Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly

Hello, Lynne Kelly! I am OVER THE MOON to celebrate Song for a Whale with you today. I love Iris and her story. I think Leo Nickolls’ cover illustration perfectly captures the heart and feel of the book. 

Lynne Kelly: Thank you for having me here, Mr. Schu! I’m so excited to finally be able to share the cover with everyone. And yes, it’s a stunning illustration--I nearly fell out of my chair when I first saw it. The bright colors really stand out, and I love the whale and the triumphant pose of Iris on the pier. Those pine trees and reflection that double as sound waves were a lovely surprise!

Yes, the sound waves practically pop off the cover. Did your work as a sign language interpreter inspire Iris Bailey’s story?

Lynne: Yes, for sure! Some of my first interpreting jobs were in public school classrooms. My work still takes me there occasionally, and I’ve been able to work with some smart and funny kids. Also, I interpreted for a college student who’d been repairing old radios and TVs since he was a kid, and I found that fascinating. That’s a skill I decided to give Iris, and it ended up working out perfectly for her attempt to reach out to the whale.

When I started working in the field, I was surprised to meet so many deaf people whose parents never learned sign language. It’s still quite common, and I think that’s a big reason deaf people have a stronger bond with other deaf people than with their own family members; if your parents don’t speak your language, you’re never going to have more than superficial conversations with them. The students I’ve worked with have had other deaf students at school to talk to, but that doesn’t happen for everyone.

When I started working on this story about a whale who can’t communicate with other whales, I thought about the character who’d want to track him down. Iris is fortunate to have a deaf grandmother and family members who sign, though she still feels left out at home and isolated at school.

Song for a Whale focuses on a whale and Chained focuses on an elephant. What are your two favorite facts about whales and your two favorite facts about elephants?

Lynne: It’s hard to narrow down my favorite facts, since they’re both such fascinating animals! They’re similar in some ways, like in how their communication includes sounds that humans can’t hear.

Two favorites about elephants:

- They recognize friends and family members, even after decades apart

- They’re good swimmers, and use their trunks as a snorkel

And two favorite recent discoveries about whales:

- Bowhead whales are called “the jazz musicians of the sea,” because they’re constantly changing their songs

- Groups of humpback whales sometimes attack orcas that are hunting other marine mammals, like seals or gray whales. Humpbacks eat small food, like plankton and krill, so no one knows for sure why they’re interfering with those orca hunts.

Thank you! I know it was hard not to share more than two facts about each animal. :) 

Please finish these sentences:

Blue 55 is a whale who sings at a frequency unlike any other. Though other whales don’t understand him, he keeps singing his song and hopes one day something out there will hear him and answer back. He’s based on the 52 hertz whale, also known as “The Loneliest Whale in the World,” who might be a blue-fin hybrid like the fictionalized version in this story.

I hope Song for a Whale connects with readers who’ve felt alone and unheard.

School libraries and librarians should be in every school! There are books out there for every reader, but of course readers need access to those books. A good school librarian can foster a love for reading and help students find stories they’ll enjoy. 

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me my favorite facts about sign language!

Each country has its own sign language, and some countries have more than one. The signed language of a country often is very different from its spoken language. British Sign Language, for example, is nothing like American Sign Language, though the two countries have the same spoken language.

My favorite thing about using the language is that it’s 3-D. Since we have use of the space in front of us, we can concisely show the movement of a herd of animals or cars in traffic with one sign.

Look for Song for a Whale on February 5, 2019. 


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