American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Louis, the Trumpeter Swan

E.B. White's The Trumpet of the Swan, [New York: Harper & Row Junior Books, 1973] tells the story of Louis, a trumpeter swan, who is born without a voice. He uses an alternate form of communication to meet his needs.

Louis cannot say ko-hoh like other swans, or cry out either in fear or joy. Louis could splash water farther than any other swan, bur he could not shout while doing it-and shouting while splashing water is half the fun.

Louis is scared to be different. Everyone else seems to have a voice. Why doesn't he? Then he remembers what his father told him: "There are mechanical devices that convert air into beautiful sounds...I intend to get you what you need. I don't know how I will manage this, but in the fullness of time it shall be accomplished."

Louis felt better, but couldn't wait. He flies away to go to school with Sam, a boy he met at the pond. There he learns to read and write and to communicate with a slate and piece of chalk worn around his neck.

After 18 months, Louis returns home looking older and handsomer. He begins to court the young swan Serena, writing "I love you" on his slate and showing it to her. But she swims away. Slates and chalk are fine for communicating with people, but not with swans who can't read.

So, Louis' father steals a brass trumpet from a music store and gives it to his son saying, "Learn how to blow it, Louis, and life will be smoother, richer, and gayer for you!" Learning to play a trumpet isn't easy, but Louis practiced hard every day. He got so good that he's hired to play pop music in a Philadelphia night club.

Eventually, Louis earns enough money to pay back the music store for the trumpet. He is reunited with Serena, and they have swans of their own. As long as he lived, Louis was grateful to his father who gave him the trumpet that allowed him to sound like all the other swans.

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