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Thursday, February 14, 2019

Empowering Middle Grade Novel Urges Kids to Embrace Their Own Unique Voice

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Being deaf has always made 12-year-old Iris Bailey feel like an outsider.  Even in her own family, where some members have made the effort to learn American Sign Language (ASL) and others haven't.  As the only deaf student at her school, it can be tough for Iris to understand what's going on around her, make friends, and communicate everything that's going on inside her head.  She wants her voice to be heard, but that's difficult when you're a deaf kid in a hearing world.

When Iris learns about Blue 55, a whale who has to swim alone because he can't communicate with other whales, she feels immediate empathy for the lonely creature.  She longs to find a way to tell him he is not alone.  A whiz with radios and other tech, Iris sets about creating a welcoming song just for Blue 55.  Even though he's a long way from her home in Texas, she will find a way to reach him.  It will take all her smarts, all her courage, and all her determination to achieve her goal.  Then, maybe, both she and Blue 55 will finally be able to connect to their peers in a world where neither one of them feels understood ... 

Song for a Whale is the second novel by Lynne Kelly, who has worked as a sign language interpreter for over 25 years.  It tells a gentle, sympathetic story about a lonely young lady who finds her purpose while trying to help an unusual whale (you can read about the real whale that inspired Blue 55 here).  As she puts her heart and soul into the project, Iris is finally able to make herself heard.  Although the tale gets bogged down with science/tech talk, it's still an interesting and unique story.  Young readers may find Song for a Whale overly detailed and a little long (as did I), but if they hang in there, they'll find the novel pays off in the end with empowering, uplifting messages about family, belonging, and embracing your own special voice.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a little of El Deafo by Cece Bell)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Song for a Whale from the generous folks at Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!


  1. I've been wanting to read more MG and this sounds like one that I would enjoy. Great review!

  2. This sounds interesting. I love books with Deaf characters (loved El Deafo!). And while I get that it happens, I absolutely will never understand families who don't make an effort to learn their Deaf family member's language. That would be Priority #1 for me (and ASL is such a cool language!).

  3. Oh my goodness!!! I love that you give movie rating grades. I was just telling my wife that this book thing is stressing me out because my daughter, who is 11, loves reading but is pretty advanced and is always asking me to get her books that look way above her content wise. I'm going to need to scour your site for books she can read.


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