The Trumpeter of Krakow, by Eric P. Kelly, was first published in 1928. I read the 1966 Simon & Schuster republication.
A dramatic tale of 15th century Poland, it tells the story of a courageous young patriot and a mysterious jewel of great value. The beautifully written book, filled with adventure and excitement, gives young readers a vivid picture of Krakow in the early Renaissance.
After a run of dry, plodding 1920s Newbery Medal winners, The Trumpeter of Krakow is like a breath of fresh air. While not as immediately enjoyable and enticing as The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle, Kelly’s novel about Poland in the 15th century is authentic, informative, and full of tension as Joseph and his family evade the villain who is after the treasure their family is guarding.
I’m not sure how much of The Trumpeter of Krakow is based on history; the introduction implies that it’s at least somewhat inspired by a story from the 13th century. Regardless, the story is full of lots of historical elements, such as the exploration of alchemy, the wars between Poland, Russia, and the surrounding countries, the invasions by the Tartars/Tatars, and other bits of medieval history. It explains enough that the reader learns and understands a bit of the time period, but not so much that the reader gets overwhelmed. Kelly also clearly knows Poland and Krakow in particular, and there is lots of details given that make the book more authentic than a simple “this is a story set in Poland” vibe.
The Trumpeter of Krakow is a little dry in places, in parts due to the language and in parts due to the description, which while giving the novel an authentic feel also tends to slow down the pace, but for the most part the story of Joseph and his family carries throughout the novel, even towards the end when everything seems to have worked out and there are still a few chapters left to go.
It was refreshing to read this book after the problems I had with many of the other 1920s Newberys, so I’m hoping that this is a good sign and the books will continue to improve from here on out. If the Newberys in the 1930s are like The Trumpeter of Krakow, then I can’t complain (although maybe I will anyway; you never know!).
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s
“Cease—cease—cowards all!” [the scholar] shouted in a commanding tone of voice. “What persecution goes on here?”
“The man and the woman and boy are workers in magic, wizards and a witch,” said the leader roughly. “Keep your hands off, for we are admonishing them.”
“Wizards and witches—fiddlesticks!” shouted the newcomer, pulling himself up in the wagon until he stood beside Pan Andrew. “This is but an excuse for some such deed of violence as this city has seen too much of in the past twelve months. To attack an honest man—for to any but a blind man he appears as honest—a weak woman, and a defenseless boy—Cowards all, I say! Disperse, or I will call the king’s guards to disperse you.”