When you hear the name Julie Andrews, you're likely to think Sound of Music. And, in fact, "the sounds of music" play an important role in Simeon's Gift, a beautiful new picture book by Andrews and her daughter, Emma Watson Hamilton.

Andrews and Hamilton set their story in classic fairy-tale land. Russian-born artist Gennady Spirin sprinkles the endpapers with tiny watercolor depictions of castles, kings and queens, harps and other musical instruments, setting the stage for this magical tale. The hero, Simeon, is a humble musician who loves a noble lady named Sorrel. Setting out on a lonely quest in hopes of improving his lowly status, Simeon hopes to experience the world. He is determined to find a way to create his own songs and to free the music deep in his soul. Using a delicate, Renaissance style, artist Spirin depicts Simeon dreaming under the moon with his lute in an exquisite landscape.

Of course, a quest wouldn't be complete without adventures. In this case, Simeon's journey is peppered with encounters of a musical sort: he experiences the powerful drumming of a group of soldiers, the harmonic chanting of monks in an abbey, the melodic language of a poet, and the rich diversity of sounds in a big, noisy city.

Yet, realizing his own ignorance, all these encounters only fill him with despair. Discouraged, Simeon feels that music has deserted him, and that he has lost his way. Abandoning his quest, he trades his lute for a canoe and some food, and sets out for his village and his beloved Sorrel. Along the way, Simeon befriends a bird, a fish and a fawn, whose singing, splashing and hoofbeats inspire him to make a flute from a reed. Little by little, the healing powers of nature help Simeon rediscover the gift of music he can offer the world.

Graced by lavish illustrations that give the story a magical, romantic setting, the book also includes a CD with a reading by Julie Andrews herself. Simeon's Gift is part of the Julie Andrews Collection, books for young readers designed to "nurture the imagination and celebrate a sense of wonder." Simeon's Gift does just that.

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