Since I interviewed one of the authors of this book, Emma Walton Hamilton, here on my blog on Wednesday, it seemed appropriate to share Simeon’s Gift today. In the interview, Emma mentioned that one of the books she and her mother have collaborated on had its origin in a story they wrote together when Emma was just five years old. That book was Simeon’s Gift.


Title: Simeon’s Gift

Authors: Julie Andrews Edwards and Emma Walton Hamilton

Illustrator: Gennady Spirin

Publisher: New York: Harper Collins, 2003.

Genre: Picture book, fiction

Audience Age: Although online booksellers place the age range at 4-8, I would suggest 5 or 6 to at least 10, perhaps 12.

Themes/topics: Music, gifts, talents, finding and expressing one’s talents, looking within oneself rather than to others for affirmation, self-expression, self-actualization

Opening Sentences: A long time ago, when castles and monasteries dotted the land and knights went forth to do brave deeds, when women wove beautiful tapestries and minstrels played for pauper and prince alike, there lived a humble musician named Simeon. Though uneducated and penniless, he was a gentle, nature-loving man, and music was his passion.

Synopsis: Simeon feels that both he and his music are inadequate gifts for Sorrel, the young lady he loves, and so he goes in search of greater gifts. He meets soldiers, monks, all sorts of music-makers in the cacophonous city, but still he is discontent. Lonely and homesick, and despairing of ever understanding music or anything else, he sells his beloved lute for a canoe and provisions, and sets off for home. How will he ever be able to express himself with music now? And how will he ever find a gift worthy of giving to Sorrel?

There is a musicality, a lyricism, in the way this book is written that I find carries me aloft. I’ve often said that my mother taught me to love music, and the music in words – the words of this book sing to me as I read them. I know that the child I used to be would have loved this book. It’s not the sort of “in your face” picture book that is currently in vogue. It is gentler, tenderer. Some of the word choices in this book are delightfully challenging, to help kids ‘read up’ to the vocabulary, something I know both the authors believe very strongly in. (And I want to assure you that if someone other than those two people had written this book, I would still love it.)

Activities/Resources: There are excellent music-related activities chosen specifically to highlight the themes of this book on the website of the Julie Andrews Collection. Note: this is a pdf that does not open in Firefox. However, Safari, Google Chrome, and possibly other browsers work fine with it.

There is an edition of the book available that includes a CD dramatically read by Julie Andrews Edwards, with music throughout by talented musician (composer, pianist, orchestral conductor) Ian Fraser. Fraser’s music acts as illustration as much as do the incredible, delicate watercolors of Gennady Spirin. An excellent activity would be to listen to this CD with children, and then have them explain how the music illustrated, mirrored, added to the text.

(Note: Ian Fraser has also written a symphonic treatment of this story, with lyrics by John Bucchino, and there have been performances with symphony, singers, and narration. The bio linked under Mr. Fraser’s name tells more about this production.)

Availability: Readily available in paperback.

Also available in hardcover with spoken CD.


Every Friday, bloggers join together to share picture book reviews and resources, thanks to author Susanna Leonard Hill’s brainchild, “Perfect Picture Book Fridays.” Susanna then adds the books (and links to the reviews) to a comprehensive listing by subject on her blog. Find the entire listing at her “Perfect Picture Books.”


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