[The Trumpeter of Krakow]: A Review

Hi y’all!

I’m excited to share a new review today. I’m continuing my Newbery Medal reviews that I started last month. I believe this is review number 4 in a row that focuses on a Newbery winner–kind of fun. This time, I’m sharing my thoughts on The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly.

I was first introduced to this winner by my friend Jackie @ Death by Tsundoku when we were deciding on our buddy read book earlier this year. This was on our short list but we ultimately chose Hitty, Her First Hundred Years. Anyways, this one has been on my radar since then and it was the last library book I read before our move which is kind of special.

Initial Thoughts:

  • This book is set in medieval Krakow, Poland and it’s fascinating! I have never read a book set in this place and time. And it was so interesting to learn more about them both. I read afterwards that Kelly loved Poland and wanted to share it’s myths, traditions, and history with the world. He certainly does that in this novel.
  • This book won the Newbery Medal in 1929 but it is surprisingly engaging. It starts a bit slowly like other older Newberys do, but the action is a lot quicker paced than I expected!


According to Goodreads, “There is something about the Great Tarnov Crystal…. Wise men speak of it in hushed tones. Others are ready to kill for it. And now a murderous Tartar chief is bent on possessing it. But despite this, Joseph Charnetski is bound by an ancient oath to protect the jewel at all costs.

When Joseph and his family seek refuge in medieval Krakow, they are caught up in the plots and intrigues of alchemists, hypnotists, and a dark messenger of evil. Will Joseph be able to protect the crystal—and the city—from the plundering Tartars?

This story is a classic adventure. There’s a secret item of great price (the Great Tarnov Crystal) that people will die for or kill for. A family finds themselves destitute after their home is destroyed because of this item. Enemies try to ambush them, friends save them. Their quest is to get that item into the right hands. The plot twists and turns around this priceless crystal. I wasn’t always sure if it would make it to the king. While there are certainly plenty of examples of good and evil in this book, Kelly focuses on the honor and duty of the Charnetski family. And their integrity is a big part of why the ending is satisfying and good.

I loved all the Poland medieval history. In fact, the entire book is based on a real myth from Krakow history. The legend of the trumpeter who was killed as he fulfilled his oath to play in spite of invading armies is so inspiring and powerful! I loved learning about the church and the geography of Krakow. I loved the way the music of the trumpeters stops mid melody to pay homage to that killed trumpeter. I would love to visit the church and hear the trumpeters one day!

The characters are interesting because of the time period. I really haven’t read much set in the late middle ages/early Renaissance. So I wasn’t sure what to expect in these characters. How would they act? Why would they act in that way? How would they interact with each other? What were their goals, dreams, aspirations? I was struck by the simplicity of life for these people. And I found the ways the people think and act really interesting. Family is very important as is honor and reputation. Loyalty to family and country were also central to this story. I wish there was more written at this time. The other Newbery winner set in the medieval time period that comes to mind is Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz. I enjoyed that one as well because of the lesser discusses time period.

The alchemy, early science, and hypnosis were all interesting but also quite dark. These dark elements surprised me.I wouldn’t read this book to children younger than 8 because the hypnosis, power struggles and violence are sometimes intense. Sometimes the took away from the overall story for me. I wanted to hear more about the Charnetski family and the Crystal. I wasn’t as interested in the philosopher’s stone or hypnosis stuff. And it hindered my connections with the alchemist because he seemed to lose his humanity in his search for immortality. Although, without him, the crystal may not be as safe.

Overall, a surprising exciting read! I can appreciate why this won the Newbery for what it does for Polish history and the unique time period/location it’s written in. There are some dark moments, but it’s a fascinating, plot driven story. I recommend this one especially to history lovers!

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Which are your favorite historical time periods or locations?
Have you read anything else set in Poland?


I read this Newbery Medal winner as a part of my Newbery Challenge.
I plan to read all 100 Newbery Medal winners by the end of 2022, the year the 100th winner is announced.

8 thoughts on “[The Trumpeter of Krakow]: A Review

  1. Pingback: 7 Books to read with Unique Historical Settings – greenish bookshelf

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  3. lpusey

    I loved this book too and had the same feelings about the darker elements! Yes those characters were necessary but the historical components and other story lines were much more interesting. Let’s go see the church!

    Liked by 1 person

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