Praise for The Three Questions:
"Quietly life changing..." --The New York Times
* "A soaring achievement." -- Kirkus Reviews, starred review
* "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." -- Publishers Weekly, starred review
What is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do? Russian thinker Leo Tolstoy's three questions can be applied to nearly every situation or opportunity in life. The Nikolai of this charming picture book asks them of Leo, a superlatively wise turtle. The Three Questions offers answers with child-sized examples that we can all understand.
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. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Gr 1-4-Young Nikolai questions Sonya, the heron; Gogol, the monkey; and Pushkin, the dog: "When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do?" Unsatisfied with their responses, he seeks answers from Leo, an old turtle living alone high in the mountains. He helps dig a garden and rescues a distressed panda and her cub in a storm. While the boy feels peace, he still doesn't have his answers, but Leo explains to Nikolai that if he hadn't stayed to dig, he wouldn't have heard the panda's cries for help. Therefore, at that moment, the important time was spent digging, the turtle was the most important one, and helping in the garden was the right thing. Later, saving the panda and her child were most important. So, now is the most important time, and the one you are with is most important, as is doing good for that one. Muth's languid watercolors, some sketchy and others fully developed, are vaguely Chinese in setting, and become less dramatic and more ethereal as the story moves toward its thematic statement. An author's note explains the derivation of the names and sources of the story, and gives a short statement about Tolstoy. This is a fanciful though not wholly convincing presentation of a Zenlike concept of what's truly important that would at the very least inspire discussion.-Susan Hepler, Burgundy Farm Country Day School, Alexandria, VA Copyright 2002 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)