This year, one of my pseudo-resolutions is to start reading more children’s literature. I love to hear what other people’s memorable childhood books are so that I can compare them to the ones that I have read, and make lists for new ones I want to research and maybe read for myself. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell is one such book that was recommended as a fantastic read, and so it was my first children’s book pick for 2018.
*plot spoilers ahead!*
Island of the Blue Dolphins tells the story of Karana, a Native American girl who spends eighteen years living alone on an island. She didn’t always live alone, but after a fight between her people and Russian hunters, the surviving members of her tribe chose to leave the island for another place to live. On that fateful day, she was aboard the ship with them until she learned that her little brother had been left behind. In a split second decision, she jumped overboard and swam to shore to save him. Reunited on the island, they watch the ship disappear on the horizon and decide to stay put until it returns for them, hopefully in a few days time.
Sadly, Karana’s younger brother is killed by a pack of wild dogs just a few days into their separation from the rest of their family. Karana mourns him and leaves the village, seeking a new place to live for the meantime to wait for the ship to return for her.
Karana spends eighteen years waiting on the island. She is completely isolated, and forced to learn how to make her own weapons for hunting. She must learn how to build a shelter, and to guard herself against the wild dogs that roam the island. She is the epitome of fearless, just one of the reasons Blue Dolphins has remained such a staple of children’s literature.
As I was reading, I wondered about O’Dell writing this story and whether his own background as a white male impacted the way in which he told the story. The book has been celebrated as a pioneer story for diversity as, at the time it was published in 1960, there was little diversity in children’s literature. You can read more about the history of Karana, online. She was in fact a real woman, and anyone who has a background in studying postcolonial literature can imagine what became of her once she was discovered by missionaries, and it is heartbreaking to say the least.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I had never read this book until now. However, if I had come across it as a kid, I can easily see it being one of my favorite books. I have always had a special interest in anything to do with U.S. history, specifically from the 1800s and on. I was enamored by Karana and her bravery, as I imagine most young children are when they read this story. People, especially women, living on their own in the wilderness has always sparked my imagination – their lives, at least to me, sound to have been incredibly peaceful. The entire story is compelling, and the book was beautifully written. You really start to feel like you are right there with Karana as she sleeps on her rock gazing at the stars at night, or fishes along the shore watching the otters swim on the Island of the Blue Dolphins.
What About You?
What are some of your favorite children’s books? Give me recommendations in the comments! I have a few lined up that I plan to read later this year but am open to any and all suggestions 🙂