cover image SIMEON'S GIFT


Julie Andrews Edwards, Emma Walton Hamilton, , illus. by Gennady Spirin. . HarperCollins/Julie Andrews Collection, $16.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-06-008914-6

While celebrity power and the packaged CD of the famed entertainer reading the text may spur sales for this book, it is Spirin's (The Tale of the Firebird ) work that merits the kudos. Paying homage to the Italian Renaissance, his watercolors are simply exquisite, as is the book design. Set like jewels on a thin necklace of gold lines, oval details of larger paintings border the text. Other pages feature lush landscapes with the text centered on a white moon of space, with the reverse layout (circular image on white ground) opposite on the right. However, the story is fairly pedestrian. Simeon, a penniless lute-player, leaves his noble ladylove because he wants "to free the music he was certain lay deep in his soul." When he returns, he brings her a quasi-magical fish, bird and fawn, as well as a song he has composed himself. Unfortunately, the mother-daughter team (the Dumpy the Dump Truck series) never develops a music of its own. The text is a pastiche of abstractions about a character with a "heavy heart," despondent because he is so "overwhelmed and unable to make sense of the discord in his head." As a result, Simeon often seems more like a sighing medieval slacker in search of focus than a hero, and makes the ending moral—"that a true and brave heart can find a way, if it will only trust in all the wonders under God's canopy"—seem hollow. Ages 5-9. (Oct.)