It takes a great deal of patience and understanding to write childrens books. It takes even more to write picture books for children that have a real moral involved. In “The Three Questions”, Caldecott Award winning author and illustrator John J. Muth does exactly that in a beautiful and poetic way. In this story, we meet Nikolai, a boy who believes that he will always have the power to be a good person if he can only find the answers to three questions.
After asking each of his friends – an interesting array of animals – for the answers he seeks he finally comes to a sage old turtle named Leo of whom he asks the three questions: When is the best time to do things?, Who is the most important one? and What is the right thing to do? The beauty in “The Three Questions” is twofold. Not only does Nikolai find the answers to his questions in a sweet and educational way, the lush and sweeping visuals provided by Muth provide a perfect palette in which the reader can become lost. The bigger picture story may be lost on the intended audience for this book (ages 5 to 9) but they will still thoroughly enjoy the story of a young boy who finds contentment and peace by helping others.
This version of “The Three Questions” is based upon the short story of the same title by Leo Tolstoy, whose work never quite appealed to the younger audience as well as he’d probably have liked.