Cover image for Song for a Whale
Song for a Whale
Lynne Kelly
Juvenile Fiction
In the spirit of modern-day classics like Fish in a Tree and Counting by 7s comes the story of a deaf girl's connection to a whale whose song can't be heard by his...
Listening Library
Digital Format:
Windows Media Audio




In the spirit of modern-day classics like Fish in a Tree and Counting by 7s comes the story of a deaf girl's connection to a whale whose song can't be heard by his species, and the journey she takes to help him.

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?

Full of heart and poignancy, this affecting story by sign language interpreter Lynne Kelly shows how a little determination can make big waves.

*This audiobook edition includes an author's note and a section on deafness and sign language, both read by the author Lynne Kelly

"Fascinating, brave, and tender...a triumph." --Katherine Applegate, Newbery Award-winning author of The One and Only Ivan

"Beautifully written and such an important story for kids with big struggles in their lives. I fell into Iris's world from the first chapter. Lynne Kelly does an amazing job telling the story from Iris's perspective." --Millicent Simmonds, actress, Wonderstruck and A Quiet Place

"Quick-moving, suspenseful...this remains a satisfying, energetic read. Iris' adventures will engross readers." --Kirkus Reviews

"This finely crafted novel affectingly illuminates issues of loneliness, belonging, and the power of communication." -- Publishers Weekly

Author Notes

Lynne Kelly has has always loved reading, but as while working as a special education teacher she fell in love with children's literature all over again. Today, she lives in Houston, Texas and works as a sign language interpreter while writing books for kids. Her first book, Chained, was a South Asia Book Award Honor and Crystal Kite Award winner. Song for a Whale is her second novel.

Reviews 4

School Library Journal Review

Gr 3--7--As one of the only deaf students at her school, 12-year-old Iris has to weather the everyday frustrations of teachers and peers who seek to communicate with her only on their own terms. So, when she learns about a whale called Blue 55 who has an inability to speak at a frequency that can be understood by his fellow whales, Iris is determined to 'fix' this problem using her unique tech skills. The novel has well-written, multifaceted portrayals of adults throughout, including Iris's grieving grandmother, who is desperate to break through her internal "drizzly November" and connect to the sea and, with it, the memory of her husband. Though she is not a deaf person herself, Kelly--who has worked as a professional sign language interpreter--is adept at navigating this world. Subtle details sprinkled throughout (using verbs like "answered" and "said" vs. always referring to Iris's communication as "signing" and the skillful descriptions of the physicality of individual signs) add to the authenticity. The audio version adds new, original content to the book in the form of back matter (read by the author) on deafness and sign language. Narrator Abigail Revasch skillfully portrays Iris's youthful, adventurous spirit in her voice. VERDICT With solid disability representation and a compelling, deeply emotional story that can be enjoyed in audio format by children of many ages, as well as adults, this audiobook will be a surefire hit for family reading time or car trips.--Ann Santori, Cook Memorial Public Library, Libertyville, IL

Publisher's Weekly Review

Twelve-year-old Iris was named for the whale that her grandparents had witnessed being beached on the same day the girl was born, presumably because the mammal wasn't able to navigate her way due to a hearing loss-though, as Grandpa explains in ASL translated into text, "She wasn't born Deaf like we were." Iris zealously collects and repairs vintage radios, feeling vibrations on the speakers to discern "if a radio was playing music or crackling with static or sitting there like a box of rocks." Iris discovers a new passion after watching a documentary about Blue 55, a baleen whale who swims alone rather than in pods and sings at a frequency that renders his song unintelligible to other whales. She vows to use her electronics acumen to communicate with Blue 55 by creating a song that will "let him know he [isn't] alone." Subtly and poignantly drawing a parallel between the girl and whale, Kelly (Chained), who has worked as a sign language interpreter, relays Iris's venture with credibility and urgency. The emotional current deepens as Iris mourns the sudden death of her grandfather-her kindred spirit-and witnesses the increasing aloofness of her once vibrant grandmother, who's also deaf. Kelly effectively interjects Blue 55's perspective into the narrative and adds an engrossing final note about the real-life whale who inspired the story. This finely crafted novel affectingly illuminates issues of loneliness, belonging, and the power of communication. Ages 8-12. Agent: Molly O'Neill, Waxman Leavell Literary. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Review

