School is out and I’m on summer vacation so I won’t have many student stories to share but I do have a fabulous book to bring to your attention. My first read of the summer was HOW TO SPEAK DOLPHIN by Ginny Rorby, published by Scholastic Press.
I was drawn to this book for several reasons: first, I’ve enjoyed Ms. Rorby’s previous novels and assumed her writing would be as engaging as ever (I was right); second, Ginny Rorby is a friend of mine and I wanted to know what she has been up to in her writing life; third, Ms. Rorby did substantial research for this book in the autism class at the school where I work—with MY STUDENTS.
The narrator of this story, Lily, is big sister to Adam, a young child on the autism spectrum. You can’t help but root for this loyal, loving sister, whose family-life revolves around her half-brother. Her life takes a twist when her oncologist, step-dad, Don, is called in to assist in treating a young dolphin with cancer. Don brings Adam along, and when he meets Nori, a rescued bottlenose dolphin, a bond forms between them that crosses the communication boundaries inherent in Adam’s disability.
Adam is soon enrolled in a Dolphin Assisted Therapy program in hopes that his communication skills will improve. But when Lily sees how confining the environment is for the young dolphin, and realizes Nori may have to live in a chain-linked pen at the back of a pool for the next 37 years, she struggles between her loyalty to Adam and her desire to see this young dolphin freed from captivity.
Since several of my students are on the autism spectrum, I read the book with a critical eye to Ms. Rorby’s depiction of such a child. She did a brilliant job. Not only did she paint an accurate picture of Adam, she clearly depicted the family struggles surrounding a child with Adam’s particular cluster of autistic behaviors.
This story draws compassion from its readers—compassion for those with disabilities, their families, and for animals held in captivity.
I may not have shared stories about my students in this post, but Ginny did a fine job doing so. The main character in her book, Adam, is fictional, but his name and many of his characteristics are not. I work with the real Adam and with others in his class who exhibit the behaviors Ginny so accurately described.
When school rolls around in the fall, I’m glad I will have HOW TO SPEAK DOLPHIN on hand to share with my students, especially those animal-loving girls at our middle school. Perhaps their insights and our future discussions will make their way to this blog. I’ll keep you posted.