Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell

Title: Island of the Blue Dolphins
Author: Scott O'Dell
ISBN: 0-440-43988-4, Yearling, 1987
Genre: Young Adult historical fiction
Rating: A

First Line: I remember the day the Aleut ship came to our island.

I'm not quite sure how I missed this one growing up. With a 1960 copyright date, it was certainly around when I was young, but somehow it got lost in the shuffle, and I never read it. I've now corrected that oversight, and I'm glad I did.

In the Pacific Ocean, there is an island that looks like a big fish sunning itself in the sea. Blue dolphins, sea elephants, birds, otters... wildlife is abundant there. When the strangers come in their red-sailed ship, Karana's father reluctantly gives them permission to fish and to hunt for otters in their waters, but their hunting comes to a bad end. Not long afterward, a ship comes for Karana's people, and they gather their belongings and climb aboard. When Karana sees that her little brother is left behind on the island, she jumps ship and swims back.

Unfortunately Karana soon finds herself all alone on the island. She spends year after year there, but this isn't a tale merely of survival, it's a story of a girl who truly appreciates the natural world surrounding her. My eyes were riveted to the page as she built herself shelter, a canoe, fought off wild dogs, and explored the island. An author's note in the back told me that this story was based on fact, and that explanation made the book even more special.

I can see why this book is a Newbery Medal winner. Island of the Blue Dolphins has a wonderful setting and a character into whom we can all project ourselves. It wasn't just Karana building a shelter or trying to outsmart the wild dogs-- I was, too. When I finished the last page, I had to sit quietly and let the sea breeze calm and the vision of a fish-shaped island sunning itself in the sea quietly fade away.

[Source: Paperback Swap.]


  1. This was one of my favorite books when I was a child. Thanks for bringing back such pleasant memories, Cathy.

  2. I always loved this book for how it described her living in nature. The fish she followed in the canoe in the cave really intrigued me as a child because I had no idea what it was- an octopus? Like you, I was fascinated to learn it was based on a true account. I even read the sequel, about when she was finally rescued off the island, but it wasn't nearly as good.

  3. I remember loving this book when I was young. I should do a reread.

  4. I read this book at the beginning of the year after so many people recommending it. I have to say it was a beautiful book and I wish I had had the chance to read it when I was a child.

  5. I missed this one as a child too. You've made me very curious about it.

  6. I missed this one too but it sounds so beautiful. I also like the way you wrote the review - beautiful.

  7. I'm hooked too. I love these surviving books, right from my first: Swiss Family Robinson, through to Hatchet etc. One adult survival-themed book I love is a thriller by Desmond Bagley called High Citadel. They actually build archaic weapons to defend themselves - excellent escapism.

  8. Wendy-- You're welcome. I'm glad that I could.

    Jeane-- I don't think I want to read the sequel. Having read about the person O'Dell based the character on, I don't think it could be anywhere near as good as the first.

    Beth-- Might be a good idea!

    Vivienne-- So do I. I still don't know how I could've missed it!

    Kathy-- Doesn't take long at all to read......

    Richele-- I'm glad she did. It's a marvelous book. Thanks for stopping by!

    Margot JR-- Thank you! :)

    Susan-- Okay, now I'm off to look for a copy of High Citadel. Thanks for the reccie!

  9. This one was one of my very very favorites growing up. I remember it vividly. Great review.

  10. I would like to know how I can so fondly remember titles and covers of young adult books from my youth and yet have no recollection of the story - even when it is recounted as you have done here? I know that I loved this book and yet I don't remember anything about it! I guess stories didn't start sticking with me until I was in high school.

  11. Toni-- Thanks!

    Molly/Andy-- The plots of very few of the books I loved as a child have remained with me, so you're not alone.


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