Whale Talk


Childhood and College Years

Chris Crutcher was born on an airplane over Dayton, Ohio, on July 17, 1946, the second of three children. His father was a World War II Air Force Pilot and a voracious reader, and his mother was a homemaker with a love for language and poetry ("Author Spotlight"; Cunfer, Lefkowitz, and Pollock-Gillson; "Bios"). His parents raised him in Cascade, Idaho, a small lumber and logging town near Boise, Idaho, that contained 950 people ("Author Spotlight").

Despite Crutcher’s success as an author, he was not the best student, and reading was not one of his favorite pastimes ("Author Spotlight"). Crutcher even admits to inventing authors, book titles, and stories for book reports in high school. Actually, he read only one full book during high school, and that book was To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee. After high school Crutcher attended Eastern Washington State College where he earned a degree in psychology and sociology. During College, he spent joined the Eastern Washington swim team, and spend a lot of time swimming. He is also a distance runner, and as readers of Chris Crutcher already know, athletics appear throughout his works (Cunfer, Lefkowitz, and Pollock-Gillson).

After College

After college, Crutcher traveled the united states with a friend for one year, and then returned to college to earn a teaching certificate. He used this certificate to work as the director of a K-12 alternative school for inner city kids in Oakland, California for ten years. Then he moved to Spokane, Washington in 1980 where he started working in a mental health center as a family and child therapist, specializing in child-abuse cases ("Author Spotlight"). He also serves as the chairperson for the Spokane Child Protection Team ("Bios").


Crutcher did not start writing until he was 35, but now he cannot imagine his life without writing. In his novels, he tries to depict life as he sees it by combining humor with serious situations. He even bases many novels on his own life. For example, Running Loose reflects his experiences growing up in Cascade, Idaho, and The Crazy Horse Electric Game finds bases in his time working at the alternative school in Oakland ("Author Spotlight").

Crutcher has won many awards for his writing, including the Governor’s Writers Award for Washington State, the ALAN Award for Contributions to Young Adult Literature, and the National Intellectual Freedom Award ("Awards & Honors"). Recently, he received a "Celebration of Free Speech & Its Defenders" award from the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), and a "Writers Who Make a Difference Award" by The Writer magazine ("Author Spotlight," "News Briefs").

Steps in the Webquest

        1. Read the book summary

        2. Search the hot sites and consider story themes, events, and characters.

        3. Answer the questions in the quiz by creating a word document

        4. Visit the rubric to see the grading schedule.

“Author Spotlight.” Random House, Inc. 1995-2005. 13 November 2005. <http://www.randomhouse.com/author/results.pperl?authorid=6126>.

"Awards and Honors." Chris Crutcher. 2005. 13 November 2005. <http://www.chriscrutcher.com/index.2ts?page=awards>.

“Bios: Christ Crutcher.” Young Adults (& Kids!) Books Central. 2005. 13 November 2005. <http://www.yabookscentral.com/cfusion/index.cfm?fuseAction=authors.bio&bio_id=91>.

Cunfer, Sue, Ilene Lefkowitz, and Wendy Pollock-Gillson. Learning About Chris Crutcher. 2005. 13 November 2005. <http://www.scils.rutgers.edu/~kvander/crutcher.html>.

"News Briefs." Christ Crutcher. 2005. 13 November 2005. <http://www.aboutcrutcher.com/>.

Email the author, Gale Toombs or Dr. Blasingame


Whale Talk Summary

Read the book summary.  Visit the hyperlinks to explore more about themes, characters, or events within the novel.

T.J Jones, birth name The Tao Jones, is one of only a handful of people of color in his small Washington town.  His biological mother abandoned him when she got heavily into drugs, and, as a result, T.J grew up with a lot of rage issues.  With the help of his adopted parents, his mom is a prosecutor and his father a Guardian ad Litem for the state, and Georgia, his therapist, he’s been able to outgrow most of that.  There is, however, still one thing that makes his blood roil: bullies.

T.J. is a gifted athlete (having qualified for the Junior Olympics in swimming when he was 13) who shuns high school sports because of their association with jocks and bullies.  However, when T.J.’s favorite teacher, Mr. Simet, convinces T.J. to help start a swim team for the school, he recognizes an opportunity to strike back at the school’s jocks, particularly a star linebacker and bully named Mike Barbour.  After securing some very limited pool space at All Night Fitness, (they are forced to spend most of their workout time outside of the water) T.J. sets out to create his misfit team, recruiting exclusively social rejects.  He starts with Chris Coughlin, a developmentally disabled kid with a natural stroke and grace in the water who could easily become a Special Olympics champion.  Other outcasts begin to join up, embracing the opportunity to be a part of a team for once in their lives.  Joining T.J., Chris, and Mr. Simet on the newly formed mermen squad are: Andy Mott, a crude, quiet guy with a prosthetic leg, Simon DeLong, all three-hundred pounds of him, Jackie Craig, an almost mute kid with nondescript features, Dan Hole, a geek with a knack for superfluous and multi-syllable verbiage, and Tay-Roy, a bodybuilder with no actual swimming experience.  Together, they form the Cutter High School boy’s swimming team.

