This Bird Can Bugle

first published 2002

The Trumpet of the Swan

The Trumpet of the Swan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Louis is a Trumpeter Swan, a species of bird renowned for their majestic proportions and distinctive loud cries of “Ko-hoh!” And yet Louis is born mute, which makes it difficult for him to communicate with his fellow swans, and renders his prospects for finding a mate rather bleak.  Now most authors would stop there and churn out an “inspiring” story about how because of his pure heart and good character, Louis is accepted by his fellow swans despite his disability. But not E.B. White, the author of such classic children’s books as Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little (from which the popular movie was based).  He has a lot more fun with the narrative, and so do we, his grateful readers.  To those familiar with his other works, The Trumpet of the Swan (Harper Trophy paperback edition, available from National Bookstore) is not as poignant as Charlotte’s Web and doesn’t have as many thrills as Stuart Little. What it does have going for it is a truly magnificent depiction of the North American wilderness. Trumpeter swans are described in brilliantly evocative passages wherein you really get a sense of the remarkable beauty of these wild animals and their natural environs. This is especially great for city kids who only get to encounter such creatures and places in books.  Country kids are not neglected as Louis manages to sign up for a few trumpeting engagements in big cities; and he even gets to stay at the Ritz-Carlton.  Another surprising aspect of the book is its rather frank depiction of swan mating rituals, which I will not go into in any more detail.

There are no villains in this book. The token incredulous adults and ornery kids are quite easily reasoned with and pose no great danger to our hero.  The other characters may at first find it unusual for a swan to be able to read, write, and play the trumpet, but never are  Louis’  abilities  thought of as ridiculous and nobody  remains stubbornly unconvinced.  The story’s main conflict really is with how Louis copes and ultimately triumphs over his “speech defect” (as the author so charmingly refers to his being mute.)  Of the book’s supporting cast, Louis’ dad is especially winning.  In this character the author manages to combine the fierce affection of a protective father, the preening haughtiness of a regal swan, and the awe-inspiring magnificence of an untamed creature.  Now is exactly the right time to go and read this literary gem, as it has just been lovingly adapted into a polished animated feature film.  Presented by Tristar Pictures, the movie features the vocal talents of popular Hollywood stars such as Reese Witherspoon as Louis’ lady love Serena, Mary Steenburgen and Jason Alexander as his parents, and Seth Green.  As proven by the widely-recognized classic cartoon Charlotte’s Web, which was also richly animated, and the whiz-bang computer-generated-imagery packed Stuart Little, it is always a wonderful treat for anyone to see E.B. White’s endearing characters come to life on screen.

Cover of "The Trumpet of the Swan"

Cover of The Trumpet of the Swan

One may be easily misled by the book’s title and first few paragraphs, which can lull one into thinking that it might resemble a lyrical but tedious National Geographic feature. On the contrary, the book’s prose is expressive yet far from dull. Grand but fun is how one may best describe E.B. White’s writing.  He even throws in a few puns that only grown-up music enthusiasts may catch.  This Harper Trophy volume is a lovely rendition of the book; the attractive typeface alone makes for very pleasant reading. Much praise should be bestowed upon award-winning artist Fred Marcellino’s charming and cheeky illustrations. They add considerable magic to the narrative, and by themselves are enough to make one grin or giggle.  To be honest, ever mindful of the author’s propensity for semi-tragic events, I was a bit on edge reading Trumpet.  At the back of my mind I couldn’t prevent myself from constantly looking out for any possible calamity befalling the characters.  With great relief, the book disappointed me in this respect as no great disaster occurs. The story, while not 100% tension-free, thankfully  possesses a complete lack of gloom. You will finish The Trumpet of the Swan smiling, with nary a sniffle. It is this cheering, soothing quality of the story which guarantees that before long, your child’s copy will be dog-eared, spine-scarred, and as battered and worn as a favorite toy; which I wholeheartedly believe is the best review any well-read kid can give a book.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved

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