting a boy and his animal friends for the czar and his human companions. Yearning to be a good person, Nikolai asks, "When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do?" Sonya the heron, Gogol the monkey and Pushkin the dog offer their opinions, but their answers do not satisfy Nikolai. He visits Leo, an old turtle who lives in the mountains. While there, he helps Leo with his garden and rescues an injured panda and her cub, and in so doing, finds the answers he seeks. As Leo explains, "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." Moral without being moralistic, the tale sends a simple and direct message unfreighted by pomp or pedantry. Muth's art is as carefully distilled as his prose. A series of misty, evocative watercolors in muted tones suggests the figures and their changing relationships to the landscape. Judicious flashes of color quicken the compositions, as in the red of Nikolai's kite (the kite, released at the end, takes on symbolic value). An afterword describes Tolstoy and his work. Ages 6-up.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Nikolai poses his questions to his three friends, a heron whose name is Sonya, a monkey, Gogol, and a dog, Pushkin. First he asks, "What is the best time to do things?" Then, "Who is the most important one?" Finally, "What is the right thing to do?" The responses he receives from his friends, each of whom is absorbed in his or her own reality, leave something to be desired. So, Nikolai decides to ask the wise turtle, Leo, who lives high in the mountains.
When Nikolai finds old and judicious Leo, the turtle is struggling to dig a garden. Nikolai, who is more fit, decides to help. Not long after Nikolai finishes digging Leo's garden, it begins to rain and the two hear a cry for help from an injured panda. Nikolai helps the panda to safety and treats her injury. When the panda awakes, she asks Nikolai about her baby, so Nikolai immediately goes to find her, too.
The next day, all is well again. However, Nikolai laments being unable to learn the answers to his question. Leo then explains that Nikolai has found his answers through his actions: There "is one important time, and that is now...(the) most important one is always the on 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."
`The Three Questions' is a very lovely parable written and illustrated by Jon J. Muth. According to Muth in his author's note, the story is based on a Leo Tolstoy's short story. Muth obviously adapts the story for a younger audience, and models and renames the characters after Russian writers, Tolstoy's wife, and Muth's own son and daughter. Tolstoy himself, "Leo," is the turtle.
Muth is quite talented as this book indicates; he not only gently and skillfully adapts the story, but he also created the illustrations that bring the story to life. The illustrations are done in watercolor, a medium with which Muth clearly has had a great deal of experience. The paintings are wistful and tender and convey to the reader a certain warmth. In the depictions of Nikolai's three friends, the reader can clearly sense Sonya's pride, Gogol's playfulness, and Pushkin's sense of responsibility. Nikolai himself represents the sort of boy, playful, honest, and intelligent, with whom anyone would want to be a friend and who anyone would also want to be.
In short, good things, including questions and friends, come in three's, and `The Three Questions' is just about as perfect a book as one will find.
Ordinarily, I would suggest looking at the preview pages to see for yourself, but in this case, I'm not sure they really convey the vibrancy and impact of the physical book.
I encourage buyers of this book to get the hardcover: I predict that it will be a keepsake you'll want to return to for years to come, well after the time your children have supposedly outgrown it.
The questions presented in this great story are: “What is the best time to do things? Who is the most important ones? What is the right thing to do?” These are perfect for the age that my daughter is, since these are the questions she is constantly asking. As an adult, we think we have all the answers but sometimes the answers we give don’t make sense to our tiny people and you need another way to explain things. This book helped me a lot with the topic of timing, and why things were okay sometimes but not at others.
As for the story itself, I loved it. She loved it. My husband loved it. It was a great bedtime story with wonderful illustrations that she has continued to ask for and dreams of often.