the three questions

On Our Bookshelves — The Three Questions

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ON OUR BOOKSHELVES

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BOOK: The Three Questions

AUTHOR: Jon J Muth

YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 2002

REVIEW:

A friend’s son recently had an eighth birthday, and to celebrate, his mother visited his classroom to read a favorite story. I was gratified to know that they chose The Three Questions to share, as I’d given it to him as a gift when he was a newborn.

I’ve given The Three Questions to many babies over the years, since I think it is an important book for young people to have in their libraries. Based on a short story by Tolstoy, also called “The Three Questions,” it takes some liberties with the original plot, which involves a king seeking wisdom from a hermit, but its essence is quite similar, with the parable appropriately and gently changed for young readers.

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The main character, the boy Nikolai, is also seeking wisdom, trying to determine the right way to act, to be a good person. He asks his friends (and as it’s a children’s story, they are a heron, a monkey, and a dog) for answers to his three questions: “When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do?” and receives various contradictory and unsatisfactory answers. Like the king in the original, he seeks out someone reputed to be wise, in this instance, a solitary old turtle by the name of Leo (Tolstoy’s first name, in a tribute to the originator of the tale).

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Nikolai’s journey up to the mountain to visit the old turtle and the adventures he has there (some of which involve a baby panda in distress) teach him some important life lessons, but it takes the wisdom of Leo to put into words just how his questions were ultimately answered:

“Remember then that 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. For these, my dear boy, are the answers to what is most important in this world.”

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The story is lovely, the illustrations (beautiful watercolors, also by Muth) are sweet, and the lesson of compassion is one for all ages. All babies should get a copy of this book. I can only imagine how much better the world would be if each of us took its lessons to heart.

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RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best: 5 Whistles

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HOW TO PURCHASE: Amazon

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Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com.

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Lead-In Image Courtesy of Scholastic

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