The Three Questions, written and illustrated by Jon J Muth
Hardback with dust jacket
Size: approximately 26 x 31 cm
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.
When is the best time to do things?
Who is the most important one?
What is the right thing to do?
His friends - a heron, a monkey, and a dog - try to help, but to no avail, so he decides to ask Leo, the wise old turtle. When he arrives, the turtle is struggling to dig in his garden, and Nikolai rushes to help him. As he finishes work, a violent storm rolls in. Nikolai runs for Leo's cottage, but on his way, he hears cries for help from an injured panda. Nikolai brings her in from the cold, and then rushes back outside to rescue her baby, too. It is through Nikolai's own compassionate response to the events that unfold around him that leads him directly to the answers he is looking for.
Based on Count Leo Tolstoy's short story of the same title, award-winning illustrator Jon J Muth has combined his studies of Zen with his love for Tolstoy to create this profound, yet simple, book about compassion and living in the moment. Muth's lovely and evocative watercolour artwork beautifully enhances this reflective picture book.
And what are the answers, you ask? As Nikolai realises, the one important time is now, the important one is the one you are with, and the most important thing to do is to do good for the one at your side. These are the answers to what is most important in this world. "This is why we are here."
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, and is sure to open interesting and thoughtful discussions.
About the Author:
Jon J Muth is the author and artist of the acclaimed and New York Times best-selling picture books "Zen Shorts" (a Caldecott Honor Book), "Zen Ties," and "Zen Ghosts." He has written and illustrated award-winning comic books that have been published in both the United States and Japan. He has also illustrated many books including another New York Times best-seller, "A Family of Poems," by Caroline Kennedy, "Old Turtle and the Broken Truth' by Douglas Wood, and "Come On, Rain," by Karen Hesse, which won him the Society of Illustrators Gold Medal. His books "Stone Soup" and "Gershons Monster" have each won National Parenting Book Awards. He lives in upstate New York with his family.
"Quietly life-changing." - New York Times
"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)." Ages 6-up. - Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.)
"Nikolai wants to be a good person but believes that he needs guidance. He has three important philosophical questions: "When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do?" The answers will set him on the right path in life. He first asks his friends the heron, the monkey, and the dog, but their answers are colored by their own survival needs, and are helpful but not definitive. He goes to Leo the turtle, who is old and very wise. Nikolai's experiences while visiting Leo help him to find his own answers. Leo only needs to put them in words. Muth has created a magical work of depth and beauty. The deceptively simple plot is written in language that is filled with visual and auditory imagery, and yet remains accessible to young readers. The delicate watercolor paintings are exquisite. Humans, animals, and nature are depicted with supreme accuracy, while evoking a soft, gentle, dream-like quality. There are many subtle nuances that catch the eye and ear. A red kite floats through the pages, appearing, disappearing, and reappearing, but never mentioned in the text. Sometimes only the string in Nikolai's hand is seen, and sometimes only the kite itself with the string trailing down. It is not seen at all during his adventures at Leo's home, but he has brought it there. Even the characters' names - Gogol, Leo, Pushkin, Sonya, and Nikolai - are carefully chosen to pay homage to famous Russians or their creations. As for the answers to Nikolai's questions: they're just right. A soaring achievement." (Picture book. 6-10) - Kirkus Reviews
"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." - Shihtzux (from Amazon)
"Great book to show us what we already know! 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 Nikolais's questions. ... The warm pictures add detail and help develop the setting and characters in the reader's 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 [through his actions]. 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." - Customer review (from Amazon)
"... 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 an ideal book for young audiences... especially if you are trying to reinforce these 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 re-discovering Tolstoy through a child's eyes." - E Riego (from Amazon)