Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Three Questions, Jon J. Muth

Title:  The Three Questions (based on a story by Leo Tolstoy)
Author:  Jon J. Muth
Publisher:  Scholastic Press
Year:  2002
Pages:  32
Genre: Animal Fantasy
Themes:  Morality/Ethics
Age Range:  K-4th Grade 


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." (from Publisher's Weekly)


I am using this book as the children's story during a youth service at my church about "The Big Questions".  While the text is deceptively simple, the concepts behind the story are subtle.  The story has enough action to keep younger children entertained (plus pandas!), but older children will be able to discuss the lesson inherent in the questions that Nikolai poses to his animal friends.  The art is beautiful-understated, but detailed enough to engage a child's interest.  The story is moral without being preachy, and with older students you could compare the original story-which involves Russian politics-with the animal version.  Regardless, it is a lesson worth teaching.

Teacher Resources: 

Learning to Give Lesson Plans
Questioning Lesson


  1. This looks wonderful, and so beautiful. I will put this into my "must-share" reads immediately. Thanks so much for bringing this book to my attention, and thanks for sharing this message with your young students.

  2. I really like your blog! This book looks interesting. I am going to check it out. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. This is a beautiful book with amazing illustrations...a very nice version of the Emperor's original story. I love the book and my 4 year old loves the illustrations although it will take a while before he understands the entire philosophy behind it.