”Song For A Whale,” by Lynn Kelly, Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2019, hardcover, $16.99, and eBook, 304 pages, for ages 8-12

Iris had been in a new school for two years and still felt like the new kid. She longed to go to the school for deaf children, so she would feel like she belonged. The day Iris was born, 11 years ago, a whale named Iris had beached herself on the sand and was buried there.

When Iris misbehaved at school again, she knew she was in serious trouble. Her hobby was repairing old radios, so she stopped by the junkyard to see if Moe had any old electronics she could work on.

When she got home, she found out her punishment was to move her collection out of her bedroom into the garage. She was grounded from her favorite pastime. She could still go online and read about Blue 55, a whale that always swam alone. Maybe the other whales didn’t understand his song. Could Blue be deaf like Iris? Or was his song too different from the other whales so they didn’t understand him?

Iris did have one friend that also was deaf, Wendell. His passion was outer space, but he understood her interest in fixing any worn out electronics. She talked to Wendell about her idea to reach out to Blue 55. Her music teacher helped her on a project to use the band instruments to write and record a song that sounded like Blue’s song. Then he wouldn’t be the loneliest whale with no pod to swim with.

She googled the sanctuary that was attempting to tag Blue 55. She wanted to help them track him in the ocean. Audi, one of the staff urged Iris to send the song so they could broadcast it to Blue 55 the next time he swam near. This set Iris on fire to go to Alaska.

Iris wondered if Audi’s invite to her to visit the sanctuary might have just been politeness, but she began scheming for a trip to Alaska. Her parents nixed that idea. Needing to talk to someone that would be more understanding, she hopped on her bike and rode over to her deaf Grandma’s. Can Iris convince her to support her in an adventure?

Lynn Kelly’s writing is clear and concise, not a wasted word. She uses sign language dialogue, indicated by parenthesis, to reveal the characters, even Blue 55. Writing toward the end, she holds us in suspense — a beautifully crafted narrative that brings attention to the world of the non-hearing. Each of us longs to be around people who speak our language.

Lynn lives in the Houston area and works as a sign language interpreter.

JoAn Watson Martin is an educator.

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