Sunday, November 2, 2008

Island of the Blue Dolphins

O'Dell, Scott. 1960. Island of the Blue Dolphins. New York: Dell Publishing Co. ISBN 0440940001

Plot Summary:
A little-known island off the southern coast of California in the early to mid 1800s is the setting for O'Dell's story. Karana and her brother, members of an Indian tribe living in the village of Ghalas-at, are accidentally left behind on the island when the tribe decides to relocate to the coast of Southern California. After her brother is killed by wild dogs, Karana is left completely alone, a girl Robinson Caruso. Based upon a true story, Karana spends 18 years alone before being found and brought to California. What transpires here is a story of courage, steadfastness, self-discovery, and hope.

Critical Analysis:
O'Dell's story is not long and each chapter is a story unto itself. It is written in a quiet manner, where one can feel Karana's thoughts and understand her. Karana's pain and anguish at losing her brother are very keen. Scott O'Dell has conducted his research on the islands mentioned in the story and the life of these ancient Indian groups and has utilized it in the novel. There are notes at the end of the novel where the author explains more about the idea for the novel.
While Karana does survive, she does so with the knowledge gained from watching her older sister and the women in her tribe. None of her activities are beyond what might have actually happened within her tribe. O'Dell uses Indian superstitions in giving Karana cause to think of what might happen to her if she makes weapons, a job assigned only to the men and warriors of her tribe. Necessity makes Karana finally break the tribal taboo, only to discover that nothing happens to her when she makes bows and arrows and a fishing spear.
Written completely in first person, the reader sees all the action from Karana's viewpoint, but it is a viewpoint that includes the emotions and reactions of other characters in the novel.
Island of the Blue Dolphins is quietly written but filled with much for readers to learn about the value of life and companionship.

Review Excerpts:
School Library Journal: "A haunting and unusual story based on the fact that in the early 1800's an Indian girl spent 18 years alone on a rocky island far off the coast of California."

ALA Booklist: "A moving and unforgettable story."

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books: "Recommended."

Horn Book: "Strange and beautiful, revealing courage, serenity, and greatness of spirit."


Encourage students to research more about the Lost Woman of San Nicholas and other Indian groups of the time period.

Research the Aleut Indians.

Encourage students to research more on earthquakes and tsunami waves, both of which occur in the novel.

Extra research can be conducted on the animals and food plants Karana mentions in the novel.

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