A Girl, a Whale, and a Song

42AEFFFC-CB18-45F1-BBF8-6D4F771C55FAIris is a twelve year old girl who loves fixing radios. She is also Deaf and living in a family that doesn’t always quite get her. When she hears about a whale who is also having trouble finding connection, she sets out on an incredible journey. Song for a Whale is a book for anyone who wants to be heard, wants to know they are not alone, and loves to read about the amazing world of animals and the power of human connection.

Lynne Kelly answered some questions for me to celebrate Song for a Whale on its book birthday!

Christine: Poetry is a huge thread in this novel. Do you mind talking a little bit about how sign poems work in American Sign Lanugage? We hear a bit in the book, but I’d love to hear more. I love the richness of literature that pulls in other genres. This book has science and fiction and poetry, amazing!

Lynne: Yes, Deaf poets create some lovely work! I decided to include the poetry in the story to illustrate the versatility of American Sign Language.The language that Iris shares with her grandmother is as rich and complex as any other; they can argue, discuss how they feel, tell jokes, and make up stories and poems.

I think too it shows the contrast between these two worlds she’s straddling–here’s something she’s always enjoyed doing with her grandparents.

Here’s an excellent NBC news segment about Deaf poets doing Deaf poetry: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRcwVRf5BS8

The last page of the Song For a Whale curriculum guide has more information about Deaf poetry, and a link to linguist and author Clayton Valli’s Dandelions.

Christine: In other interviews you said that Chained (your first novel for children) took three years to write. How long did Song for a Whale take you from inspiration to finished manuscript?

Lynne: For me, it was quick–just over a year from idea to submission-ready. Of course after that there were rounds of revisions, as always. Chained took more research, but mainly it took so long because it was the first book I wrote, so I was learning about writing along the way.

Christine: I don’t want to say too much, but Iris isn’t the only one who takes a journey of transformation. I’ve read in other interviews that you decided to give her grandparents who are Deaf to show the richness of her communication in ASL and her comfort with being Deaf. How did you tap into the grandparent’s journey? Did the characters tell you, or was that kind of loss something you wanted to explore?

Lynne: I knew that I wanted Iris to have some family members who were fluent in sign language, to show that contrast between home and school and the difference between the relationships– naturally, Iris feels more understood and fulfilled when she’s with people who share her language and experience.

But for her to be more compelled to track down the lonely whale she learns about, I wanted things in even the good parts of her life to be not quite right. She wants to get back to the way things used to be with her grandparents, but Grandpa is gone and Grandma isn’t herself anymore, lost in her grief. It’s not something I set out to explore, but I think it ended up making the story more universal; grief is something we all have to experience. We have to work through it and find that though we’ll always miss the person we’ve lost, we’ll be okay.

Christine: I recently read an article about writing Deaf literature and who writes it and why. What I found most interesting about the article, and why I love to read outside my experience, is that I had never heard about the ways to write down speech that is signed. How did you decide on using italics and the tags you used in the book?

Lynne: Since ASL isn’t a written or spoken language, authors have used different conventions to indicate signed dialogue. At first I used italics only, but at times it might not have been clear what was signed and what was internal dialogue. My editor, agent, and I discussed some options and the examples in this article by author Laura Brown, and decided to keep the italics to differentiate it from spoken English, but add quotation marks to indicate that the lines are part of a conversation. Also it treats the sign language dialogue like any other, with quotes.

Christine: Thank you so much for answering questions about this brilliant book. To wrap up, any cool whale facts you didn’t get to include you’d love to share?

Lynne: Humpback whale songs get more complex over time, as they make up new patterns and even borrow snippets of songs from other groups of whales. Then they seem to hit a complexity wall and return to more simple melodies. Bowhead whales are called the “jazz musicians of the sea” since they’re constantly improvising new songs. I’d love to know what it all means!

Lynne Kelly has always loved reading, and fell in love with children’s literature all over again when she worked as a special education teacher. Her career as a sign language interpreter has taken her everywhere from classrooms to hospitals to Alaskan cruises. She lives near Houston, Texas with her adorable dog, Holly.FF000E1D-64B4-441A-BFA5-64F1DDB4DD8D



Forbidden Love

alltheriverscoverLiat and Himli meet in a New York City coffee shop. Liat is an Israeli on a Fulbright scholarship. Himli, a Palestinian, is an artist, wild in hair and spirit, and the two are instantly attracted.

As they grow closer, and as Liat’s visa comes closer to expiration, so does their relationship, for meeting back in Palestine or Israel seems as impossible as the fate that brought them together. When the unthinkable occurs, Liat is left to tell the story. Continue reading “Forbidden Love”

It Looks Like This

itlookslikethisIt looks like desire. It looks like fear. It looks like life beginning. It looks like the end. It looks like love. It looks like heartbreak.

