Freedom – Trumpet of the Swan

My daughter Jadyn just finished reading, Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White. She LOVED it. It was especially neat for her that she began reading it when we were in Montana, the setting of the beginning of the book.

I read this aloud to my son, Isaac for the first time a couple years ago and remembered I had written down some thoughts after we finished the book. When re-reading my “narration” today, I thought it would be perfect for!


This book will be a lifetime favorite of Isaac’s.  (and mine!)  In many ways, Isaac could easily identify with both main characters – Sam (a boy) and Louis (a trumpeter swan).  Sam held a unique love of nature and animals.  He orchestrated a privileged front-row seat for himself to watch trumpeter swans eggs hatch in Canada on a camping trip with his dad.  Later, he helped Louis learn how to read, write, and play the trumpet in order to compensate for Louis’ “speech defect.”  And at the end of the book, Sam feels comfortably at home in the Philadelphia Zoo and decides to follow a career path there.  Isaac could identify with Sam.

At the same time, Louis was a swan to be admired.  He was fortunate to have a father who loved him enough to risk his life and integrity by stealing a trumpet from a music store in Billings, Montana.  Determined to clear his father’s name and pay off that musical debt, Louis implored Sam’s help to teach him to play and help find him a job.  Before he knew it, he was earning money playing taps as a camp Bugler, performing for paddle-boat riders on Swan Lake in Boston, and even delighting crowds at a night-club in Philadelphia.  Louis had a talent for music and for making people happy.  He was noble, brave, and free.  Just like Isaac.

The love story between Louis and Serena throughout was just bonus for this hopeless romantic mother.  I loved how patient and persistent Louis was in determining to win Serena’s love, even without a “Ko-hoh” sound of his own.  He wrote a love-song for her, cared for her after she was beat up from a storm, and then saved her from having her wing clipped at the zoo.  He wanted to share a “free” life with her – raising a family between Canada and the Red Rock Lakes, just like his parents did.

My friend Heather Hall identified my favorite quote from the book, even before we got to it:  “Safety is all well and good:  I prefer freedom.”  Freedom is something that our family has come to value more and more.  I didn’t realize how polar it is to many people’s value-systems.  Most people do choose safety in one form or another.  And like Louis says, it is all “well and good,” but so much is lost when a person continually prioritizes safety or comfort over freedom.

Faith, courage, dreams, hopes, generosity, adventures – are all traded in for what appear to be fear, selfishness, routine, mundane, predictable, hedging.  My natural “bent” often does lean towards “safety,” but I want to continue pushing daily towards freedom and faith.  Our kids are learning that it is of utmost importance.

Other great quotes from the book:

Sam kept a diary — a daybook about his life.  It was just a cheap notebook that was always by his bed.  Every night, before he turned in, he would write in the book.  He wrote about hings he had done, things he had seen, and thoughts he had had. Sometimes he drew a picture. He always ended by asking himself a question so he would have something to think about while falling asleep. (Ch. 1)

“The warden said he wouldn’t let just anybody have a young swan, but he’d let you have one because you understand about birds, and he trusts you.  That’s quite a compliment, son.”  (Ch. 7)

“Flying is a lot harder than it was before I acquired all these possessions,” thought Louis.  “The best way to travel, really, is to travel light.” (Ch. 13)

In almost everyone’s life there is one event that changes the whole course of his existence.  (Ch. 19)

“Louis would pine away in captivity.  He would die.  He needs wild places . . .  Louis is following a dream.  We must all follow a dream.”  (Ch. 19)


9 Comments Add yours

  1. Susan Evans says:

    My kids also loved reading Trumpet of the Swan. It’s a great book on so many levels, and I enjoyed reading your thoughts about it. There is also the angst of wanting to live outside the box, and how being unique is way more valuable than being like everyone else. Louis contributed way more to the world through his music and through his uniqueness than if he had just blended in with everyone else.


    1. Good point, Susan! He and his parents did not allow his uniqueness to become an obstacle in any way and enjoyed some wonderful rewards as a result.


  2. Hannah says:

    I agree, that’s a lovely, lovely book. E.B. White is one of our very favorite authors. Along your drive, you might enjoy listening to the audio version of the book, which is read by the author himself, with a few trumpet interludes. We’ve listened to many audiobooks over the years in the car, but that one remains quite memorable.


    1. Great idea, Hannah – thank you. We’ll be on the road again soon!


  3. Josie says:

    I remember this book! But not from my childhood, it was a required read for my college children’s literature class. It was a great book and I still have it. Since you reminded me of it, I’m going to pull it out for Elena to read. I’m enjoying reading about your adventures!!


    1. That’s fantastic, Josie – let us know how she likes it! Let me know any other’s she is enjoying now – I’m always looking for new books for Jadyn, too.


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