1961: Island of the Blue Dolphins (What No Woman -of that group- Had Done Before)

VERDICT: Treasure

Laurinda’s Rating: 4/5

In the 1961 Newbery Medal Winner, Island of the Blue Dolphins, author Scott O’Dell tells the store of Karana. Karana is a young Native American woman who, following several tragedies, ends up living alone on what she refers to as the Island of the Blue Dolphins. Contravening many societal taboos, she constructs weapons with which to hunt the abundant fauna of her surroundings. She also uses the materials around her to construct several sturdy dwelling places. Though she lacks human companions, she is rich in animal friends. After shooting the leader of an aggressive pack of wild dogs, she takes pity on the dog, pulls the arrow from his chest, and tames him. Karana also befriends nestlings, an injured otter, and the original dog’s son; these friendships lead her to eschew hunting of animals. Eventually, another ship full of white men, like the one that took the rest of her tribe elsewhere, lands on the island. Karana sails away with them, though the author’s note informs us that she is never reunited with her family.

Although the narrative is sparsely told, Karana’s voice and spirit shine through. The very lack of prose embellishment matches the struggle to subsist without anyone else to help her. The story is “just the facts” so to speak, yet it still conveys a touch of Karana’s inner life, particularly her initial loneliness and anger at the circumstances which left her by herself.

As Sally did, I read – and loved – this book as a child. While I still enjoyed it as an adult, the book is rather more haunting than inspiring or touching. I’m an imaginer/worrier, so I’ve spent some quality time thinking about losing my family; I can barely fathom taking that to the next level and having to endure the isolation which Karana does. I admire Karana even more for making a life for herself, producing what she needed, and staying fairly cheerful (or at least matter-of-fact).

I would recommend this book for nearly everyone. It’s a quick read. Unlike many of the other books, it isn’t moralizing or “inspirational” by design; it just tells an interesting story.


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