Summary: In the first five chapters, we meet two swans: “Cob,” which is the male swan, and “Swan,” who is the female swan. Swan, the female, is laying her first set of eggs. As she is building her next, a little boy named Sam sees the two swans. He watches them for a while until the swans discover him. The swans are very distrustful of Sam until one day when he chases away a fox that is about to eat the female swan.
A few weeks later, Sam returns to the campsite just in time to see the swans’ babies, called cygnets, on the day they are born. The Cob, bursting with pride, swims his babies up to Sam. All the cygnets “beep” at Sam except the last one, who instead pulls his shoelace to untie it. Sam vows he will never forget that day, but he fails to tell his father about the swans on the lake.
A few more weeks pass by, and the female swan points out to the Cob that Louis, the fifth little swan who had pulled Sam’s shoelace, hasn’t said a word. She worries that if he can’t talk, he won’t find a mate since it was the Cob’s lovely voice that attracted her to him. The Cob frets over having a “defective” son and takes him out to the water to test Louis’ voice. He discovers that the female swan was correct—Louis can’t make a sound. He calls his son “dumb,” and Louis gets his feelings hurt. The Cob quickly explains that “dumb” means he can’t talk, not that he’s not smart. Then, he promises to do anything he can to make sure Louis can make a noise, even if he needs the help of a machine.
Discussion Questions for Chapters 1 – 5:
- Have you ever gone exploring like Sam? Have you ever found something amazing, like when Sam found the trumpeter swans?
- Why do you think Sam didn’t tell his father about the swans?
- Possible answers: He knew his father would want to go with him, and he wasn’t sure that was a good idea. His father had warned him about the danger of the marshes, so if he told him, he might not allow Sam to go there. Since Sam liked to explore the woods alone and he was mesmerized by the beauty of the swans, he didn’t want to risk not being able to see them.
- Sam said there was nothing he enjoyed more than his camping trips in Canada with his father. Is there something you really like doing with one of your parents? What do you like about it, and what makes it special?
- How are the personalities of the male and female swan different?
- Possible Answers: The Cob likes to show off. He is very vain, meaning he is very worried about what others think about him. The female swan is more practical.
- Why do you think the Cob likes to show off?
- Possible Answers: He is vain, and he likes to show off his strength and grace. He wants others to see him as a “perfect” swan.
- Why did the swans not trust Sam at first?
- Possible Answer: When they had met little boys in the past, the little boys threw rocks at them.
- How did running off the fox change the way the swans thought about Sam?
- Possible Answer: They began to trust Sam. Sam showed that he was there to protect them, not hurt them. Optional: You can use this topic to start talking about people. Sometimes people fear others that are not like them until they get to know them. Once they get to know them, they often see that they have a lot in common.
- How did the Cob feel when the female swan pointed out that Louis didn’t have a voice?
- Possible Answers: He was worried about his son. He was worried that his son wouldn’t find a mate. He also worried that his son was “defective,” and that hurt his reputation as a “perfect” son. As soon as he found out his son didn’t have a voice, he wanted to do anything he could to make his son like everyone else, even if it meant finding him a fake “voice.”
- How did Louis feel when the Cob pointed out that he was different?
- Possible Answers: He was scared. He also was very hurt when his father called him “dumb,” even after his father explained that he meant he had no voice, not that he was stupid.
- Did realizing that he didn’t have a voice change how Louis thought of himself?
- Possible Answers: Louis didn’t realize he was different until his father pointed it out. He went from thinking he was normal to thinking he was “defective,” and he started worrying about his future.