Island of the Blue Dolphins
By Jessica Pierce,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Native American girl survives alone in compelling adventure.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
You can rise to challenges by drawing on your strength and what you have learned from your family and community. Women in Karana's tribe aren't allowed to hunt, but she must break these rules out of necessity. By becoming a proficient hunter, she becomes empowered by her self-sufficiency.
Positive Role Models
Karana is a strong character who displays resilience and resourcefulness. Women in Karana's tribe aren't allowed to hunt, but she must break these rules out of necessity. By becoming a proficient hunter, she becomes empowered by her self-sufficiency.
Inspired by true story of Native American woman who spent 18 years in isolation on San Nicolas Island off coast of Southern California. It's positive to see a strong female protagonist in a tale of survival, and Karana is a humanized character readers can easily root for. But Native American characters are drawn from stereotypes and from generalizations about other California tribes, not necessarily the specific people of the tribe on which this story is based and about which little is known. The author contrasts the two clichéd versions of Native Americans: "savage" Aleutian otter hunter invaders, whom Karana must guard against, and her "gentle" tribe that made the island their home. Ultimately, it's a White author's portrait of Native Americans published in 1960, and it has been called into question by some Native organizations such as American Indians in Children's Literature.
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Violence & Scariness
One battle scene, and main character must kill to survive. Wild dogs and dangerous invaders constantly threaten. Karana witnesses the deaths of her father and little brother. A boy is killed by wild dogs.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O'Dell, is a lyrical survival story of a Native American girl who at age 12 is left on an island off the California coast in the 1800s and must get along on her own for several years among wild animals, rugged conditions, and natural disasters. This historical novel won the 1961 Newbery Medal, is considered a children's classic, and is often assigned in school. There's one battle scene, and the main character must kill to survive. Wild dogs and dangerous invaders constantly threaten. Karana witnesses the deaths of her father and little brother. A boy is killed by wild dogs. While based on a true story of an adult woman who lived alone on the island for 18 years, from 1835 to 1853, the book, published in 1960, has been called into question by some Native organizations, including American Indians in Children's Literature, for lacking tribal authenticity and for reflecting a White author's nostalgic, romanticized, stereotypical view of Native Americans.
Where to Read
Based on 12 parent reviews
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A Boring book, but don't despair!
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What's the Story?
In ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS, a Native American tribe leaves their island home off Santa Barbara, California, in search of a safer place to live. As they are leaving on a rescue ship, a 12-year-old girl named Karana notices that her brother is not on board and jumps ship to stay with him, figuring that they'll get on the next ship -- but that ship does not come, and (spoiler alert) her brother does not survive. So Karana is on her own and must learn to find food (only boys and men hunted in her tribe) and get through various hardships, including natural disasters, invaders (Aleutian sea otter hunters), and encounters with wild animals, to survive without her tribe. Readers witness her struggle to survive, season after season, for the next few years as she stays alone on the island. Eventually she befriends and tames several wild animals, even those who had posed a danger to her.
Is It Any Good?
Based on a true story, this well-written adventure shows how a brave, adaptable, self-reliant girl uses her knowledge of the world around her to ensure her survival. Through many challenges, Karana remains intent on surviving and making a happy life for herself, showing incredible strength of purpose. Island of the Blue Dolphins is full of vivid natural description, from the general geography of the island to the specific details of how Karana obtains and prepares food. Karana finds strengths she never knew she had, which young readers find appealing. Kids will enjoy seeing not only how she keeps herself alive, but also the many ways she has fun on her island and the nonhuman friends she makes. The joy of the book comes from watching Karana grow and change over the years that she spends on the island.
While this survival story can be captivating for young readers, Native American critics have called out Scott O'Dell's nostalgic, stereotypical rather than authentic portrayal of Native Americans, repeating clichés such as Native Americans trading land for beads.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the enduring appeal of survival stories like Island of the Blue Dolphins. What makes them so popular? Do you think you could survive on an island all alone?
Are Karana's relationships with the animals around her a good substitute for relationships with people? Do you have close relationships with any animals?
How important is cultural accuracy in a historical novel? Or is telling a good story the author's most important job?
- Author: Scott O'Dell
- Genre: Adventure
- Topics: Adventures, Cats, Dogs, and Mice, Great Girl Role Models, Science and Nature, Wild Animals
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Clarion
- Publication date: January 1, 1960
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 184
- Award: Newbery Medal and Honors
- Last updated: October 9, 2021
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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Where to Read
Our Editors Recommend
Books with Native American Characters
Books with Strong Female Characters
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