The Trumpet of the Swan

The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White
The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White

So after reading Little Women, which was a challenge, I picked an easier book, one I knew my son would enjoy:  The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White.  Boy, was I glad I did!

We follow a young trumpeter swan named Louis who was born with a “defect”–no voice.  For trumpeter swans, this is serious indeed as swans court females with their voices.  So since Louis can’t speak he decides to learn to read and write.  Then he could communicate with other swans.  Here, he engages the help of his human friend, Sam Beaver.  Sam Beaver is a young boy of eleven who witnesses Louis’ birth on a small lake while he is camping with his father.  He becomes friends with Louis and his family.  So Louis goes with Sam to school.  When Louis returns, he falls for a young swan named Serena.  However, she ignores him because he cannot speak and she cannot read.

Concerned for Louis’s future and wanting to give him everything his heart desires, Louis’s father, known in the book as the cob which is the word for a male swan, steals a trumpet from a music store in Billings, Montana.  He gives it to Louis so that he may woo Serena.  However, knowing the trumpet has been stolen, Louis sets out to earn money to pay for it.  Once again he seeks out his friend, Sam Beaver.

Louis goes to camp with Sam where he works on playing the trumpet and learns songs to play to earn money.  He then goes to Boston and plays there for swan boats.  Then it’s off to the Philadelphia Zoo where Louis plays at a night club.  By the end of his gig, he has earned over $4600, more than enough to pay for the trumpet and the damage to the store when his father crashed through the window to steal the trumpet.  Louis gives the money to his father who takes the money to the store owner.

Now, Louis is debt free and is able to court Serena who falls in love with his trumpet playing.  Louis settles down to a private life, raising his cygnets (baby swans) and living quite happily.  He still sees Sam at the lake where they go camping and at the Philadelphia Zoo where Sam now works and where Louis visits.  Louis still plays his trumpet for his family.

The books ends with Louis settling in for the night, thinking of how “lucky he was to inhabit such a beautiful earth, how lucky he had been to solve his problems with music, and how pleasant it was to look forward to another night of sleep and another day tomorrow, and the fresh morning, and the light that returns with the day.”

Great story.  So many life lessons.  One, repaying debts owed.  Two, friendship.  Three, the simplicity of life.  Four, family obligations.  Five, keeping promises.  Six, following your dreams (Louis’s is to live in the wild, free–“we must all follow a dream”).  Seven, how defects or handicaps or disadvantages shouldn’t hold you back.  Eight, hard work pays off.

The cob tells Louis “There may even be some slight advantage in not being able to say anything.  It compels you to be a good listener.  The world is full of talkers, but it is rare to find anyone who listens.  And I assure you you can pick up more information when you are listening than when you are talking.”

Another life lesson from Louis:  “He needed money badly, and when you need money, you are willing to put up with difficulties and uncertainties.”  Great lesson often forgotten today, especially among our young people.

We finished this book in four days it was so good.  Fast paced.  Funny, especially the cob who talks and talks and talks and his wife, known as the swan, who always puts him back on the right track.  Feel good.  Great story about finding your voice in this world where voices are more often thrust upon us than discovered.

I could go on and on.  Another one:  Louis achieves great fame and is in demand for his talents and skills; yet, he rejects it all for the life he desires.  He only earns enough for his debts and his needs and no more.  The rest will take care of itself.  Great example for us.

This books is personification at its best–totally believable that a swan could learn to read and write and earn money in such a way.  I recommend this book highly.  Younger kids will love the story.  Older kids will get more of the life lessons.  And us writers will be inspired to write.  And adults who aren’t writers will be left with a flutter in their hearts and a sense that life can be just as sweet.

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