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The Three Questions

Last updated Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Author: Jon Muth
Date of Publication: 2002
ISBN: 0439199964
Grade Level: 3rd    (GLCs: Click here for grade level guidelines.)
Date(s) Used: Jul. 2007

Synopsis: From Publishers Weekly: 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." Moral without being moralistic, the tale sends a simple and direct message unfreighted by pomp or pedantry. Muth's art is as carefully distilled as his prose. A series of misty, evocative watercolors in muted tones suggests the figures and their changing relationships to the landscape. Judicious flashes of color quicken the compositions, as in the red of Nikolai's kite (the kite, released at the end, takes on symbolic value). An afterword describes Tolstoy and his work.

Discussion topics for before reading:
•  What could the three questions be?
•  What would YOUR three questions be? What do you really want to know?
•  Have you ever had a question you wanted answered?
•  Who would you ask? Did you get different answers?
•  Where do you think this story takes place?

Discussion topics for during/after reading:
•  Ask the kids the 3 questions on the second page–When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do?
•  Do you think everyone has the same answer to these questions?
•  After hearing Nikolai’s questions, what do you think the answers are?
•  What do you think of the answers Nikolai receives from Leo at the end of the book? Are they good answers? Would they satisfy you?
•  How are the answers from the animals shaped by who they are or what is happening to them? Example: Bird feels most important person is the one closest to heaven since he can fly there
•  Is there a place you go to think about things?
•  Who would give you the best advice? Your parents? Your friends? Your Grandparents? Why or why not?
•  This story is based on a philosophical work by Leo Tolstoy. What is philosophy? What do philosophers do?

Craft ideas:
•  Write down three questions you would like to know the answer to. Who will you ask for help? What answers do you think they will give?
•  Make a kite out of construction paper and string/yarn. Write their 3 questions on the kite.
•  Draw a monkey and a panda (or any other animal) using the instructions. Cut the animal out and attach it to a stick or rolled up paper to make puppet.
•  Make a turtle mask.
•  Using your animal puppets or turtle mask, answer the 3 questions from the animals' perspective.

*Note: These craft ideas are just suggestions. You can use them, but you don’t have to use them. You can expand upon them, or add your own twist. Remember, though, that the focus of your time should not be on the development and execution of a craft; the focus should be on the read-aloud and the enjoyment of the book!