Island of the Blue Dolphins
Author: Scott O'Dell
Grade Level Equivalent:
Guided Reading Level:
Adventure, Classics, Historical Fiction
Native American, Survival, Women's History and Experience
Karana, an Indian girl, lives happily with her people on the Island of the Blue Dolphins. It is an island in the Pacific that gets its name from its beautiful shape from above it looks like a dolphin lying on its side, "with its tail pointing toward sunrise," sunning itself in the sea. Around it blue dolphins swim, otters play, and sea elephants and sea birds thrive. Karana's people live in harmony among the other animals on and around the island as they have for generations. Her father is the chief of the village. And then one day a boat comes captained by a Russian man, who "looked at the little harbor as though it already belonged to him." The captain and his crew wish to hunt sea otter on their own terms. Their disregard for the ways of the Indians leads to bloody consequences, and Karana's family is destroyed, and eventually with the arrival of more white men, the entire community disappears from the island, save Karana.
For years she lives on the island alone, using the skills of her people to survive. For the first time, she modifies the skills only the men of her village had mastered. She makes a fence from the ribs of a whale. She builds a house. Eventually she becomes comfortable alone. She befriends one of the wild dogs, and the blue dolphins still give her strength. But she will not be alone for much longer.
Author O'Dell has based Karana's spare, poetic narrative on the events that took place on a real island off the coast of California first settled by Indians in about 2000 B.C. And there actually was a Karana, an Indian girl who lived Robinson Crusoe style on the island for 18 years. Winner of a Newbery Medal, O'Dell's novel can be used not only to augment a unit on Native American history, but to compel even the most reluctant reader.