by Lynne Kelly
In the spirit of modern-day classics like Fish in a Tree and Counting by 7s comes the Schneider Family Book Award-winning 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.
Discussion questions from SOMN
- Before reading the book, read the author’s note at the end of the book as a class, and then listen to recordings of whale songs here and here.
- Iris is the only deaf person in her school. In what ways is she included and in what ways is she excluded at school?
- Iris loves building and fixing radios, and when she learns about Blue 55, she immediately wants to know everything about him, too. What are some things you’re really interested in, hobbies you love, or topics you could talk about all day long?
- Iris is trying to communicate with Blue 55. Why do you think it’s important to her? How is it similar and different to kids at her school trying to communicate with her? How do you think her personal experiences might impact the way she tries to communicate with Blue 55?
- Why do you think it is important to Iris that Blue 55 knows that someone hears him?
- Loneliness is an underlying theme in the novel. How does Iris deal with loneliness at school and at home? Discuss whether it’s loneliness that causes her to identify with Blue 55.
- Is being understood important to you? Can you think of times where you have felt understood and times you have not felt understood? When were they? What was happening and how did you feel? What do you think could have helped?
Classroom activities from SOMN
- Wendell’s mother teaches Deaf History at Bridgewood Junior High. Study the timeline of Deaf History on this website. Ask students to conduct more in-depth research on one interesting fact from the timeline, then share a summary of what they learned.
- Explore resources to learn ASL. You can find suggestions for apps here and free online lessons from Gallaudet.
- As a class, work together to make a whale song like Iris did. You can record instruments or use digital sounds to make your song.
- Learn more about ASL poetry by watching this video and utilizing the resources on the last page of this guide.