It’s time once again to remember The Three Questions by Jon J. Muth.
Muth took a short story written by Leo Tolstoy and reworked it with animal characters to appeal to children. In the book, a boy named Nikolai goes on a journey to seek answers to three BIG LIFE questions:
- “When is the best time to do things?”
- “Who is the most important one?”
- “What is the right thing to do?”
His steps lead him to encounters with a heron, a monkey and a dog. Each of these characters answers the questions in way that reflects personal biases. The heron suggests the best time to do things is after everything has been planned in advance. The dog believes the most important one is the one who makes the rules, and the monkey knows the right thing to do is to have fun all the time.
Not satisfied, Nikolai climbs a high mountain to seek the answers to his questions from a wise old turtle.
When he reaches the top of the mountain, he finds the wise, old turtle digging a garden. Wanting his full attention and knowing that a young boy digs much faster than an old turtle, Nikolai takes the shovel and finishes turning over the hard soil.
When he is leaning on his shovel after the last shovel full of dirt, he hears a cry for help coming to him out of the windblown forest. He follows the sound and finds a panda knocked out by a fallen tree. Nikolai rescues her and takes her to the turtle’s house to get warm.
When the panda wakes up, she asks, “Where is my child?” Alarmed, Nikolai runs back to the forest where he finds the baby panda, shivering and alone.
Before Nikolai departs, he and the wise old turtle reflect on the answers the boy has found.
- “There is only one important time, and that time is now.”
- “The most important one is always the one you are with.”
- “The most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side.”
Tolstoy sure was one wise old turtle.