(If any of you noticed, I skipped the 1928 winner, Gay Neck, the Story of a Pigeon, due to its being checked out at the library by somebody else. I never thought that I would have any competition on that one. Not only is it checked out, but there is another patron who has a hold placed, so it may be several weeks before I get to comment on the pigeon book.)
A few weeks ago, one of my faithful followers asked which was the earliest Newbery book I remember reading as a child. This is it. I must have read this book in late elementary or maybe middle school. When I saw it on the list I remembered liking it, but couldn't have told you any plot or character details. I don't like it now as much as I think I liked it then. Which isn't to say that I was not entertained. (One of my sisters-in-law recently decided to not reread books she had enjoyed as a child for just that reason, she wants to keep the high opinion of them that she formed on first reading.)
The story centers on a family from the Ukraine (under Polish control at the time) who travel to Krakow after their estate has been ravished by treasure hunters. The hunt continues in Krakow, while the family change their name and try to lay low and be as inconspicuous as possible. They meet several very nice people in Krakow who help them find work and get acclimated.
The treasure hunters seek the Great Tarnov Crystal that the Charnetski family have been guarding for hundreds of years--father passing to son with an oath to protect the crystal or deliver it to the king, if their secret is ever discovered. It is said to have magical properties, allowing those who gaze into its depths to see the future, gain hidden knowledge and access to mysteries.
One of the themes in the book is the making of oaths and how important it is to keep our word. The Charnetski family had taken an oath to protect the crystal. They kept that oath. Andrew, the father, was willing to sacrifice his livelihood and his very life, to keep the crystal safe.
Another oath kept was that of the trumpeter of Krakow. This is actually a true part of the story. You can read about the trumpeter and listen to his song at http://www.krakow-info.com/hejnal.htm . The trumpeter took an oath to keep watch over the city and sound the heynal on the hour from each side of the tower of St. Mary's cathedral. When Andrew and his son, Joseph, become sounders of the trump, they take that oath as well.
Another theme of the book is that of wisdom verses wealth. A couple of the characters practice alchemy, the "science" of trying to turn baser metals into gold. Of course, they do not succeed, but they have some good conversations on whether wealth will help them obtain what is really important to them. In the course of trying their experiments, they end up destroying half of the city in fire. We can draw some conclusions from that...
To sum up, I enjoyed rereading The Trumpeter of Krakow. I think children would like it with the fighting, mystery, castles, spies, and just a touch of romance. Adults would probably like it too. I did not like it as well as I remembered, I think because the ending was too clean--all loose ends were tied up, but children probably need the sense of closure and to know that all is well in the world.
Kelly, Eric P. The Trumpeter of Krakow. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc, 1928.