Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

Book Review and Classic Children’s Book Challenge

I first heard of this book at a seminar on children’s writing; it was a recommended book.  It then waited in among my long and growing set of ‘books to read’ until I realised it fitted – just – into the category of Classic children’s books, having been first published in 1960. It may be cheating, but now I’ve read it I would recommend it to everyone as a classic.

We find ourselves on the Island of the Blue Dolphins with Karana, her brother, family and tribe, living as a native people would. However the red sails of an Aleut ship are in sight, and knowing that this has caused trouble in the past, Karana’s father takes care in his negotiations with them for the hunting of otters in their waters.  Despite his care things turn bad, and then worse. A different ship arrives, offering to take the remainder of the tribe to safety in the east, but Karana’s brother turns back to fetch something he has forgotten, and Karana leaps from a canoe, which is taking her from the island to the ship, to find him.

What follows is the tale of Karana’s life fending for herself on a deserted island. There are friendships and fights, hardships and successes.  She overcomes her superstitions and her fears, and shows her resourcefulness and patience.

The tale is beautifully written, and whilst not paying too much attention to detail, I felt that there are enough hints for anyone with the misfortune to be stranded on a desert island to make the best of their opportunities.  I expect these days it is read in schools with plenty of additional material for children to try their hand at crafting some of the items Karana makes, although perhaps substituting something more mundane for cormorant feathers or elephant seal tusks.  I might like to try mapping the island or drawing the view of Coral Cove.

The story is based on a legend that appears to have substance, of a girl stranded on an island to the west of California, who was eventually rescued and brought to Santa Monica to live out her days.  I’m not sure whether that is important, but I do know that it is an enchanting tale in the best of senses, and one that will spur many readers to imagine themselves in Karana’s footprints when they next go paddling around rock pools or exploring sea-caves by canoe.

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

[despite the product description, the Puffin kindle edition does not have illustrations]

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9 thoughts on “Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

  1. This was one of my favorite books when I was a kid. I read it until my poor paperback fell apart! thanks for the happy memories.

  2. Hi, Jemima. The book sounds really good. Great title. I’ve heard of it but never read it. Being published in 1960 makes it a classic to me. Thank you for visiting Beyond Acadia today.

  3. A book I admit I appreciated more as an adult than as a child. Partly, that was because I read it after living in Santa Barbara for a few years–with a view of the island from the top of the mountains on a clear day. Always saddened by the standard outcome, though: take the natives from their homes and kill them with disease.

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