I managed to finish another book on my day off, and this one was just as good as the others I have read recently. I picked up Song for a Whale, because it was a part of a special display. I am really happy that I read it, and I feel like it was exactly what I needed right now.
Song for a Whale is the story of a 12-year old girl named Iris. Iris is deaf, but her parents are mainstream schooling her. She does not feel like she fits in at her school, she gets in trouble for things that are honestly not her fault, and the teachers and administrators (and other adults around her) do not seem to understand or try to understand the challenges that she has. She has a classmate who tried to learn sign language from a book in the library, and the teachers believe that this means the girl can communicate with her. Iris can’t understand anything that the girl says and just gets upset.
This all changes in science class. They watch a video about a whale that cannot communicate with other whales, and Iris is hooked. She tries to learn more and more about the whale, and she decides that she wants to find a way to communicate with the whale. This launches an incredible story that I could not put down once I started.
This coming-of-age story explores so many issues important to middle grade readers, and really to readers of all ages. We explore grief – both Iris’s and her grandmother’s – on losing her grandfather. Kelly examines the challenges of being able to communicate in a world where no one seems to speak your language – not even your parents. The themes of love and family are there, but we also watch Iris struggle with the idea of where she belongs and how she fits in to the world around her. Finally, we get to watch Iris come into her own as she finds her passion with the terrific example of the power of children to change their own worlds.
I really loved the way this book explored the power that kids have. Too often we disempower kids and convey to them that they need to wait until they grow up to change the world. Kids can have impact on the world around them, and we need to be encouraging rather than discouraging. I look back at how many things I would have done different with teachers who had encouraged in formative years and the powerful impact that the teachers who did encourage me have continued to have on my life today. Much like authors of kidlit have a lot of power in their hands, so do teachers of K-12 kids. They are underpaid, under appreciated, and, often, undertrained for the challenges that they are facing. Our world does not foster the love of exploration and creativity that it should.
I also really loved that the protagonist was a deaf girl. She had a very different voice and really brought us into her world. The ability to show empathy to someone from such a different background that results from reading this book was a remarkable experience. It reminded me of the importance of finding ways to communicate with, understand, and empathize with those who are different from me every day.
Books make us better people. That’s what I am really trying to say… Until next time, Happy Reading!