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The Three Questions

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Overview


With his stunning watercolors -- and text that resounds with universal truths, award-winning artist Jon J Muth has transformed a story by Tolstoy into a timeless fable for young readers.

What is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do? Nikolai knows that he wants to be the best person he can be, but often he is unsure if he is doing the right thing. So he goes to ask Leo, the wise turtle. When he arrives, the turtle is struggling...

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Overview


With his stunning watercolors -- and text that resounds with universal truths, award-winning artist Jon J Muth has transformed a story by Tolstoy into a timeless fable for young readers.

What is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do? Nikolai knows that he wants to be the best person he can be, but often he is unsure if he is doing the right thing. So he goes to ask Leo, the wise 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.

Nikolai asks his animal friends to help him answer three important questions: "When is the best time to do things?" "Who is the most important?" and "What is the right thing to do?"

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
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.
From the Publisher

The Three Questions
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, Cogol 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.
--Publishers Weekly, Feb.11, 2002, starred review

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.--Kirkus Reviews, March 2002, starred review
In Tolstoy's original story a tsar asks three questions (What is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do?), and he finds the answers when he unknowingly saves his enemy. Muth's gentler, simpler version is closer to a fable about a boy and his animal friends. Beautiful, playful watercolor paintings show Nikolai with heron Sonya, monkey Gogol, and dog Pushkin on the shore. The animals can't really answer the big questions so Nikolai hikes into the mountains to consult wise old turtle Leo--and while Nikolai is there, he saves a panda and her child in a roaring storm, finding his answers. Muth's large-size paintings are open and beautiful. Some of the soft-toned landscapes are like Japanese paintings, with sharply defined characters against blurry views of water, mountain and sky. Children will want to talk about the questions and answers, though a version closer to Tolstoy's original would have been more compellig: What if

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. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
Nikolai seeks the answers to three questions—when is the best time to do something, who is the most important one and what is the right thing to do? To answer these questions is to know how to be a good person. His well-meaning friends a heron, a monkey, and a dog try to help him but the boy knows he should seek the wisdom of the wise old turtle, Leo. In helping the turtle dig his garden and rescuing an injured panda and later her cub, Nikolai finds the answers and the inner peace he seeks. 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. Based on a Leo Tolstoy short story, the spiritual philosophy of Zen is wrapped inside a simple but compelling story. Handsome watercolors by the author reflect the Asian influence. Young children will not grasp the deeper meaning of the story but will enjoy it as a satisfying journey of discovery.
—Beverley Fahey
School Library Journal
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.
Kirkus Reviews
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)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780439199964
  • Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/28/2002
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 22,678
  • Age range: 4 - 8 Years
  • Lexile: AD410L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 12.40 (w) x 10.30 (h) x 0.34 (d)

Meet the Author


Jon J Muth has written and illustrated many enchanting picture books, including his Caldecott Honor Book ZEN SHORTS and its sequel, the NEW YORK TIMES bestselling picture book ZEN TIES. Other beloved titles from Jon include THE THREE QUESTIONS, GERSHON'S MONSTER by Eric Kimmel, and THE CHRISTMAS MAGIC by Lauren Thompson. Muth lives in upstate New York with his wife and five children.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 12 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(9)

4 Star

(2)

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(1)

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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 15, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Moral Lessons

    I absolutely love children's books that have a nice moral message. The story, originally written by Leo Tolstoy is a about a boy who wants to know three important questions. In the end, a wise turtle answers the questions the boy wanted to know. This is beautifully written and the illustrations are beautiful as well. I first seen this book in paperback at a children's library and I enjoyed it so much I had to buy it in hardcover. This would be perfect for children who love to read but I think it is best told when reading it to a child and then discuss it afterward. It is not too long and I think it is perfect for people of all ages, young and old. I enjoy reading the book to my younger nieces and nephews. It's a subtle moral story about life.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2005

    Beautiful Answers To Life's Most Important Questions

    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. Those who enjoy this book might also enjoy another picture book Ruby Lee the Bumble Bee - A Bee's Bit of Wisdom. It concerns a young girl who is uncertain of her abilities. When faced with a challenge, she learns an important life lesson. Books like Ruby Lee the Bumble Bee and The Three Questions are valuable tools in teaching children the importance of developing a strong character.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2009

    Absolutely one of the best!

    I love books that carry a powerful message in a simple way. This book is really for any age, child or adult. I choked up when I first read it to my daughter.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2014

    Poignant !

    I loved this book. It is a bit advanced for young children, but it certainly leaves one with a great deal to think about. Great conversations can develop after reading this book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 8, 2010

    Teaches good lessons

    I was concerned that this might be a little bit over my 7 year old grandson's head, but after reading it together and talking about it, I was pleased to find that he understood the story very well.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2010

    Great story/moral

    Would definetely recommend.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2009

    I had not read it before but heard about it at a leadership conference. Great inspirational book for children.

    I bought this for my daughter who is a high school English teacher. I thought it would help inspire her students. I thought she could use it along the lines of "Oh the places you will go".

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 13, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A good story for learning about yourself and others and what is important in life. Who, when, where.

    I love all of Jon Muth's books. The illustrations are fantastic and artful, and the story lines are imaginative while still teaching life lessons. It is a good book to teach children to help those in need when they need it where ever you may be.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2006

    Tolstoy for Toddlers

    I had read Leo Tolstoy's book concerning the Three Questions a long time ago, and was pleased to see this instalment clearly written for middle school children - perhaps even younger. While the story is written for children in mind, what is more captivating is the extraordinarily lovely series of illustrations that augment the story. The artistic rendering will appeal to many children, and provides much more to consider when the book is read more than once. There is a subtle nature to the illustrations, which work 'hand in glove' with the story. I wish that this was around when my own child was young, as I am sure that this would have become a perennial favourite. I think that the story lends itself to much thoughtful consideration, and conversation with your child. I do very much and heartily recommend this book for anyone with an introspective nature, and/or child.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2004

    An important and beautiful message

    I love this book. And so do my children. It reminds us to slow down, pay attention and the importance of being with and helping others. Should be a classic.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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