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Song for a Whale

My pick to add to our library shelves for our 'thIS ABILITY' theme.

Twelve-year-old Iris is a tech genius, in particular she loves repairing old radios which she sources at  junkyards. Iris just happens to be hearing impaired…the only deaf student in her school. Most people treat her like she’s not very smart and unable to communicate with her classmates, she feels very lonely.

One day at science class, her teacher shows them a film about a whale named Blue 55 who is unable to communicate with other whales, because he sings at 55 hertz.

Most whales sing at a frequency of 35 hertz and as a result he is not understood by other whales. He has been swimming around alone for decades as he is often ostracised from the pods he tries to join as they are unable to communicate with him.

“Blue 55 didn’t have a pod of friends or a family who spoke his language. But he still sang. He was calling and calling, and no one heard him.”

“If he had remained quiet, would they have let him stay? For a time he did hold onto his song, then he revealed it little by little as his trust grew. The more he sang, the farther they drifted from him.”

Iris understands how Blue 55 must feel and is soon immersed in the idea of inventing a way to “sing” to him. Using her tech skills, she reaches out to the school music teacher and works with the school band to record a song at Blue 55’s frequency, mixing it with his own song. 

“So many ways to fail, all right in front of me. But I had to try.”

In a bid to help Blue 55 feel less lonely, she sends it to a marine biologist from an Alaskan sanctuary who has been trying to tag the whale, in the hope that sanctuary will play her song as he migrates along the west coast, so that he can hear something that he can understand. The marine biologist is very receptive about the idea but are doubtful about Iris being present on the boat. Iris however, identifies so strongly with Blue 55 that she wants to be there.  

The sanctuary is three thousand miles away. How will she play her song for him? How will she see him?

In cahoots with her deaf grandmother, Iris sets out on a hair-brained trip from Texas to Alaska, desperate to find Blue 55 and let him know someone hears his song.

“A sound can move anything if it's strong enough.”

I was fascinated by how cleverly the author Lynne Kelly has connected antique radios, the vibrations of sound waves, whale songs and deafness in a story that also features sign language, poetry, ocean life, geology as well as coping with grief and loneliness

The character of Iris, is spunky, real and raw. The author shares her frustrations at living in a world where she is unable to communicate easily with the others around her, in a manner that a reader who has absolutely no contact with a hearing impaired person, will be able to to feel her isolation. 

The short chapters narrated from the whales point of view, seemed a bit disconnected but I guess they were needed to help us understand the efforts Blue 55 made to attach himself to pods and his subsequent isolation. 

While this book respectfully depicts the deaf community and will serve as a beautiful mirror book, Iris’s loneliness is something that may echo with many middle grade readers.  It is an age when quite a few children struggle to fit in and often feel invisible and alone.

I highly recommend this book for readers aged 9 and above.

“I’d found him. He’d never know what he meant to me, but that was okay. I didn’t speak his language, and he didn’t need to be fixed. He was the whale who sang his own song.”

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