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Island of the Blue Dolphins    by Scott O'Dell order for
Island of the Blue Dolphins
by Scott O'Dell
Order:  USA  Can
Yearling, 1987 (1960)
Softcover, Paperback, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Scott O'Dell is remembered for books for young readers - including The Black Pearl and Sing Down the Moon - which won many honors. Island of the Blue Dolphins was awarded the Newbery Medal (1961). O'Dell was inspired by a true-life story of a twelve-year old American Indian girl, who survived for eighteen years on Ghalas-at, an island off the coast of California. She had jumped ship for the same reason that the heroine of O'Dell's book did - to save her brother.

The island is shaped in the form of a fish, like a dolphin laid on its side. It is not known whether it was named for its shape, or for the blue dolphins which cavort in the surrounding waters. It was the home of a young woman named Karana and her tribe. Karana remembers the day the Aleut arrived on a ship 'with red sails folded like wings on a gull'. Its crew came to the island to hunt otter. The ship's captain bargained with the chief of the tribe, Karana's father, agreeing to share the catch of otter 50/50. Captain Orlov did not keep his word, and a fight between Karana's tribe and the Aleut ended in many deaths of her people, leaving the very young and the very old. The dwindling tribe members struggled to survive, until one day a ship with white sails arrived to evacuate the remainder.

Along with the others, Karana, her sister, and young brother Ramos packed their belongings. But when Karana looked for her brother aboard ship, he was nowhere to be found. Ramos was seen on the island's shore, running and alone. Karana jumped overboard and swam to the island, determined not to leave her brother behind. Ramos and Karana watched for the return of the white-sailed ship. Within a short time, Ramos became very ill and died. Karana moved to different locations on the island, as a pack of wild dogs constantly threatened her livelihood. She learned many things beyond what a woman was allowed to do in her tribe - hunting, making weapons, and building a shelter surrounded by a fence to keep away rodents and foxes, which would pilfer her food supply. At first, Karana slept on a high rock - high enough to keep the wild dogs away.

The day came when Karana knew she must kill the dogs, a few at a time. She wounded the leader, but hesitated to take his life. Karana carried the wounded dog to shelter, and nursed him back to health, coaxing him with food from her hand, a little at a time. From that day, he was constantly at her side. She named him Rontu. Karana faced many hard winters, battling the elements, and walking the island in search of food. O'Dell elegantly describes scenery and characters to place the reader within the mood of the story - sensing the smell of the sea, hearing the howling of wild dogs, paddling a boat on calm or stormy waters as dolphins swim alongside, and watching sunrise and sunset. Karana's story is a beautiful, harmonious narrative, matching human with animals, in their need to survive.

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