The Trumpet of the Swan

Having looked at how birds speak to each other, I thought it would be pertinent to consider a bird who lacks the ability to sing.

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The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B White is a tale of a swan, Louis, who is born without a voice, something which his father sees as a tragedy.  This heart warming tale of swans and disability was just the thing I needed to read this Christmas.  It is marketed to children aged 8 to 12 but was perfect for my reduced concentration levels.  And I do find that “children’s books” can be engaging and inspiring whatever your age.

Published in 1970 and set in Canada in 1968, the story alternates perspectives from Sam, a young boy, Louis’ parents and Louis.  Very different to Tarka the Otter, this story casts an anthropomorphic lens over the bird community.  We read conversations between the birds, read Louis’ thoughts and see the species barrier between swans and humans overcome through honks and gestures.

“There are five cygnets.  They are sort of a dirty brownish-grey colour, but very cute.  Their legs are yellow, like mustard.  The old cob led them right up to me.  I wasn’t expecting this, but I kept very still. Four of the babies said beep.  The fifth one tried to, but he couldn’t.  He tool hold of my shoelace as though it was a worm and gave it a tug and untied it.”
– Sam’s diary

I wish my diaries had been more like Sam’s when I was 11 instead of the generic comments about going to school or who I had played with at lunch!

“Louis had an idea.  He decided that since he was unable to use his voice, he should learn to read and write.  ‘If I’m defective* in one respect,’ he said to himself, ‘I should try and develop myself along other lines.  I will learn to read and write. Then I will hang a small slate around my neck and carry a chalk pencil.”

*for context, Louis’ dad has already made it clear that he thinks Louis is defective and language around disability has changed rapidly since the book was written.

I don’t want to spoil the story so I won’t say much more about it but it is a happy tale, a nice one for a winters afternoon.

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