Island of the Blue Dolphins

by Erika Cox
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In 1960, author Scott O'Dell, who also wrote "The King's Fifth, The Black Pearl, and Sing Down Moon, wrote and published one of the most popular children's books of all time - Island of the Blue Dolphins.

The story is based loosely on the real-life story of Juana Marie, a Native American woman who lives alone on the island of San Nicolas from 1835 until 1853, after being left behind when the rest of her tribe was brought to the main lands.

She is otherwise known as the "Lone Woman of San Nicolas," and when found, no one understand her language any longer because the rest of her tribe has since perished due to disease. O'Dell's novel went on to win the Newberry Medal for children's literature.

Scott O'Dell was born Odell Gabriel Scott in Los Angeles, CA in 1898. He attended a number of colleges, including Occidental College, the University of Wisconsin, and Stanford University before serving in the Air Force during World War II. He then went on to work as a cameraman, director, and book editor.

He wrote nonfiction and fiction for adults in these early years, but didn't begin writing children's novels until the 1950s. It was here he found his niche. Island of the Blue Dolphins is just one of 26 children's books he wrote, and he received the Hans Christian Anderson Award for lifetime achievement in the early 1970s.

He went on to win a number of other awards as well before tragically dying from cancer in 1989.

Island of the Blue Dolphins centers on a main character named Karana who lives on an island with her tribe. Trappers arrive to hunt the otters found on the island, and try to leave without paying Karan's father, the chief.

A battle ensues and the trappers escape, but an older native suggests to the chief that they should follow the trappers tot he main land, where a better life awaits. A ship comes to take them away, but just as they are ready to leave, Karana realizes that her younger brother is not on board.

The ship captain cannot wait because a storm is coming, and Karana jumps overboard to go back to the island with her brother. The brother is soon after killed by the wild dogs on the island, and Karana begins to learn to survive on her own.

Karana avenges her brother's death by killing many of the wild dogs on the island, but has a change of heart after injuring one of them and thereafter keeps him as a pet, naming him Rontu.

She finds a small cave and stocks it with provisions, knowing that the greedy trappers will once again come to the island someday and she doesn't want them to find her.

She builds a home and learns to kill animals to use for food and clothing. After time, she becomes a vegetarian because she realizes that the animals have become her friends and she no longer wishes to kill them.

One day, the trappers return to the island. Karana is frightened of their evil ways and hides in the cave she has prepared, taking Rontu with her. Karana is careful not to be seen, but one day the women whom the trappers brought to cook and clean meets Karana.

The two cannot speak one another's language, but they exchange words for some items and become friends. Karana realizes that she is lonely on the island, no matter how good of a companion Rontu has been.

After a number of years, a ship arrives to the island and Karana realizes that she is finally being rescued. She puts on her very best clothing and goes to the beach to be seen. The men take Karana back to the ship and give her an American dress to wear, which symbolizes to her the transition into a new life.

In 1964, Island of the Blue Dolphins was made into a movie, directed by James B. Clark and with the actress Celia Kaye as Karana. The film itself had mixed reviews, but Kaye won a Golden Globe for her performance. Later, O'Dell wrote Zia, a sequel to Island of the Blue Dolphins told from the point of view of Karana's niece.

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