As the season progresses, the team grows closer and closer together.  Long road trips to swim meets become group therapy sessions in which T.J. learns what makes his seemingly bizarre companions tick.  The swimmers feel as if they belong to something and they continue to cultivate this feeling of solidarity.  T.J. also explains the idea behind whale talk, the book’s namesake, as a metaphor for how humans often fail to communicate their feelings.  Whales always unleash their cries, which travel hundreds or even thousands of miles, without editing or second guessing.  It is pure, unfiltered emotion.  T.J. continues to elaborate more on his plan to strike back at the jocks of Cutter High.  If everything works out he plans to have all of his teammates in letter jacketsby the season’s end.  This will not be an easy task because the letter jacketis Cutter High’s proudest symbol of athletic achievement.  To see a group of social rejects like Coughlin, DeLong, Mott, Craig, and Tay-Roy clad in Wolverine blue and gold, well, nothing would irk Mike Barbour and his clan of jocks and bullies (who act more like lemmings than individual humans).  T.J. and Mr. Simet establish a requirement for letter jackets that everyone on the team will be able to meet.  All they have to do is simply better their times at every meet.  While this initially seems like a very difficult standard, T.J. explains that, since the swimmers on his misfit team have virtually no swimming experience, they should have no problem bettering their times with each passing swim.  The Athletic Council, fooled by T.J. and Mr. Simet’s deception, readily agree to the proposal.

Along the way to two individual state championships, T.J. never loses his sense of irony.  When the Athletic Council, fearing that the merman might actually earn letter jackets, attempts to revoke the privilege, T.J. throws one of his races, thereby disqualifying himself from the Cutter blue and gold.  While the team does not get the points for the thrown race, T.J. never loses sight of his true goal: organizing a team of the school’s most hopeless social rejects and helping to shape them into something great; something where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Hot Sites


Visit the hyperlinked sites to help further your understanding of many of the themes of the novel by conducting outside research.


Child Abuse: There are different forms of child abuse: two forms are emotional abuse, including verbal, psychological, identity, spiritual, and isolation, and physical abuse, including neglect, sexual, and battery. You can look up definitions and categories of abuse at: http://atoz.iqhealth.com/atoz/readingroom/child.html
Play Therapy: Georgia Brown, T.J.’s counselor and friend, tries to help Heidi by using a method called “Play Therapy.” For a definition on Play Therapy as a special kind of Child Psychology, visit: www.playtherapy.org.uk/AboutPlayTherapy/PlayTherapyDefinition1.htm
Bullies Big & Small: Author Chris Crutcher shows that bullies can be found not only in some kids, but in a few adults also. T.J. has his own unique ways of dealing with the two bullies, Mike Barbour and Rich Marshall, in his life. Here are some tips on how to handle the bullies that might be in your school, as well as an insight on what makes bullies bully: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bullies
The Misfit Team: One could call them “misfits,” but, relatively speaking, the misfits somehow fit with one another. To visit the homepage of a member of another popular misfit team check out: http://www.devonharrislive.com/
Basking in the Reflected Glory of the Letter Jacket: The Letter Jacket stands for different symbols according to different characters in Crutcher’s Cutter High: pride, victory, goals, association, identity…To find out what the Letter Jacket traditionally stands for, you can check out: http://members.cox.net/phxjer/sleeves/history.htm
Special Olympics: Chris had an intellectual disability but was still able to participate in group sports. The Special Olympics Organization is committed to reaching the intellectually disabled to improve their physical and mental health. To find out what other benefits these activities provide explore: http://www.specialolympics.org
Adoption: Although T.J. only briefly mentions the adoption process, adoption is not easy it has both financial and legal obligations. To find out what his adoptive parents had to go thought in the adoptive process explore: http://adopting.adoption.com
Irony: Chris Crutcher uses irony throughout his novel Whale Talk as a literary device. To find out more about irony and to help further your understanding of the irony within the book visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irony
Whale Song: Whale songs travel hundreds of miles in the ocean. To learn more about these amazing songs visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whale_song
Guardian ad Litem: T.J.'s father is a Guardian ad Litem for the state. His job is to represent the best interests of wards of the state who may not be able to represent themselves. To learn more about what a Guardian ad Litem does visit: http://www.clerk.co.brevard.fl.us/ctadmin/guardian_ad_litem/gal_program....
Lemmings: Small, furry rodents that are slightly larger than rats. They become a metaphor for many of the jocks at Cutter High. To learn more about these mammals and how they relate to the book visit: http://www.4to40.com/QA/index.asp?counter=43&category=animal
Prosthetic Leg: Many of the characters compete in swimming despite physical or mental handicaps. To learn more about athletes who compete with prosthetics visit: http://www.amputee-coalition.org/inmotion/dec_96/slopes.html



