I was a bit disappointed with the end of Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly. I would have liked Iris (our hero of this adventure) to have done something other than what she did at the end. While it was understandable the choice she made (as her options both had valid arguments), her choice was in line with the theme of going out on a limb, out of our comfort zone and trying something new.
Kelly has written a well written and fairly non-preachy story about the deaf community. Iris, deaf from birth, has had to navigate life with hearing parents and sibling. Luckily her maternal grandparents are also deaf, so she has a safe harbor when things get stormy. But after her family moves away from these grandparents, later her grandfather’s death separates her even more and finally going to a new school where she is one of the only deaf students Iris, truly feels alone. That is until she learns about a whale other whales do not understand either. This is because it sings at a level that is too high for other whales to understand. It would be like a deaf person trying to communicate with a mostly well-meaning classmate who is trying to sign, but never really gets the hang of it. And now Iris will do whatever she can to let that whale know she hears him. She knows how he probably feels. Even if that means “running away from home” with her grandmother to deliver a special gift in person.
There are some parts of Iris’s personality I did not like (she really is hard on the girl who is trying to learn sign. Yes, that girl is clueless about Iris’s frustrations with the bad signing, but her heart was in the right place even if her fingers were not). And some things I liked (she gives it her best, no matter what). The fact she connects to the hearing world because of her whale project was one of the reasons I did not like the choice she made (SPOILER) Now she knows how to stand up for herself and understands that she is not alone, as her classmates are not so bad after all. But she chooses another path. Also, I would have liked more whale facts, but as I read a reader copy, I am hoping the finished copy has that.
Right after I finished Song I picked up a picture book called Heartbeat by Evan Turk. This is poetic prose that tells part of the history of how whales have been used historically (oil, grease, etc.). The art evokes extreme feelings. I would not have enjoyed this story at all as a kid. I was slightly nauseous reading as an adult. The colors are there to show you literally the death, destruction and the pain surrounding the whales. It also, however, shows the red of the heart beat of the whale we follow the journey of. It can be a bit-heavy handed, but the point is made. The art is surreal and the text very basic. But both pack a large, heavy punch. While the audience for this is not the 10 to 14 of Song, it is an interesting tie-in for the adult reader. The stories are radically different, but somehow seem to fit each other as well. The afterwards helps tie things together in a scientific manner. Both works well with learning about whales, but Heartbeat is also good for a poetry lesson without being a traditional poem.