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The Trumpet of the Swan

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The Trumpet of the Swan
Trumpet of the Swan Cover.jpeg
First edition
Author E. B. White
Illustrator Edward Frascino
Fred Marcellino (2000 edition)
Country United States
Language English
Genre Children's novel
Publisher Harper & Row (US)
Hamish Hamilton (UK)
Publication date
Media type Print
(hardback and paperback)
ISBN 0-06-440048-4

The Trumpet of the Swan is a children's novel by E.B. White published in 1970. It tells the story of Louis (pronounced "LOO-ee" by the author in the audiobook), a trumpeter swan born without a voice and trying to overcome it by learning to play a trumpet, trying to impress a beautiful swan named Serena.

Plot summary[edit]

In Canada in the spring of 1968, the cob, the name for an adult male swan, and the pen, the name for an adult female swan, both members of the swan species trumpeter swan build their summer nest on a small island in a pond. Sam Beaver, an 11-year-old boy on a camping trip with his father, observes them. He saves the female from being attacked by a fox. The swans begin to trust him. Sam gets to see their five eggs hatch. All of the cygnets chirp at Sam in greeting, except for the youngest, who can make no sound and pulls his shoelace instead.

The cygnets' parents are increasingly concerned about their youngest son, Louis, who turns out to be mute. They worry that when he grows up, he will not be able to find a mate if he cannot trumpet like all the other swans. Louis's father promises to find a way for him to communicate. At the end of summer, the swan family flies to the winter refuge, Red Rock Lakes in Montana. Louis decides he should learn to read and write in order to communicate, and flies away from the refuge. Because Sam Beaver lives nearby, he happily takes his swan friend to school with him the next morning. Louis turns out to be a natural at reading and writing, and Sam buys him a portable blackboard and chalk so he can communicate.

Unfortunately, because the other swans cannot read, Louis is still lonely when he returns to the Red Rock Lakes. He falls in love with a young swan, Serena, but cannot attract her attention. Louis's father flies to a music store in Billings, Montana, crashes through the window, and steals a brass trumpet on a cord to give to his son. Louis feels guilty about his father's theft, but accepts the instrument. Serena has migrated north and he also has a debt to pay, so Louis returns to Sam's ranch. Sam suggests that Louis get a job so he can pay the store for the trumpet and the damaged window, and Louis finds a position as camp bugler at Camp Kookooskoos, the boys' camp Sam attends.

Louis plays taps, reveille, and mess call, and composes a love song for Serena. He convinces Sam to split one of his webbed feet with a razor blade, making "fingers," so he can play more notes. He also rescues Applegate Skinner, an unpopular camper who nearly drowns. At the end of summer, Louis receives the Lifesaving Medal, a waterproof moneybag, and $100. Sam suggests that Louis get a job with the Swan Boats in Boston. He flies across country and becomes an instant success, with a salary of $100 per week. He even stays in the Ritz Hotel.

A Philadelphia nightclub offers Louis a higher salary, $500 per week. He leaves Boston and takes up residence at the Philadelphia Zoo. The zookeeper promises that Louis will not be pinioned (have a wing tip cut off to prevent escape) like all the other swans at the zoo. One windy night, Serena, blown off course, falls into Bird Lake. Louis serenades her with his trumpet, and she finally notices him. But when the zookeepers spot Serena, they try to clip her wings, and Louis attacks them. He convinces the Head Man to postpone the operation for a short while, and sends a telegram to Sam, asking for help. Sam goes to Philadelphia and strikes a deal with the Head Man: in every litter of cygnets there is always one that needs special care and protection, and if Louis is willing to donate an occasional cygnet to the zoo, the Head Man will let Louis and Serena go free.

Louis and Serena fly back to the Red Rock Lakes. Louis writes an apology on his slate and gives it and the moneybag to his father, who flies back to the music store in Billings. Afraid that the swan will destroy another window, the storekeeper shoots the old cob in the shoulder. The cob recovers and flies back to the Red Rock Lakes.

In the country, when Sam is about 20 years old, he is again camping in Canada, and hears Louis playing horn; then he writes in his journal:

"Tonight I heard Louis's horn. My father heard it, too. The wind was right, and I could hear the notes of taps, just as darkness fell. There is nothing in all the world I like better than the trumpet of the swan."


The book received a strongly positive review by John Updike in The New York Times, in which he said "While not quite so sprightly as Stuart Little, and less rich in personalities and incident than Charlotte's Web -- that paean to barnyard life by a city humorist turned farmer -- The Trumpet of the Swan has superior qualities of its own; it is the most spacious and serene of the three, the one most imbued with the author's sense of the precious instinctual heritage represented by wild nature"[1]


Because of its success, The Trumpet Of The Swan had a few adaptations.


An unabridged reading of the book by author White was once audio recorded and has since been published as an audiobook.

Philadelphia Orchestra piece[edit]

In 1972, a piece by composer Benjamin Lees based on The Trumpet of the Swan was performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra (an orchestra with which Louis is mentioned as giving a guest performance).


An animated film of the book was made in 2001 by Rich Animation Studios, released by Nest Family Entertainment and distributed by Sony Pictures Entertainment under the TriStar Pictures flagship. It was released theatrically in the United States on limited release. It was not well received by critics. Many stated that the animation was choppy, the characters were dull, the voice casting did not match, the songs were unmemorable, the character designs were ugly and the jokes were stupid. But the most common criticism of the film version was that its script was unfaithful to the original story. This disappointed many fans of the book. According to Rotten Tomatoes, it scored 15% rotten on the tomato-meter.

Novel symphony[edit]

A "novel symphony for actors and orchestra" was adapted from the book in 2011 by Marsha Norman with music composed and conducted by Jason Robert Brown. The production starred John Lithgow, Kathy Bates, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Mandy Moore, James Naughton, and Martin Short. The production has been published on CD and by direct download.


  1. ^ "The Trumpet of the Swan," John Updike, The New York Times Book Review, June 28, 1970
Preceded by
Sasha: My Friend
Winner of the
William Allen White Children's Book Award

Succeeded by
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
and The Headless Cupid