The Three Questions Book Review

It’s Book Sharing Monday from Smiling Like Sunshine! We read a lot of books in this family and I love hearing from other parents when they come across a book that their kids liked. So, I’m going to be adding weekly posts about books that my kids recommend. Feel free to share any you’ve come across that might be a nice complement to the one I’m reviewing
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The Three Questions [Based on a story by Leo Tolstoy]

Cover of "The Three Questions [Based on a...

The Three Questions

by Jon J. Muth

I vaguely remember reading the original Tolstoy short story in college and found it to be plodding and heavy-handed, but that was my rebellious, immature self. I did adore his novel-lengths works.  If I ever decide to delve into Russian lit again, I may have a different reaction. But, I share this with you as it may color this review.

The Three Questions tells the story of a boy, named Nikolai, and his three questions,

  1. When is the best time to do things?
  2. Who is the most important one?
  3. What is the right thing to do?

First, Nikolai asks his questions of his friends, Sonya the Heron, Gogol the Monkey, and Pushkin the Dog. Their answers are centered around their specific worldview and are dissatisfying for Nikolai. So, he climbs a mountain to ask the the wise old turtle, Leo. Nikolai ask his questions, but puts them aside as he sees Leo is struggling to dig in his garden. He takes over digging in the garden to help Leo.

Then, a storm blows in and Nikolai rushes to help an injured panda. He carries her from the woods to Leo’s house, where he warms her and tends her leg. When she wakes, she cries for her baby and Leo rushes back to the woods to bring the baby panda back to the warm safety of his mother. The pandas are happy and Leo has been helped.

Nikolai feels at peace, even though he has not found the answers to his three questions. Then, Leo points out that Nikolai’s actions gave him the answers to his questions on their own:

  1. When is the best time to do things? Answer: Now.
  2. Who is the most important one? Answer: The one you are with.
  3. What is the right thing to do? Answer: To do good for the one you are with.

At the end, Leo says, “This is why we are here.”

I agree with the central message of this book and it sparked some interesting discussions with my sons about the three questions and what is the right thing to do. I found it interesting that the message Nat wanted driven home to me was that I would be doing the right thing by giving him everything he wants right now. We may disagree over the word “need” versus “want.” But, in essence, he is correct.

Having a yogini mother, they’ve heard about being present, that now is the only reality, and how relationships with others are our reasons for living lets say, a few times. They were familiar with the central themes enough that it held their interest a few times. But, it hasn’t been a highly requested book compared to the series by Muth with Stillwater.

When I checked this out from the library, I didn’t realize it was another Jon J. Muth book until the page with the panda illustration. I recognized his hand from the Zen Ties series with Stillwater the panda. Sadly, I found most of the illustrations in this book to be too washed out to impress my sons. They noticed the pops of color, such as the red kite and the darkness on the page with the storm in the forest.

I do think this book is worth checking out from the library to see whether your children will connect with it. I also suggest Jon Muth’s other books highly. My kids especially enjoyed Zen Ties which has a very similar message to this book (including the red motif.)

Activities to create with this book:

  • Spoken Arts Video has this PDF with activities and questions for the K-5 crowd based on their video version of the book. I think it’s a little advanced for the younger elementary-aged student, but the activities are inspired. We did the “line down the middle” activity and found it enjoyable. My kids were less interested in the other activities.
  • Look at the Richard Scary “Busy Town” books and discuss their jobs, relationships, and how they help (or don’t help) one another. My kids loved doing this. We made up stories together about the pictures with them providing huge imaginations and me gently steering back toward the three questions.
  • Discuss with your children the idea of people or animals who are in need. Brainstorm about different ways to help those less fortunate. Write down every idea, no matter how far-fetched or untenable. The point is to get them in the mode of thinking about what might help. Follow through on whatever cause is workable for your family (for us, it meant dropping off towels, blankets, and old medicines at the local animal shelter.)
  • Have a “Help Out” day when you ask your kids for help with all sorts of fun activities like creating huge bubbles in the sink or fingerpainting rocks. Be present with one another as you enjoy “helping out” in creating something tactile and fun.
  • Make a red kite like Nikolai’s in the book and go fly it!

Have you read any good books lately? I’d love to hear from you.

NaBloPoMo 2011

9 thoughts on “The Three Questions Book Review

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