Simeon’s Gift — Perfect Picture Book Friday


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.”


29 thoughts on “Simeon’s Gift — Perfect Picture Book Friday”

    1. Oops! Great minds think alike — especially when the people have hosted the author during the same week! But if it’s happened to you as well, at least we’re in good company.

      I think you’d like this book, too, Erik!

  1. What an excellent choice for PPBF. I like this part of what you said the most: “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.”

  2. This book sounds WONDERFUL Beth! It reminds me a little of both The Kings’s Equal ( a longer PB for older readers by Katherine Paterson) and The Search For Delicious (a middle-grade novel my Natalie Babbit which is one of my absolute favorite books of all time and if you haven’t read it I think you would love it!) Thanks so much for adding this delightful book to our list. I love PBs that are great for a slightly older readership!

    1. Ooooh, I must find both those books! Thank you!

      And not surprisingly, Julie and I had the same thought for today’s PPBF pick. Sigh.

  3. Two reviews — great minds think a like. Lovely review. One of my favorites because of the history behind it with Emma. As you know I saw the premier of Simeon’s Gift with Julie Andrews narrating it in 2008. It was magical! Never in my wildest dreams did I know that I’d be working with Emma two years later. Love the beautiful artwork of Gennady Spirin.

    1. I love this book, and I love the story behind it of the little Emma and her Mom.

      I so wish I could have seen The Gift of Music, and with it, Simeon’s Gift. I thought about going to London in 2010, but was reluctant to leave my parents at that stage of their lives. I will forever regret not having been there.

  4. I had never heard of this book and now I’ve heard about it twice in one day. *smile* I think that means I need to buy it. It sounds wonderful, Beth! Thanks for sharing it with me. I love to learn from books like this. 🙂

    1. I’m quite sure that’s what it means, Robyn! I’m sure you’ll enjoy it — hope you’re able to get the version with Julie’s CD, her reading is magical and Fraser’s score is amazing.

  5. I love this book and have the CD also. I saw the premier of this in Sag Harbor, Long Is. (met Julie and Emma the next day -briefly), it was beautifully done. To think, I had thought of reviewing this

    1. It’s a good sign when so many of us had it on our list of books to review on PPBF! Proof positive that it’s a lovely book.

  6. Sprin’s beautiful ornate artwork really enhances this enchanting story. I too enjoy the CD of it. It had also been on my to review for PPPF list – glad it has been beautifully reviewed her and by Julie!.

    1. Thanks, Stacy. Yes, I think it’s something for kids to grow into. It reminds me of fables and fairytales that still hold magic.

  7. I agree that this sound like more of an upper-elementary book. But it sure does sound beautiful. I think I’ll have to read it on my own, since it’s beyond the boys right now. Thanks Beth!

  8. I long for books like this. So thank you for this recommendation. I’m excited to read this book. The manner in which it is described as a book with gentler, tenderer, and lyrical sensibilities has me 100% interested in getting it as soon as I can. By the way, just this week, I asked a question on Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog that emphasizes, as you put it, “reading up” to children. Wow, your spirit of discernment in fine working condition, Beth.

    1. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, Pam! And I saw your question on Susanna’s blog — we’re obviously thinking in sync! Julie and Emma often talk about writing so that kids need to “read up” to the vocabulary. I appreciate that so much. Thank you!

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