Elizabeth Laird is a British author of books for children and young adults. She was born in New Zealand, raised in England, and has travelled widely all of her adult life in the Middle East, Africa, Malaysia and India. She now divides her time between London, England and Scotland.
Many years ago I read her first books, Red Sky in Morning and Kiss the Dust – both excellent award-winning novels for teenage readers.
Her most recent novel is Song of the Dolphin Boy. I have a long held fascination with Selkies, who “live as seals in the sea, and shed their skin to become human on land”. Many of the stories about selkies are about a woman – a selkie - who comes from the sea, marries and has a child, but is drawn back to the sea. Sometimes she will leave alone, but sometimes she also takes her child, leaving the man who loved her to mourn forever.
Song of the Dolphin Boy features a boy whose mother was a selkie, and has returned to the sea. Leaving her husband to mourn and her son, who does not know the truth, to always wonder what happened to his mother. The boy is Finn, and he knows that he is different from the other children in his small Scottish village. The first time Finn enters the water – against the strict orders of his father – he discovers he is completely at home for the first time in his life.
Finn also discovers the dolphins who make the waters nearby their home. Disturbingly though, he also discovers that the dolphins are dying because they have ingested, or become entangled in, the remains of balloons and the plastic strings attached to the balloons. Finn, with the help of the other children in the village, becomes an advocate for the elimination of plastic balloons.
Many readers will be familiar with a film that has appeared frequently on social media showing a scuba diver swimming among a sea of plastic. Anyone seeing this film cannot help but think of our own responsibility to reduce the amount of plastic that enters the environment. Eliminating balloons is simple. Eliminating plastic straws is simple. We just have to do it. We should not accept a plastic bag if it is not needed. We must start questioning the plastic items we use and ask ourselves if we really need them. We must consciously look for alternatives to the use of plastic.
Song of the Dolphin Boy is a novel for children, ideally ages 8 - 12. The story explores the dynamics of relationships between children, the jealousies, the bullying, and the resentments. Finn is at first a friendless child, his home is a sad place, and he is very much an outsider. But, when the children come together they discover that each of them has their own challenges at home, and that they each have strengths and weaknesses. Together, though, they can make a difference to the survival of the dolphins.
I recommend Song of the Dolphin Boy as a classroom read aloud. Young people are impressionable and they are powerful. Teach them well.