I read this Newbery winner when I was in junior high school. Ordinarily, I didn’t go for man-against-nature type of stories. I didn’t go for a novel told in first person present tense. But Island of the Blue Dolphins featured a girl who had to survive totally alone on her island. And when the author introduced a dog? I was hooked.
In order to review Scott O’Dell’s masterpiece, I read the book again. I now appreciate the story even more than when I was a kid. And would you believe it? The Author’s Note at the end provides a Big Reveal which I never bothered to read when I was twelve. Boy, did I miss out! It took many years into adulthood to realize other portions of a book can be interesting as the novel itself.
This is what I missed the first time around: Island of the Blue Dophins is based on a true story. The island really exists, named San Nicolas, not far off the coast of southern California. A girl really did live alone on the island for eighteen years from 1835 to 1853. She was known as The Lost Woman of San Nicolas and is buried near the Santa Barbara Mission. If I had known this, I would have been begging my parents to take a vacation to California, and the book would have made my Top Five.
Aleuts and Russians visit Karana’s island, over hunt the otter, and break the trade agreement with her tribe. When her people object, the Aleuts kill most of the men. The new chief decides they should move to a new country, but Karana, at the tender of age of twelve, is accidentally left behind. She knows they will not be able to come back for her until the next summer. However, she has learned survival skills. She is sure she can make it through the winter.
Summers continue to pass, and no one returnsr. How she thrives as the solitary human on her island becomes the fascination of the story. She builds a new home and makes sure it is well-provisioned. She gathers food and makes weapons to defend herself against wild dogs. She befriends the wounded leader of the pack, who remains her faithful companion. After many years, a new ship arrives to rescue her.
- Children who enjoy nonfiction books will like this fiction book as they see how Karana tames animals, gathers food, and fashions tools that she can use to survive.
- Children who enjoy fiction will love how Karana builds relationships with animals and accepts friendship from a girl of the enemy camp.
- Karana’s courage is amazing and without bravado. She takes each day at a time and doesn’t waste hours feeling sorry for herself. She doggedly survives. Kids will recognize what an admirable character she is.
- Today’s editors would not be happy with the fact that there is no huge climax. Instead, Karana grows up by herself, she learns to adapt and practice skills traditionally reserved for the men of her tribe, and she accepts the help of strangers when given the opportunity to join civilization once again.
- At no time is there a huge “aha” moment, although she slowly accepts the fact that no one is coming for her. She is content to live alone.
- What quality to you admire most about Karana?
- How was Karana different from her little brother Ramo?
- Why did Karana choose to never kill otters or seals or dogs again?
- What do we call the “devil fish?”
Island of the Blue Dolphins is one of those ageless stories. Adults and children alike will find something new to love with every read.