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14 June 2019 SONG FOR A WHALE by Lynne Kelly, Delacorte, February 2019, 320p., ISBN: 978-1-5247-7023-5


“This is a song about your wavelength and my wavelength”

-- Van Morrison (1978)


“One day, about a month after Grandpa died, [Grandma] didn’t answer the door when we went to visit her. She didn’t reply to text messages either. Her car wasn’t in the garage.

We let ourselves in with the spare key that Mom had, then searched the house. I checked the study. On her desk was a lamp I’d made her out of an old wine bottle. I’d filled it with shells and sea glass we’d found at the beach. Next to that was a picture of Grandpa and me building a sandcastle.

Grandma where are you? I looked up then at a framed picture on the wall and felt like she was teasing me with an answer. Below the picture of a whale swimming in the ocean was a quote from her favorite book, Moby-Dick: ‘I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing.’

I found Mom in Grandma’s room, sitting on her bed with her phone.

Maybe she’s at the beach,’ I suggested.

Mom shook her head. She never drives that far. I’m checking with her friends to see if they know anything. I’m sure she’s fine.’ Before she pulled me in for a hug, I caught the expression on her face. It matched the worry I felt.

Dad finally called the police.

An hour later the police called back. They found Grandma more than one hundred miles away at the Gulf Coast, walking the stretch of beach where we used to live.

After she got back home, she tried to explain that she’d left because she was like Ishmael in Moby-Dick. Sometimes she had too much of a drizzly November in her soul and had to get to the sea. She used to travel with Grandpa all the time, she said, and everyone should stop making such a big deal over it.

Why didn’t you at least tell us where you were going?’ Mom asked her.

Because you would have talked me out of it.’ No one argued with that.”


Twelve year-old Iris was named after a beached whale that lay dying nearby as Iris was about to be born. Iris is deaf, as is her grandmother, and as was her late grandfather. Iris shares their love of the sea.


Her grandfather taught Iris how to repair household electronics. She eventually became obsessed with acquiring and repairing vintage radios, and excels at it. As a deaf child with a limited number of friends, it’s easy to imagine how this talent with electronics enhances her confidence and self-esteem.


In SONG FOR A WHALE, Iris’s electronics skills and her connection with whales come together in a magical girl-and-a-whale tale that rivals the more traditional girl-and-a-horse and girl-and-a-dog stories.


At school, a teacher shows Iris’s class a video about a baleen whale, nicknamed Blue 55, who sings at a frequency that other whales cannot understand. Blue 55’s inability to successfully communicate with other whales prevents the poor whale from becoming a member of a pod (social group) of whales.


Iris knows all about the frustrations of struggling to communicate. Moved by the isolated whale’s plight, Iris hatches a plan to communicate with Blue 55 at its unusual frequency. She creates a recording of fellow students playing notes on musical instruments at and around the same frequency at which Blue 55 sings. Iris then contacts the scientists who are studying the wayward whale. They are impressed by her idea and plan to try playing the recording she has produced.


Iris then wants to travel to Alaska, to be there when the recording is played underwater, but her parents are unwilling to go. She’s also unable to pull off a plan to sneak up there on her own. Finally, she complains to her deaf grandmother. Her grandmother impulsively decides to take Iris there herself. Furthermore, Grandma aims to deceive Iris’s parents about the trip since, as with the infamous journey to the beach, Grandma knows her daughter and son-in-law will never agree to it.


And so Grandma books the two of them on a flight to San Francisco and a sea cruise from there to the Alaskan town that serves as the scientists’ home base. Grandma, missing her late husband, and Iris, missing her beloved grandfather, head off together on an exciting journey of exploration and healing, in which Iris’s electronics skills will be put to good use.


SONG FOR A WHALE is written by a sign language educator and was inspired by a true whale story. In addition to providing a wealth of information for young people about deaf people, SONG FOR A WHALE will inspire kids to learn more about marine mammals. Given the state of our oceans (See Loree Griffin’s award-winning TRACKING TRASH.) and other significant threats faced by whales and other marine mammals, there is a lot to love and admire about this memorable whale tale.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Pickshttp://richiespicks.pbworks.com





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