A Deaf girl won't give up her quest to connect with a lonely whale.Like many Deaf children, 12-year-old Iris has hearing parents, attends school with an interpreter, and has difficulty communicating with her classmates (especially the girl who believes her own invented gibberish is ASL). She had a close relationship with her Deaf grandparents, but her grandmother has withdrawn after her husband's death, and Iris' mom, a child of Deaf adults, has her own anxieties around her daughter's need for Deaf community. The white girl's troubles contrast with her black friend Wendell's, whose hearing family is invested in Deaf language and culture. When Iris learns about Blue 55, a whale who sings at a frequency unintelligible to other whales, she feels an immediate kinship and concocts a plan to create a song Blue 55 can hear. A quick-moving, suspenseful plot takes her from junkyards to a cruise ship as she gains the confidence to stand up for herself and take control of her life. Written by a sign-language interpreter, this story incorporates important elements of Deaf culture and the expansiveness and richness of ASL but makes concessions to hearing readers in its recording of conversations. (ASL dialogue is appropriately rendered in fluent English.) The final suspenseful scenes strain credulity, and lengthy descriptions of frequencies and radio repair drag occasionally, but this remains a satisfying, energetic read.Iris' adventures will engross readers, though Deaf and hearing audiences will likely experience them differently. (Fiction. 8-14) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

Iris, the only Deaf student in her sixth-grade class, struggles to communicate well with kids at school, and feels a strong connection with Blue 55, a lone whale who can't communicate with others because its voice is on a different frequency. Using her knowledge of electronics and sound, she records her school orchestra playing notes in the whale's frequency and sends them to a biologist who plans to tag Blue 55. Receiving an encouraging reply, Iris decides to meet up with the research team and the whale in Alaska. When her initial plan falls through, she confides in her grandmother, a grieving widow, who takes the girl on an Alaskan cruise that proves transformative for both. While certain story elements are not entirely convincing, they will probably bother adults more than the intended audience. Kelly, who also wrote Chained (2012), works as an interpreter for the Deaf. The strength of the book is its strong portrayal of Iris as a Deaf girl in a hearing world and an intelligent 12-year-old in headlong, single-minded pursuit of her goal.--Carolyn Phelan Copyright 2018 Booklist



Until last summer I thought the only thing I had in common with that whale on the beach was a name.   I sat with Grandpa after collecting shells and driftwood scattered along the shore, and wildflowers from the dunes. The shells and driftwood were for Grandma, and the flowers were for the whale. Grandpa had asked how school was going, and I told him it was the same, which wasn't good. I'd been at that school for two years and still felt like the new kid.   Grandpa patted the sand next to him. "Did you know she was probably deaf too?" he signed.   I didn't have to ask who he meant. The whale had been buried there for eleven years, and my parents had told me enough times about what happened that day.   I shook my head. I hadn't known that, and I didn't know why Grandpa was changing the subject. Maybe he didn't know what to tell me anymore about school.   The whale had beached herself the same day I was born. When she was spotted in the shallow waters of the Gulf, some people stood on the shore and watched her approach. My grandma ran into the cold February water and tried to push her away from land, as if she could make a forty-ton animal change her mind about where she wanted to go. That was really dangerous. Even though the whale was weak by then, one good whack with a tail or flipper could have knocked Grandma out. I don't know what I would've done--jumped in like she did or just stood there.   "She wasn't born deaf like we were," Grandpa continued. "The scientists who studied her said it had just happened. Maybe she'd been swimming near an explosion from an oil rig or a bomb test."   When Grandpa told a story, I saw it as clearly as if it were happening right there in front of me. His signing hands showed me the whale in an ocean that suddenly went quiet, swimming over there, over there, over there, trying to find the sounds again. Maybe that was why she'd been there on our Gulf of Mexico beach instead of in deep ocean waters where she belonged. Sei whales didn't swim so close to shore. Only her, on that day.   "A whale can't find its way through a world without sound," Grandpa added. "The ocean is dark, and it covers most of the earth, and whales live in all of it. The sounds guide them through that, and they talk to one another across oceans."   With the familiar sounds of the ocean gone, the whale was lost in her new silent world. A rescue group came to the beach and tried to save the whale, and they called her Iris. Grandma asked my parents to give the name to me, too, since I'd entered the world as the whale was leaving it.   After the marine biologists learned all they could from her, she was buried right there on the beach, along with the unanswered questions about what had brought her to that shore.   We lived on that coast until the summer after second grade, when my family moved to Houston for my dad's new job. Since then, we went back just once or twice a summer. The good thing about our new home was that it was closer to my grandparents. I liked being able to spend more time with them, especially since they were both Deaf like me. But we all missed the beach, and I missed being around kids like me. My old school had just a few Deaf kids, but that was enough. We had our classes together, and we had one another.   "But it's different for us," Grandpa signed. "Out here, there's more light, and all we need is our own small space to feel at home. Sometimes it takes time to figure things out. But you'll do it. You'll find your way."   I wish I'd asked him then how long that would take. Excerpted from Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.