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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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Top Customer Reviews
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.
It's not an overwhelming book - it only focuses on 3 things. It does so in a caring way, providing examples that kids can understand and relate to.
The watercolors are beautiful.
My kids also love this book. When we first got it, we read it together about 30 times.
This is a must have. One that you will keep forever and then read to your grand children and pass down for generations. We go weekly to the library, and love to borrow books. But this book deserves to be permanently on my bookshelf at home - and that is where it will stay.
His quest to find the answers puts him face to face with Leo, the turtle, who is an astute sage. Nikolai helps Leo and rescues a panda and her cub from a terrible storm. Through his actions, the boy finds the answers to his questions and, in so doing, discovers the truth about life. It’s a lesson the reader experiences with Nikolai and one well worth learning.
Muth’s story is beautifully told and rendered in subtle watercolors by the author, who is an accomplished painter. In the afterward, Muth revealed that his son, also named Nikolai, modeled for the depiction of the boy in the story. The artist credited his own dog for inspiring the image for Nikolai’s feisty canine friend, Pushkin. Muth’s daughter, Adelaine, is portrayed as the rescued panda cub, and the author paid homage to Tolstoy in the form of the wise turtle, Leo.
Muth’s work is widely recognized in both comics: Moonshadow, The Mystery Play, The Sandman: The Wake, and Swamp Thing: Roots and in children’s books: Come On, Rain!, Stonecutter, The Christmas Magic, and Zen Shorts. His awards include the Eisner Award for comic painting excellence, the Caldecott Honor Book recognition for Zen Shorts, and the Gold Medal from the Society of Illustrators.
One aspect of Muth’s work which is particularly interesting is that he went from illustrating comic books and graphic novels to children’s books. He said that working on comics was a good artistic outlet for some of the “angst” prevalent in life in his younger adulthood, and when he had children, he found himself gravitating toward children’s book illustration as a natural outgrowth of his love and appreciation for being a parent. This artistic evolution is evident in his reimagining of Tolstoy’s classic short story and bringing its life lessons to a new generation of readers.
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.
Thanks very much.