I came to Island of the Blue Dolphins when I reached California, the fifth state on my literary tour of the United States. Because I am progressing through the states alphabetically, I arrived in California after spending several weeks in Arizona and Arkansas, and I was parched for a new experience. Island of the Blue Dolphins, with its gulls and sea spray, its abalone and kelp, was like a cool draft of water on a dry, dusty throat; it quenched my thirst.
I grew up on an island off the coast of Georgia (USA), and I am shocked that I never read this book as a child. Nearly every woman I know, when I mention the book, says “Oh my God, I LOVED that book when I was a little girl! I read it over and over again.” I admit that even as an adult I could read and reread. It is that wonderful.
Winner of the 1961 Newbery medal for children’s literature, The Island of the Blue Dolphins is the story of Karana, an 1800s native girl living with her people on an island off the California coast – the Island of the Blue Dolphins (San Nicolas Island, about 75 miles southwest of Los Angeles) – who comes to live alone on the island after a series of tragic events. The narrative is emotionally detached and the tragic events are not graphically described, so the book would not be too traumatic for children.
What I loved about this book is that the descriptions of Karana’s life on the island – in the 1800s, in a time before technology – are vivid and beautiful: I could hear the gulls and the crashing waves, I could smell the kelp and the sea air, I could taste the fish and the salt and the wind.
“Sweet odors came from the wild grasses in the ravines and from the sand plants on the dunes.”
“A fresh wind that smelled of kelp blew out of the northern sea.”
“I gathered gull eggs on the cliff and Ramo speared a string of small fish in one of the tide pools.”
“I knew it was spring because that morning at dawn the sky was filled with darting birds.”
“Far down, the sea ferns moved as though a breeze were blowing there.”
The Island of the Blue Dolphins was exactly what I needed after being landlocked in the dusty desert of Arizona and the cotton fields of Arkansas. I may have to buy a copy “for my children” to keep around the house.
From the author’s note: “The island called in this book the Island of the Blue Dolphins was first settled by Indians in about 2000 B.C, but it was not discovered by white men until 1602…The girl Robinson Crusoe whose story I have attempted to re-create actually lived alone upon this island from 1835 to 1853, and is known to history as The Lost Woman of San Nicolas.”