The Trumpet of the Swan


The Trumpet of the Swan

E. B. White

HarperCollins Publishers, 1970

Illustrations by Edward Frascino, 1970

This story takes place from several different viewpoints: a boy named Sam, an adult pair of swans (a cob {father} and mother), and the swan’s cygnet (baby) named Louis. It opens with an eleven-year-old Sam spying on a pair of trumpeter swans nesting on a pond in Canada. He follows the progress of the eggs until the cygnets hatch and becomes acquainted with the one called Louis. Meanwhile, the cob and the mother fret over the development of Louis having no voice. As Louis grows, he continues to interact with Sam as well as many other humans. Above all, his desire to have a voice to win the love of his heart’s desire, a female swan named Serena, drives him to have many adventures.

SamOn the day he found the swan’s nest, this is what Sam wrote in his diary: I saw a pair of trumpeter swans today on a small pond east of camp. The female has a nest with eggs in it. I saw three, but I’m going to pit four in the picture—I think she was laying another one. This is the greatest discovery I ever made in my entire life. I did not tell Pop. My bird book says baby swans are called cygnets. I am going back tomorrow to visit the great swans again. pg 5-6

LouisLouis felt so queer one day, he knew he must be in love. and he knew which bird he was in love with. Whenever he swam past her, he could feel his heart beat faster, and his mind was full of thoughts of love and desire. He thought he had never seen such a beautiful young female swan. She was a trifle smaller than the others, and she seemed to have a more graceful neck and more attractive ways than any of his other friends on the lake. Her name was Serena. He wished he could do something to attract her attention. He wanted her for his mate bus was unable to tell her so because he couldn’t make a sound. Pg 71

Cob & his Wife

“My dear,” said her husband, the cob, one afternoon, “do you never find your duties onerous or irksome? Do you never tire of sitting in one place and in one position covering the eggs , with no diversions, no pleasures, no escapades, or capers? Do you never suffer from boredom?”
“No,” replied his wife. “Not really.”
“Isn’t it uncomfortable to sit on eggs?”
“Yes, it is,” replied the wife. “But I can put up with a certain amount of discomfort for the sake of bringing young swans into the world.” Pg 19


Even though the book was written in 1970, its feels like it was written in the 1940s or 1950s because of the author’s style. But maybe it is just the sense of wonder and childlike innocence he is attempting (very successfully, I might add) to convey. It may have been originally written for ages 7 thru 9 but the story is really geared for ages 4-6. The superfluous writing style is a bit much for the younger reader but it would make a wonderful read-aloud book. 

The main criticism I have is the way everyone – humans and swans alike – talk about Louis’ inability to speak. The characters repeatedly say Louis has a ‘defect’ or he is ‘defective’. That just seems way too harsh to my ears. However, in the social climate of the late 1960s to early 1970s I’m sure it was considered normal to speak of someone with a disability in this manner. I guess today we would say he is ‘challenged’ or ‘differently-abled’ and I don’t know if that is any better.

The story ended well, **Spoiler Alert** Louis did get the girl-swan, his father was able to pay his debt, and everyone, human and swan lived happily ever after. I enjoyed it and will probably read it again one day.


bobbiesue headshot



bobbiesue pawbobbiesue pawbobbiesue paw





The Trumpet of the Swan won the following awards: 1973 William Allen White Children’s Book Award and 1973 Sequoyah Children’s Book Award.

Courtesy Goodreads

In the Words of E. B. White

E.B. White
born    in Mount Vernon, NY, The United States July 11, 1899
died   October 01, 1985

Elwyn Brooks White was a leading American essayist, author, humorist, poet and literary stylist and author of such beloved children’s classics as Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan. He graduated from Cornell University in 1921 and, five or six years later, joined the staff of The New Yorker magazine. He authored over seventeen books of prose and poetry and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1973. 
White always said that he found writing difficult and bad for one’s disposition.



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