PB Pair: Julie Andrews and her unforgettable voice

Today I want to share a lovely picture book pairing: one is a nonfiction biography and the other is a fictional tale written by the subject of the biography and her daughter. Who else could it be but the amazing and multitalented Dame Julie Andrews!

In SONG AFTER SONG: THE MUSICAL LIFE OF JULIE ANDREWS, author Julie Hedlund and illustrator Illaria Urbinati capture the early life of Julie Andrews. It shows how Julie grew up amid her parents’ divorce and the devastation of WWII. Her mother and stepfather were both musicians, and Julie found comfort in music during the war.

I admire how Hedlund’s text is as lyrical as Andrews’ voice. Check out the line in the spread above: “Julie struggled to find harmony in her new life. Instead of a steady rhythm, Julie heard the staccato sound of bombs dropping on the streets, forcing her to flee with her mother and Ted to the shelter of a nearby Underground station.” Hedlund’s word choices also reinforce the musical theme of the book, and Urbinati’s art evokes both Julie’s heartache and her passion.

Julie’s stepfather, Ted, taught her to sing and later turned over her musical education to Madame Lilian Stiles-Allen, under whose care Julie flourished and found joy and purpose in her voice. Hedlund, an ardent fan of Julie’s, says in her Author’s Note that she was “devastated” to learn that Julie had lost her singing voice after a throat surgery in 1997, and that she “couldn’t imagine the world deprived of Julie’s [voice].” Although Julie Andrews no longer sings, we are lucky that she still shares her voice with us through her acting roles and her books.

Now Julie is the author of over thirty books for children! In THE ENCHANTED SYMPHONY, we experience Julie’s voice through her own words as well as those of her daughter, co-author Emma Walton Hamilton, and the intricate artwork of illustrator Elly MacKay. (You really need to check out the artwork–MacKay uses cut paper which she then uses to create 3-dimensional scenes, which she then photographs. It’s stunning.)

From the publisher’s description: “When a lively village is beset by a mysterious fog, the town turns dull and silent; melancholy neighbors stop visiting each other and even going outside. Until one day, when a boy’s simple melody strikes a chord, reminding everyone of what matters most—even in the darkest of times.” The authors say that they wrote the book during the pandemic after seeing photos and videos of an Italian quartet playing music to a theater full of plants. They didn’t want the story to be specifically about the pandemic, so they came up with the idea of a thick purple fog that creeps in and eventually envelops the entire village. “Trees and flowers began to wilt. Birds no longer sang, and the sun, moon, and stars disappeared from view. People grew listless and dispirited. They stopped visiting with one another, or even going outside, and the town grew silent.”

Piccolino’s father is the maestro of the town’s orchestra and the two continue to clean the opera house despite the fog. Piccolino plays a few notes on the piano and discovers that the plants seem a little perkier. From there, father and son gather all the townsfolk’s plants and musicians together for a concert. Plants, people’s spirits, and then the fog all begin to lift.

THE ENCHANTED SYMPHONY is a reminder to all of us about what is important. In their Author’s Note, Julie and Emma write, “While our purple fog may evoke the pandemic, to us, it symbolizes something larger: the creeping distractions that can prevent us from appreciating all that matter most. Which, for us, has always been family, community, nature, and the arts.” Read (and listen!) to an interview with Julie Andrews, Emma Walton Hamilton, and Elly MacKay on NPR here. There’s also a photo of how Elly created the artwork for this book.

I love how these two books, when experienced together, give readers deeper insight into Julie Andrew’s life as well as show how art — whether music, literature, or illustrations — can sustain us through the darkest of times.

Julie Hedlund is the award-winning children’s picture book author of Over, Bear! Under, Where? She spends much of her time inside her own imagination, and when not writing or reading, she enjoys playing in the mountains near her home in Boulder, Colorado. She lives with her two teenage children and their high-maintenance hound dog. You can find out more about Julie at juliehedlund.com or follow her on Twitter and IG at @juliefhedlund.

Ilaria Urbinati is an illustrator based in Turin, Italy. She began her career as character designer and colorist for animated television series, before working as a freelance illustrator creating books, apps, and advertisements. Ilaria’s previous book with Little Bee Books, Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit and Books by Horseback: A Librarian’s Brave Journey to Deliver Books to Children, have received great acclaim. Ilaria is also a Professor at IADA University teaching Illustration and visual development. Learn more at ilariaurbinati.com or follow her on IG at @ilaria_urbinati.

Julie Andrews has been a cherished star of stage, screen, and TV for more than half a century. Her many beloved roles include characters in Mary Poppins, The Sound of MusicThe Princess Diaries, and recently, the voice of Lady Whistledown on Bridgerton. Not only a Golden Globe, Emmy, and Oscar winner, Andrews is also a bestselling author. She has dedicated her life to important causes, such as Operation USA, an international relief organization, and received her honors as a Dame of the British Empire by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on New Year’s Eve 1999. Her IG is @julieandrews.

Emma Walton Hamilton is an award-winning writer, producer, and arts educator. She has coauthored more than 30 children’s books with her mother, Julie Andrews, eight of which have been on the New York Times bestseller list. She was nominated for two Emmys for the children’s TV show Julie’s Greenroom, and she is a Grammy Award–winning voice-over artist for audiobooks. She is also a faculty member for Stony Brook University, where she serves as director of the Children’s Lit Fellows program and the annual Southampton Children’s Literature Conference. Find her at https://emmawaltonhamilton.com and on IG at @ewhamilton.

Elly MacKay is an internationally recognized paper artist and children’s book creator. She is the illustrator of the picture book Too Early and author-illustrator of Red Sky at NightIf You Hold a Seed, and Butterfly Park, among others. The distinctive three-dimensional quality in her works is made by setting up layers of painted paper in a miniature theater. She lights the scene and photographs it to create her unique illustrations. MacKay lives in Owen Sound, Ontario, with her family. Visit her at https://www.theaterclouds.com or follow on IG at @elly.mackay.

Andrea Wang

Andrea Wang is an acclaimed author of children’s books. Her book Watercress was awarded the Caldecott Medal, a Newbery Honor, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, and a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor. Her other books, The Many Meanings of Meilan, Magic Ramen, and The Nian Monster, have also received awards and starred reviews. Her work explores culture, creative thinking, and identity. Andrea holds an M.S. in Environmental Science and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing for Young People. She lives in Colorado with her family and pandemic pup, Tupelo.


  1. Julie Andrews is so very inspiring. It’s hard to write about music well, so here we have not one, but two beautiful books! Thank you.

  2. Thanks for sharing these beautiful books!

  3. Thanks, Andrea, for this nice pairing. Julie Hedlund generously shared the story of her book’s publication in a 12×12 interview. So much went into it, and it was edifying to be reminded that flexibility and determination are as important as artistry on the author’s road. Looking forward to finally reading it!

  4. Such a wonderful post for two lovely books! Thank you.

  5. This post is a ray of sunshine on a gloomy winter morning! Thank you for sharing both books, the artists, and, of course, more about the wonderful Julie Andrews.

  6. Enjoyed learning more about these two books and their multi-talented creators. Thanks so much, Andrea.

  7. These are great! Congratulations all around!

  8. Beautiful books so gorgeously written!

  9. These. Two books are a lovely pair. So full of colour and song!

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