Written by Julie Andrews Edwards and Emma Walton Hamilton, Illustrated by Gennady Spirin
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.
What made this author famous? Dame Julie Andrews is an Oscar, Grammy and Emmy-winning stage and film actress, singer, dancer and theatre director.
Simeon falls in love with a noblewoman named Sorrel, but doesn’t feel worthy of her love because he is uneducated and poor. In order to improve his station in life, he travels the world in search of new musical inspiration that might enable him to start writing his own songs and he promises to return with gifts worthy of her beauty. He happens upon some soldiers and joins their company for a while, listening to their drums. He spends some time at an abbey, admiring their harmonized chanting. He continues on to a large city, full of all sorts of new sounds. But instead of being inspired by them, they make him feel more small and insignificant than ever. So he trades his lute for a canoe and makes a sail from his shirt to sail home to Sorrel.
On his way home, he shares some of his food with a bird, who continues to fly alongside his boat. The bird’s song soothes his troubled mind. Simeon sees some fishermen who have caught a beautiful pink and golden fish and, sad to think of the fish ending up as a meal, he trades all of the fruit and vegetables he had brought with him for the fish. He continues on his way and the fish swims beside him on his journey. He makes a flute from a reed and starts to play on it, inspired by the song of the bird, the splashing of the fish and the sounds all around the riverbank. He sees a limping fawn on the shore and goes to help her, removing a pebble from her hoof. She joins them and her hooves provide a drumbeat for his music. When he arrives home, Sorrel is overjoyed to see him and his new companions. He begins to play the song that has been coming together in his head and it’s wonderful. He becomes a respected musician and lives a long and happy life with Sorrel by his side.
In addition to being a very accomplished stage and screen performer, author Julie Andrews Edwards has written more than 30 books, including the Dumpy the Dump Truck and Very Fairy Princess series of books, both of which were also collaborations with her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton. The book comes with a CD of the story as read by the author. Sadly, my copy came from the library and the CD was missing, so I couldn’t enjoy hearing it in her lovely voice, which I’m sure I would have enjoyed. The story, as you may infer from the plot summary above, is lengthy and takes extra time to read. I felt that it did drag in some places and I fear that very young children could lose interest in the story fairly early on. Gennady Spirin’s beautiful illustrations capture the story’s medieval setting perfectly, with all the wardrobe, architecture and details of the best Renaissance paintings. He is the ideal illustrator for a story like this one.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that the inspiration to create is all around you if you can drown out the rest of the world’s noise to focus on it.