I love unexpected treasures found in the form of books in our local children's section at the library. After we gather our heavy weekly collection, some chosen by my children, some by myself, we haul our sturdy wool library bag over to the self-checkout and line up our cards. The majority of the time we haven't read any of the titles in our bag, but the gems are still quietly lined up waiting to be seen and heard aloud.
This book, The Three Questions, was one I had picked up because I thought the cover looked thoughtful, and I was intrigued by the subtitle which is "Based on a story by Leo Tolstoy". Leo Tolstoy is a famous Russian writer who is known for his gigantic books like "Anna Karenina" and "War and Peace". His books are classic stories of the human condition, and I really wondered how a children's book was going to turn out with a subtitle like that!
The story is quiet and somber in tone and a very philosophical book for young children. As I read it to my own kids, I don't know that they had a good grip on the ending moral of the story, but I certainly thought it was a very worthwhile book. I hadn't even noticed who the author was before I started reading it, but Jon Muth is the author and illustrator behind the Zen Shorts collection, which are also beautiful, bright in color, and have excellent side-stories to help children understand emotion and challenging concepts. The Three Questions no doubt aligns itself perfectly on the shelf next to these books.
The plot is simple and fluid, whereas a young boy, Nikolai asks three very challenging questions to his friends Dog, Monkey, and Heron. His questions, to become a better person, are the following: "When is the best time to do things?; Who is the most important one?; What is the right thing to do?". His three friends answer these questions in very different ways, each with their own personality bent. He finally finds his answer by talking to tortoise, and taking action with a panda family. A valuable lesson is learned by Nikolai and the listeners alike, as we realize we make things harder than they need to be. This beautiful book, illustrated with water colors throughout, is definitely worthy of your next stop at the library.