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Island of the Blue Dolphins is a novel written by Scott O'Dell. The book, and the sequel Zia are based on the true story of the Lost Woman of San Nicolas. The scene is the Channel Islands near Los Angeles in the mid 1800s, a time when the local indians, the Chumashand the Cupeno were beginning to adjust to the presence of a system of missions erected by the Catholic Church in California. It's the story of a young girl left behind by her tribe on an island. It's the tale of how she survives, conquers loneliness and fear, and eventually comes face to face with cultural intolerance.

The book, as many of O'Dell's books, is written for the pre-teen crowd, but it's a great story and both my 7 year old daughter and I are enjoying reading it aloud together. There is plenty of adventure and tragedy and sheer joy in this book. It's required reading for many 5th and 6th graders, and I remember reading it and being deeply moved by it way back when books were first invented.

Island of the Blue Dolphins won the Newberry Award in 1961.

July 10th, 1980.

I am eight years old. It is in between my second and third grade years at Graber Elementary school. In my beat up old purple backpack I place:

  • One peanut butter and honey sandwich, crusts cut.
  • One thermos cold milk.
  • One hunk rice crispie treat wrapped in saran wrap.
  • One pair 'Kaepas' tennis shoes. Turquoise K insert.
  • The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
  • I had, up to this point in my literary consumptive career mainly focused on the Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume crowd. Main stream, modern day fare. What I didn't know that day, as I set out in my white lace-up roller skates with the blue metallic fuzz balls was that this was my very first foray into the world of adventure. An adventure in which I found a character that I found myself admiring and striving to be like. This book opened the door to my very first heroine...

    I don't know what first compelled me to set out that day with my dog Mitzi in tow. (Yes, my pr0n name, Mitzi Pama Lou) I had recently discovered a field near the edge of our neighborhood with some scant trees and ditches, of which no other child had seemed to claim as their own. I was irresistibly drawn to trees and growing up in the flatlands of central Kansas does not lend itself to cavorting under the shelter of timber. My goal was to be gone the entire day, on my own, without adult supervision to read my newest book. The Island of the Blue Dolphins, as I could tell from the back cover, was the story of Karana, based off of a real live girl who lived on an island off the coast of California.

    What I didn't know was who I would find her to be. The Island of the Blue Dolphins is classic child abandonment story. Karana and her brother are left on the island by a sudden evacuation of her tribe, where they are mistakenly left behind. Karana must care for her brother, procure food, clothing and construct a shelter against new enemies.

    What I remember most vividly was the detail O'Dell used to describe her making a cormorant skirt that glistened like a green rainbow in the sun, or how she painstakingly loosed abalones from the rocks at low tide. Karana was forbidden, as a girl, to make weapons, but naturally she did so to preserve herself. I felt as if all her struggles and challenges were mine. She used her wits and trial and error to overcome the hardships her life presented to her.

    For the first time, under a crop of bushes in that hot Kansas sun, munching my rice crispie treat, I was actually relating to someone else's experience and finding them to be a role model. A girl who was strong, intelligent and able to break boundaries. A girl who stuck up for herself against a pack of wild dogs, (not unlike the travails I had had at my elementary school that year... girls can be so vicious.) Swirling around in my adolescent psyche there lodged a nugget that would evetually form my pearl of self-reliance.

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