Title: Island of the Blue Dolphins
Author: Scott O'Dell
Year of Publication: 1985
Category: Historical Fiction
This is a book that I always wanted to read as a child but never actually did. They always had ads for this book in all my literature books during middle school years but it was never assigned for reading and it was not available in our tiny school library.
About three weeks ago, I found this book in one of my trips to the local thrift store and bought it (and for $.50cents only!). It took me a while to read it because, well, it is a children’s book. It was hard for me to concentrate because of its simple language and repetition of already told facts but I finally finished it and enjoyed the overall story very much.
The Island of the Blue Dolphin is called such because from a distance, it looks like a fish sunning itself in the sea and because blue dolphins, otters, sea elephants and sea birds abound in and around the island. It is inhabited by Indians who had lived there for centuries. One year, the Aleuts (Russians) came to hunt for otter which were found in abundance on the island. As the Aleuts were about to leave the island, a confrontation broke out between the Indians and the Aleuts—their bows and arrows being no match for the Aleut’s weapons, about half of the village men were killed, including the village chief.
After this incident, the Indians lived in constant fear of the Aleut’s return and were always prepared to flee on a moment’s notice. One summer, a ship of white men comes and offers to take them away to a safer land. The villagers readily accept the offer and as all are heralded onto the ship, Karana, the narrator of the story, realizes that her little brother is not among them.
As the ship starts to pull away from the shore, Karana spots her brother on the island—left behind all alone. She screams and begs for the captain to go back for her brother, who is only six years old but there is a storm looming on the horizon and the captain refuses as he cannot lose any more time. He promises that will come back for her brother at a later time.
Desperate to do something, Karana jumps off the ship and swims to shore to accompany her brother. They both stand on the shore and watch as the ship sails away from them into the horizon.
This is not only a story of survival of a young girl left all alone on an island but it’s a story of adventure and triumph as she overcomes her fears and survive.
I love this book and am bummed that it was not required reading in my middle school—I would’ve had an easier time reading it than because of its language. I get that it is an old book but in this case, old is gold! This book deals with so many different aspects and would have been an excellent book to write a paper on (although I don’t miss that about school!) This book is perfect if you want to help your kids realize the importance of nature.
When Karana first begins to fend for herself, she follows the routines and rituals of her tribe as that is all she knows. The Indians on the island were practically cut off from the rest of the world because of their remote location and depended heavily on the wildlife present on the island for sustenance and building materials. But after a while, Karana begins to consider the animals, birds and other wildlife present around her as a part of her family—she begins to make relationships with them and starts to take care of them. At one point she says, “If Ulape (her sister) and my father had come back and laughed, and all the others had come back and laughed, still I would have felt the same way, for animals and birds are like people, too, though they do not talk the same or do the same things. Without them the earth would be an unhappy place.”
If I had kids, I would make them read this book as a family and then hold a discussion about what they would do if they were in Karana’s place!
This book is historical fiction and Karana is known in history as the "Lost Woman of San Nicolas." The Island of the Blue Dolphins is the San Nicolas island located about 75 miles southwest of Los Angeles.
For further reading and activities with your children (or for yourself) check out this link.