Island of the Blue Dolphins
by Scott O’Dell (1960)
Island of the Blue Dolphins tells the amazing true story of Karana – a native of the Chanel Islands off the coast of California – marooned by her departed tribe – who survives for eighteen years – all by herself.
Karana’s story is told with O’Dell’s simple, beguiling, elegant prose. In this story, Nature is a main character as Karana has to brave the elements. She manages wild dogs and sea elephants, hunts for abalone, masters her island, navigates and explores its mysterious caves via canoe, and even confronts an earthquake and tsunami.
Karana evinces a personal spirit and resourcefulness that has inspired several generations of readers. It still speaks to modern audiences via O’Dell’s special, rare prose. And its mysteries can still provoke an unexpected conversation in your school about survival and fortitude and resourcefulness.
(You can even see a plaque commemorating Karana’s accomplishment if you visit the old Spanish Mission in Santa Barbara.)
Middle School students will enjoy learning about surviving in the wild, the many different species that are part of Karana’s world (like the black devilfish!), and the tribal cultural traditions that help Karana feel connected and less alone. Middle School students may enjoy trying their hand at re-creating some of Karana’s artifacts – from a home-made spear or her cormorant skirt, to a whalebone fence or a mural of the cave paintings of her ancestors. At a deeper level, your Middle School students will benefit from contemplating the role of aboriginal traditions – rites of manhood, the risk or danger or transgressing those traditions, and how to honor your ancestors. Karana contemplates and questions some of these traditions and your students will share her ambivalence.
You can use the beautiful prose and challenging scenarios of Island of the Blue Dolphins to invite your students to contemplate these questions, too.