Friday, May 01, 2020

Review: The Trumpet of the Swan

What feels like a lifetime ago, 10 year old J was visiting us and we had a few moments of downtime. I suggested we have some reading time and grabbed the first book nearby that I hadn't read: Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White. We took turns reading a few chapters and by the 3rd chapter we were both hooked. J went home and finished reading the book within a week. It took me longer, but I eventually got through it.

--Spoiler Alert--

I'm of two minds about this story. On one hand, it's brilliant and inspiring. The book pulls no punches: Louis is disabled. He can't speak, and for a swan, speaking is nearly everything. Yet, Louis and his family don't let his circumstances dictate the outcome of his life. Through creativity and hard work, Louis accomplishes far more than a typical swan ever would. What a powerful example for a young person who may feel that their differences somehow makes them less.

As a person who thrives on being a fixer, this notion that no personal limitation can't be hacked is pretty much a core belief. So I can't help but applaud the book as it shows example after example of Louis creatively solving his problems.

On the other hand, I can't help but be bothered by how unrealistic the book is. And by unrealistic, I'm not referring to the suggestion that Louis is capable of such high level learning and reasoning. I'm fine with that; it's a story after all. But what I can't forgive is how White allows every undertaking Louis makes to be a success. Louis wants to learn to write, so he goes to school and learns to write. He wants to make money playing his trumpet, so he gets a job at a camp and makes money playing his trumpet.

Shame on White for only giving Louis one challenge to overcome and providing smooth sailing from there. How is that an example any child can learn from? Being a fixer means you're going to fail. A lot. Learning to pick yourself up and try again is what makes the process of self improvement even possible.

Overall, what the book lacks in authentic problem solving, it makes up for with a fun story and clever characters. This is definitely a book you'll want to read and discuss with your kids.

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