5 December 2011

E. B. White: The Trumpet of the Swan (1970)

The rear inside cover tells us that E. B. White's The Trumpet of the Swan 'was named an ALA Notable Children's Book'. The book has illustrations, a kind of Disney-style anthropomorphism certainly, but the vocabulary isn't particularly simplified, and I suspect many adults (young or otherwise) would really enjoy this tale of an outsider.

The story is about a swan named Louis (as in Armstrong) who is a swan who's mute, which is pretty serious when you're a trumpeter swan. (And there's some technical information about trumpeter swans, so this book is Educational, children, OK?) But Louis has a helper in the form of the human Sam Beaver, an eleven-year-old with a serious interest in wildlife. As you might imagine, Louis is a very smart swan, as smart — if not more — than humans, so eventually he decides that if he can communicate by learning English, it'll be a great advantage for him. We now have a fully literate swan flying back to his parents with a writing slate, but when he falls in love with the swan Serena, he still can't communicate with her.

So his father decides that to make a sound the only thing is to get Louis a trumpet, which he does by flying through the window of a music shop. But by the time Louis is learning to acquire an artificial voice, Serena has flown off. The other problem is Louis's guilt: he must raise money to pay for the stolen trumpet and the broken window. Eventually, having mastered the trumpet, he flies off to a summer camp where he saves a boy's life and is given a medal for it, then he flies to the Boston swan boats in the Public Garden where he makes a lot of money performing for the crowd. And so we have Louis, flying around with a trumpet, a medal, and a purse tied round his neck. Soon, he receives a highly lucrative offer to play a regular spot in a nightclub in Philadephia, and his bulging purse will soon make him a rich swan.

Yes, of course there's eventually a happy ending, and it actually reads much better than I can explain here, so I recommend it. On the back cover, John Updike is quoted as writing in The New York Times 'We are lucky to have this book.' I think so too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree..."we are lucky to have this book!"

Our 10-year old grandson loved it and went on to read Stewart Little. His dad also read Charlotte's Web to him so E.B. White's books became a family event.

We all loved this author. Very nice!