Mike has just moved to a new town. A new school. Freshman year. Mike meets someone. Mike falls in love. With a boy. Mike’s conservative parents can’t know. Mike’s world is about to turn upside down. In a tragedy worthy of Romeo and Juliet, young love and family strife are center stage.  A classic love story for our time. Whether you want the rush of young love, or the tears of that often come with it, this book is for you. Continue reading “It Looks Like This”

The Past Never Sleeps

Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty are partners in the Community Policing Section of the Canadian Police, theunquietdeada special division that handles cases that might affect minority communities. They are surprised when they are called to a beautiful lake-side home where a man appears to have simply fallen to his death.

As the case builds, Esa and Rachel realize there is nothing simple about this crime, or about the way we deal with the past. With flashbacks to Bosnia during genocide, this book is a deep look at revenge, forgiveness, community, and family.

Ausma Zehanat Khan has created complex characters and a gritty, multi-layered mystery that spans the globe and time. A wonderful debut, this the first in a series of three mysteries with Esa and Rachel. The third novel in this series will be available February 14, 2017.

Ausma graciously agreed to answer some questions for me here at Book Club Advisor.

You’ve mentioned this in other interviews, but do you mind briefly telling my readers about the inspiration for this book?

The Unquiet Dead arose out of research I had done for my dissertation on military intervention and war crimes in the Balkans. I’d studied the Bosnian genocide for many years, and I felt the tragedy of it was slipping away without any of its lessons being learned. I wanted to tell a story that reflected the criminality of the genocide, and the unimaginable loss. There’s a line in The Unquiet Dead: “how quickly the violent ideals of ultra-nationalism led to hate, how quickly hate to blood.” I think that’s a lesson for us now. Continue reading “The Past Never Sleeps”

Fierce Friendship

myatibbsMya Tibbs is a nine-year-old full of sprit, which is good because it’s almost Spirit Week, and she and her popular best friend Naomi are ready to win the week full of competition.

But what happens when Mya and Naomi don’t get to be partners? Instead Mya is stuck with Mean Connie Tate, the biggest bully at her school. Will she sneak information to Naomi and her partner to help them win? Or will she learn there might be more to Connie Tate than meets the eye?

A touching, rollicking look at friendship in elementary school. Sometimes the person we think is being mean isn’t. And sometimes when we don’t intend to, we become the mean one. And what do you do then? Fast-paced with a satisfying ending, including someone getting lassoed in the hall, The Magnificent Mya Tibbs will leave you smiling and thinking. Mya’s creator, Crystal Allen, talks with me about Mya, friendship, and her own experiences in elementary school.


Christine at Book Club Advisor: Thanks for talking with us today, Crystal! Mya Tibbs loves having Naomi as a new best friend. What did you know about Naomi when you began to write her?

Crystal Allen: I knew that Naomi was a beautiful, but bratty, nine-year-old girl.  The more she developed in my mind, the more I began to see her as a child who was the product of beauty pageants that emphasized outward beauty. Continue reading “Fierce Friendship”

Alone in a Hurricane

It’s how many of us feel right now. There is no relief, there are no clear answers, and we cannot see clearly through the lashing rain and flying debris of anger, hopelessness, and despair. In reviewing books that deal with the raw issues that brought our country to this point, and how parents and teachers can address them through literature, Beth Kephart, National Book Award Finalist, has honored us with a video interview about her new young adult novel, This is the Story of You.

thisisthestoryofyou(Click cover to buy indie)

Mira lives on Haven, a small town on a barrier island, with her mother and chronically ill brother. Winds begin to blow as a storm forms over the water, but the town assumes the storm will fall apart, or at least not be a major event. In an intense, short period of time the storm becomes deadly, and the town is torn apart. Mira will face the storm, and the revelations that come with life after devastating destruction alone, until she decides to let someone in, someone who will help her understand the winds of change that have been blowing through her own life. Continue reading “Alone in a Hurricane”

Tragedy, Connection, and Hope

the-memory-of-thingsBook Club Advisor welcomes author, Gae Polisner, for a video interview on the power of literature, how The Memory of Things was created, and the impact of a national tragedy on a generation. (Scroll down for vlog clips with the author.)

It is the morning of September 11, 2001. Kyle is sixteen years old and his world is crumbling in front of him. From his high school in downtown Manhattan, Kyle watches the first Twin Tower fall and runs back home to Brooklyn as chaos descends. On the way, he finds a beautiful girl covered in ash and wearing costume wings, a girl who appears ready to jump from the bridge. He convinces her to come home with him to safety. Kyle feels lost and frightened, responsible for his uncle who needs medical care with the nurse unable to come due to the city being at a standstill. Kyle’s father is a first-responder at the scene and Kyle’s worry for him is palpable. When the story begins, Kyle only knows that his mother and sister are on a plane back from California. He cannot remember which flight or what time and fears for their lives. Kyle and the girl are both lost in grief and fear. Continue reading “Tragedy, Connection, and Hope”