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Song for a Whale

Book review by
Joly Herman, Common Sense Media
Song for a Whale Book Poster Image
Compelling tale of deaf girl's search for a whale.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Shows what it's like to be a deaf kid who communicates by signing, with a few signs are described. Her point of view as a non-hearing person living in a hearing world is made very clear. Lots of information about whales, their songs, their habitats and habits. Some interesting information about radios and electronics thrown in because of Iris' hobby of fixing old radios.

Positive Messages

Follow your passion. Push for what you want and go for it. Teachers can be inspirational. Advocate for yourself and find your place in the world.

Positive Role Models & Representations

There are some adults who understand and support Iris, and others who seem to make life harder for her. Though she feels misunderstood by her homeroom teacher, Ms. Conn, Iris is inspired by her science teacher, Ms. Alamilla. She gets emotional and sign-language support from Mr. Charles, her interpreter. Her parents are often on the verge of punishing her impulsive behavior, but they stand behind her when she takes risks. Iris has a very kind older brother and grandparents who take risks for her.

Violence

Iris pushes a girl who is annoying her and she doesn't feel remorse.

Sex
Language
Consumerism

Target, Zenith, Armstrong, Philco.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink a bit -- a man floats on a raft in a pool with a beer in hand. People spend time in bars and get wild at a casino and at a bar singing karaoke. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Lynne Kelly's Song for a Whale is the story of a 12-year-old deaf girl who's determined to communicate with a whale who's having difficulty communicating with his own species. It touches on the loss of a grandparent, feeling out of place because of a physical challenge, and breaking rules to reach a personal goal. It also celebrates deaf abilities and the willingness to connect with the animal world while taking risks. Iris may be unforgiving with a girl who tries to sign with her and fails, but she shows the ability to forgive others (like her dad) even when they're unwilling or unable to learn her language. Interesting facts about whales and their habits enrich the plot as well.

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What's the story?

In SONG FOR A WHALE, 12-year-old Iris becomes obsessed with a whale whose song is so off-pitch he's become unrecognizable to other whales. She feels compelled to communicate with this whale and to let him know that he's not alone. In fact, she's willing break family and school rules to reach him. She knows how horrible it feels to be misunderstood. As a deaf kid in a hearing world, she understands being an outsider very well. Even her parents avoid accepting her for who she is. But Iris is determined to reach out to a misfit from another species to let him know that someone understands his loneliness, even if she's only human.

Is it any good?

This interesting exploration of communication between members of a community choppily achieves its a goal. Song for a Whale looks at the essence of belonging: the ability to be understood. Iris communicates in many ways -- she speaks sign language, she fixes old radios until they can sing again, she makes sign-language poetry with her grandparents using the shape of her hands to determine the shape of the poem. But she feels left out of the world around her. She relies on an interpreter, her family, or anyone around her to explain to her what she can't hear. Kids will appreciate the topic of what it means to be misunderstood and seemingly alone.

There is real poetry in the book, since it explores metaphors of being an outlier of the school -- both the hearing, human school and the school of sea mammals. But there are moments where Iris' announcements about her obsession get repetitive and a little boring. At a key point in the story, something that she had the genius to make is literally cast aside without much ado, which might make kids wonder why she spent so much time making this thing that she seems to abandon. But the ends outweigh the means, and the miracle of communication is finally understood by many, thanks to a deaf girl who isn't afraid to take risks.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Song for a Whale explores being misunderstood. Iris feels out of place in her school, because she is the only deaf kid there. How are her defenses helping her? How do they hurt her?

  • Technology plays a key role in this story. How does Iris use different apps to achieve her goals? What apps help you the most? How do they make your life easier? How would your life be different if they didn't exist?

  • Iris visits a school where kids with different abilities are more integrated into the classrooms than her at own school. How does it make her feel to see deaf kids socializing with each other? Do you ever feel left out or lonely because of your differences? 

Book details

Themes & Topics

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For kids who love stories of kids with physical challenges

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