The Book That Made Me: James Mayhew 17/07/19
Song for a Whale
Publisher: Piccadilly Press
Twelve-year-old Iris and her family have moved to Texas. Iris misses her friends and her old home on the coast. She is also now the only Deaf girl at school and finds school life tedious.
Then, in science class, her curiosity is aroused when their teacher tells them about a baleen whale whose unique 55-hertz frequency means he cannot communicate with other whales. Iris is fascinated. Using her passion for old radio equipment, she is determined to try to help the lonely whale, named Blue 55.
Inspired by a real whale who hit the headlines in 2015, this is a delightful and pacy story told with a tender touch. Although Iris’ decision to travel to Alaska without her parents’ permission is decidedly reckless, she thankfully has a partner in crime in the form of her grandmother, whose delightfully colourful character we see starting to re-emerge after the tragedy of bereavement.
The author’s 25 years of experience of sign language teaching and her connection with the Deaf community shine through. The book subtly offers up multiple examples of common frustrations experienced by Deaf children, without ever becoming forced or worthy. Through Iris’ old friend Wendell and his family, we see the strength of the Deaf community, powerfully contrasted against a girl in her new school who attempts to communicate using her own (apparently largely fabricated) version of sign language. We are reminded that well-intentioned but ineffective efforts are not enough.
An uplifting middle grade story about friendship, family and the importance of real communication.