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MUDDLED MAMMAL SPARKS WHALE OF A TALE

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This is a whale of a tale.

It's about 22 kids, ages 6 and 7, who invited a whale named Humphrey to class.Humphrey isn't real. The paper-mache gray whale, constructed by the first-graders and their teacher, Kristy Sleight, hangs from the light fixtures in Room 8 of Salt Lake's Hawthorne Elementary.

But despite Humphrey's obvious inability to survive in the sea, the kids love him just the same. Jeremy Alvord, who saw the real thing, Shamu, perform tricks at San Diego's Sea World, wouldn't trade Humphrey for the California wonder.

"He has a longer nose," said Jeremy, explaining why his Humphrey is special.

Hawthorne's Humphrey actually has a namesake, Humphrey the wrong-way whale who was lost in San Francisco Bay a few years ago and had to be coaxed out to sea. The children read about him in Scholastic magazine, and for the past month, Sleight has worked their reading, science, art and poetry lessons around whales and the sea.

"A fish is a wish swimming in a bowl or the sea. A fish is dancing with me," penned Cole Christensen.

"A fish is slimy and scaly and shiny too. Their (sic) smelly and spoty (sic) and it might swim to you," wrote classmate Lacey Tew.

They even wrote and illustrated their own book, "In the Dark Dark Sea," which is all about what lives at the bottom of the sea, including a treasure containing a shark.

And one day they walked to a nearby grocery store and bought a trout, bringing it back to school to handle and smell. Their reaction can be summed up in one word: "Yuck!!"

With all the attention Room 8 has focused on whales, most of the kids were enthusiastic when asked to dream about what they'd do with a real life Humphrey.

"I'd put him in my back yard in my huge sandbox," said Sam Holt. Tew added a modification to the backyard solution. "I'd turn on my sprinklers."

"I'd put it in my basement" was Cole Christensen's response. Is there water down there? "There is a river running under my house and I'd just chop a hole in the floor," said the practical Cole.

Charles VanAusdale, however, didn't like those suggestions: "I'd find a lake."

Whatever the suggestion, Chris Ward thinks a kid coming home with a whale in tow might run into one whale of an obstacle - mom.

"She'd say, `Get that thing out of here,' " Chris foresees.