This book is near and dear to my heart for two reasons:
1) I was browsing a Barnes & Noble with a friend in the rich part of San Antonio, not looking to buy anything (because it’s the rich part of San Antonio, and I am not rich), and spotted the book on display. Because the cover was colorful, and I happen to like colors, I picked it up and read the blurb on the back—which takes us to the second reason:
2) The main character, Iris, is a Deaf girl—and she is portrayed accurately and meaningfully.
Needless to say I bought the book right then and there, and would have been reading it during dinner if Cheesecake Factory weren’t so dimly lit (is that even sanitary, by the way?).
A little more backstory here may be necessary to fully outline why this book is so important to me.
I am Deaf, and also attended mainstream (i.e., hearing) school for most of my life. So I can definitely understand Iris’ struggles with making herself understood. One of my goals after graduating with my second MA in Deaf Studies and publishing my book is to enter into the publishing industry and push for more diversity and inclusivity—both in the field and in the literature. So seeing this ball already rolling is a great omen for me.
At this point you’re probably still trying to figure out why a book about a Deaf girl is entitled, “Song for a Whale.” Let’s take a look at the blurb here:
From fixing the class computer to repairing old radios, twelve-year-old Iris is a tech genius. But she’s the only deaf person in her school, so people often treat her like she’s not very smart. If you’ve ever felt like no one was listening to you, then you know how hard that can be.
When she learns about Blue 55, a real whale who is unable to speak to other whales, Iris understands how he must feel. Then she has an idea: she should invent a way to “sing” to him! But he’s three thousand miles away. How will she play her song for him?
Blue 55 is based on a real whale, nicknamed “the loneliest whale in the world,” who sings at 52 Hertz (not 55 Hz like the whale in the book).
Iris really identifies with Blue—and who wouldn’t, when the world seems determined not to communicate with you, to the extent that they would rather invent a gimmick device that won’t work than have to write something down or repeat themselves a few times? So, having experienced the loneliness that comes with inaccessibility, Iris sets out on a quest to make a song that Blue will understand!
(It’s a really cute story.)
Hear Me Out! [CC], a podcast blog by Arab-English Deaf blogger Ahmed Khalifa, whose content is accessible and filled with great information about deafness for those who might have questions, interviews author Lynne Kelly about the story here.
“Can you imagine that?” Ms. Alamilla asked. “Swimming around for all those years, unable to communicate with anyone?”
She said something else about frequencies, but I wasn’t paying attention anymore. I looked through Mr. Charles, as if I could still see that whale on the screen. 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.