Monday, March 28, 2016

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday – HOW TO SPEAK DOLPHIN

I enjoyed reading this book – it gave me a lot to think about!

Lily loves her half-brother, Adam, but she has always struggled with him, too. He's definitely on the autism spectrum — though her step-father, Don, can barely bring himself to admit it — and caring for him has forced Lily to become as much mother as sister. All Lily wants is for her step-father to acknowledge that Adam has a real issue, that they need to find some kind of program that can help him. Then maybe she can have a life of her own.

Adam's always loved dolphins, so when Don, an oncologist, hears about a young dolphin with cancer, he offers to help. He brings Lily and Adam along, and Adam and the dolphin, Nori, bond instantly.

But though Lily sees how much Adam loves Nori, she also sees that the dolphin shouldn't spend the rest of her life in captivity, away from her family. Can Adam find real help somewhere else? And can Lily help Nori regain her freedom without betraying her family?

How to Speak Dolphin was written by Ginny Rorby and published by Scholastic in 2015.

My Take:

What I liked most about this book is that the characters were all individual, portrayed with flaws and struggles, and opinions about issues such as animal rights. Lily has an autistic brother and has made friends with Zoe, who is blind and very concerned about animal rights. There was a lot to think about while reading this book – especially about how to respect others and appreciate what’s special about them inside. It also made me think about the rights of animals and how we treat them.

The family situation in this story was portrayed in realistic way. Lily and Adam’s main caregiver was a step-father, and he was struggling with the challenges of an autistic child as well as what had happened to his family. It was so nice that the parent wasn’t portrayed as perfect or always understanding but as a person with weaknesses, feelings and opinions, even if I didn’t always agree with them.

For writers, this is a good book to study if you are writing a story with many different threads and lots of emotional weight. There are some sections from the dolphin’s perspective, too.

Opening Line:

“Born in a gush of blood, the dolphin calf’s initial sense of the world is tail first into water colder than her mother’s body.”


“Ain’t you blind?  “I am, but that means I only see what’s important about a person, not their physical self.”

“There can’t be too much love, but it has to be the letting-go kind.”

Other Info:

After reading this book, I’d like to find some of Ginny Rorby’s other novels, which include HURT GO HAPPY (about a deaf girl and a chimpanzee that is learning to sign), LOST IN THE RIVER OF GRASS (a young adult survival story in the Everglades) and THE OUTSIDE OF A HORSE (about a girl working with rescue horses whose father has PTSD after returning from the war in Iraq).

Ginny Rorby lives in northern California. Here’s what she says about her writing on her website: “I write about our relationship with animals, and the natural world, to compensate for being human. I write for young people because each generation hands off to the next the responsibility for preserving what is left over from our destructive nature.”


  1. Sounds like a great story with deep characters and issues. Glad you enjoyed this and thanks for sharing it with us.

  2. This story should have wide appeal with kids who love dolphins or just want a good story. I will also be taking a look thanks to your insightful review.

  3. This is my kind of book! I've been looking for another good book on autism. Thanks for sharing info about the other books the other has written -- they sound interesting too.

    1. Patricia, I'm reading another one right now, HURT GO HAPPY. If I like it, I'll probably feature it on MMGM one day.

  4. I love the author's quote. So inspiring.

  5. Wow, this author really likes to take on complicated topics! It almost sounds like there's too much going on in this book, but it sounds like she succeeds in pulling everything together.

  6. What a pretty cover! Your review was great and I agree, characters who aren't perfect are the best characters. Thanks introducing this book to me.

    1. Yes - it's so important to show characters as real people.


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