Like a lot of people, I read voraciously in childhood. My mom likes to say that I would read any cereal box in front of me, any newspaper ad. Still, there were some standout books from my early years that I cherish to this day. I thought I’d devote a handful of reviews to some of those books.
The Trumpet of the Swan is an old classic, written by the legendary essayist E.B. White. White is mostly known these days for his contributions to The Elements of Style and for his children’s books. The Trumpet of the Swan tends to be overlooked next to his more popular books, Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. However, neither of them has stuck with me quite like the tale of Louis the swan.
The premise of The Trumpet of the Swan is simple. You might know the story yourself, the book has been around for nearly fifty years. Louis is a young trumpeter swan that was born mute, and struggles to communicate with his family and friends. With the help of a sympathetic human, Sam, Louis learns to play the trumpet, write, and accumulates some notoriety along the way. Louis eventually finds love and tranquility in serene Canadian campgrounds. It’s a heartwarming story to say the least.
The Trumpet of the Swan skews a little older than E.B. White’s other children’s books. It never quite stood the test of time either. Its film adaptation (which I didn’t even know existed until now) was panned critically, and the story as a whole has mostly faded from public eye. True, it’s not flashy, especially compared to the bizarreness of Stuart Little and the pure imagination of Charlotte’s Web. But Louis himself is a captivating character with bold statements of his own.
‘The sky,’ he wrote on his slate, ‘is my living room. The woods are my parlor. The lonely lake is my bath. I can’t remain behind a fence all my life.’
More than anything, it’s White that sells the story. His writing style is reminiscent of A.A. Milne, matter-of-fact and adult, yet unafraid of whimsy. There’s an especially fun scene of Louis exploring a hotel room, ordering room service, and discovering that he doesn’t care for mayonnaise. It’s a simple anecdote but so detailed and captivating that I haven’t forgotten it, all these years later.
If you haven’t read The Trumpet of the Swan, or you’ve forgotten it with time, I urge you to pick it up and delve a little into tranquil nostalgia. Read it to your children, if you have them. Quiet moments are so hard to come by these days, and this book is nothing if not a quiet moment in the midst of a hectic, busy life.