The Island of the Blue Dolphins

The Island of the Blue Dolphins

Scott O'Dell (1961)

Read to: 2nd - 3rd grade

Read independently: 4th - 7th grade

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I had heard of this book many times and was glad when it came up on the list to read. Was this the same title as the movie with Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins? As a kid I remember hearing how scandalous the movie was because the two stars swam naked together in the lagoon - oh, wait, that movie was The Blue Lagoon.

Anyway, young girl survives years and years on an island alone - that's the gist of this book. The island is called Ghalas-at - well east of Catalina. the girl is 12, brother 6 - also an older sister. We don't hear the girl's name for quite a while. As narrator she explains to us that in her tribe everyone has two names - the real one is a secret and is rarely used otherwise it "loses its magic" (p. 5).

There is a bit of violence in the book in the manner of foreigners (Aleuts) coming to the island to hunt seals for their pelts. It's not gruesome but is a minor part of the story as is hunting and other aspects of survival on a small island. There is also a skirmish between the Aleuts and the natives in which several die.

There are a couple of mythological tales and there is a lot of superstitious talk - like when she sees her father die she rationalizes it's because he spoke his real name to the Aleuts. There is then talk of her feeling her father with her but being unable to talk with the dead like others could. After the battle the few people left on the island have an opportunity to leave on a ship. The siblings are orphans and get on the boat but the brother went back for something. The girl tries to convince the captain to wait or go back but when he won't she jumps over and swims back to her brother.

Sadly a few days later the brother is killed by wild dogs. "All night I sat there with the body of my brother and did not sleep. I vowed that someday I would go back and kill the wild dogs in the cave. I would kill all of them. I thought of how I would do it, but mostly thought of Ramo, my brother." (p. 48) In spite of her initial feelings she does not kill all the dogs - only a couple. Another she tames as a pet and companion - which also subdues the rest of the pack and protects her against them. At one point she is no longer set against the dogs but then becomes set against the "devil fish" which may actually be more like an octopus.

Years and years she is alone on the island yet she holds fast to her customs as long as possible. She needed weapons to obtain food but the native laws forbade women from making weapons so first she searched the island to see if any were left behind. when she eventually makes some she worries that she will be cursed because of it. "Would the four winds blow in from the four directions of the world and smother me as I made the weapons? Or would the earth tremble, as many said, and bury me beneath its falling rocks? Or, as others said, would the sea rise over the island in a terrible flood? Would the weapons break in my hands and the moment when my life was in danger, which is what my father had said?" (p. 54)

Around page 127 - 128 she comes upon a scene in a cave. At first I thought it was a bunch of skeletons. Then I thought it might have been stick figures arranged like dolls by an ancestor. Finally I wondered if it was just her mind playing tricks on her much like Pi and his floating island.

On page 160 Rontu, her dog, dies. It seems more of a profound loss than her brother - maybe because they were together longer or because of how much they'd been through together.

But all is not lost. The story is nicely resolved with what seems to be a happy ending. And the Author's Notes are interesting to correlate the facts that this fictional story was based on.