Answer the following quiz questions in writing or word document.  Be sure to utilize the hyperlinks to conduct outside research and apply it to your answers.  Use a paragraph format that considers the 6 trait rubric.

  1. After reading the information on adoption what are some of the requirements to be able to adopt that T.J.’s adoptive parents would have had to meet?
  2. At one point, T.J. comments that Rich Marshall is “kind of a cross between a kid and an adult, and I mean that in the least flattering terms of either” (Crutcher 66).  For T.J., Mike Barbour is a peer bully, and Rich Marshall is an adult bully.  How could a youth bully like Mike turn into an adult bully like Marshall?  According to you, what’s the difference between being a grown-up and being mature? Do the two always go hand in hand?
  3. T.J. and Mike both have respect for athletics, but in very different ways.  What is the difference between how T.J. views respect the letter jacketversus how Mike Barbour views respect the Letter Jacket?  How do the three different characters of Chris, T.J. and Mike find personal identity in a Letter Jacket?
  4. T.J. gathers a group of unique kids (each with their individual quirks) from Cutter High for a swim team or misfit team that represents various different spectrums of the school.  Describe how each member of the team is a misfit according to the “status quo” of Cutter High School Athletics.  How would you stereotype or classify each member of the team? Then name one way each team member is unique apart from or in addition to the stereotype.  Finally, how do the team members compliment each other (in listing both strengths and weaknesses).
  5. In the story, T.J.’s father is a Guardian ad Litem.  After reading the information provided on this website, give a brief example of how T.J. is also acting as an unofficial Guardian ad Litem.
  6. Every year the Amputee Coalition of America sponsors a special ski trip, where participants learn to overcome a variety of physical, emotional, and social obstacles. Although the only student with a prosthetic leg on Cutter High’s swim team is Andy Mott, all of the students have obstacles to overcome. How do you think the experiences of the teens on the ski outing are similar to those of the swimmers of at Cutter High?
  7. According to the information provided on the Special Olympics website what are some of the benefits that people with intellectual disabilities such as Chris can gain from participating in group sports?  Which of these benefits are evident in Chris’s life in Whale Talk?
  8. After reviewing the information provided on lemmings explain how you think this animal represents the story as a whole.  Find at least one sentence from the book that supports your idea.
  9. The little girl Heidi in Whale Talk is abused by her stepfather Rich Marshall.  What are the different ways, according to the categories of abuse, in which Heidi has been hurt?
  10. What does Heidi begin to realize about her identity during the play therapy session with TJ and Georgia?  In turn, what does TJ realize about Heidi’s identity, ethnic identity, and identity in general?
  11. Using the web resource, what is ironic about T.J. not receiving a letter jacket from the council? What kind of irony is this?

  12. How does whale song become a central metaphor for the book?  Specifically, what is it about the nature of whale song that allows Chris Crutcher to weave it into the story and further our understanding of the characters?

WebQuest Rubric








Your Score

Understanding of Material

Apparent misunderstanding of material 

Limited understanding of material displayed by vague, unclear language 

Developing understanding of material 

Clear understanding of material displayed by clear, concrete language and complex ideas 



No apparent connections between text, websites, questions, and ideas 

Few connections made between text, websites, questions, and ideas 

Developing connections between text, websites, questions, and ideas 

Clear connections made between text, websites, questions, and ideas 


Quote Choice

Supporting quotes are not relevant to question 

Quote selection reaching to support answer and ideas 

Chosen quotes loosely support ideas in answer 

Excellent quote choices - specifically supports ideas presented in answer 



Answer addresses topic but loses focus by including irrelevant ideas 

Answer is focused on topic and includes few loosely related ideas 

Answer is focused on the topic and includes relevant ideas 

Answer is focused, purposeful, and reflects clear insight and ideas 



Frequent errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation 

Errors in grammar and punctuation, but spelling has been proofread 

Occasional grammatical errors and questionable word choice  

Nearly error-free which reflects clear understanding and thorough proofreading