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THE THREE QUESTIONS by Jon J Muth Kirkus Star


by Jon J Muth & illustrated by Jon J Muth

Age Range: 6 - 10

Pub Date: April 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-439-19996-4
Publisher: Scholastic

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)