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Island of the Blue Dolphins

Island of the Blue Dolphins

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Island of the Blue Dolphins

4/5 (173 ratings)
151 pages
3 hours
Feb 8, 2010


Far off the coast of California looms a harsh rock known as the island of San Nicholas. Dolphins flash in the blue waters around it, sea otter play in the vast kep beds, and sea elephants loll on the stony beaches.

Here, in the early 1800s, according to history, an Indian girl spent eighteen years alone, and this beautifully written novel is her story. It is a romantic adventure filled with drama and heartache, for not only was mere subsistence on so desolate a spot a near miracle, but Karana had to contend with the ferocious pack of wild dogs that had killed her younger brother, constantly guard against the Aleutian sea otter hunters, and maintain a precarious food supply.

More than this, it is an adventure of the spirit that will haunt the reader long after the book has been put down. Karana's quiet courage, her Indian self-reliance and acceptance of fate, transform what to many would have been a devastating ordeal into an uplifting experience. From loneliness and terror come strength and serenity in this Newbery Medal-winning classic.

In celebration of the book's 50th anniversary, this edition has an introduction by Lois Lowry, Newbery Medal-winning author of The Giver and Number the Stars.

Feb 8, 2010

About the author

Scott O’Dell was the author of numerous books for children and adults. He received the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1972. Sara L. Schwebel is Associate Professor of English at the University of South Carolina, author of Child-Sized History: Fictions of the Past in U.S. Classrooms, and editor of the Lone Woman and Last Indians digital archive.

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Island of the Blue Dolphins - Scott O'Dell



I REMEMBER the day the Aleut ship came to our island. At first it seemed like a small shell afloat on the sea. Then it grew larger and was a gull with folded wings. At last in the rising sun it became what it really was—a red ship with two red sails.

My brother and I had gone to the head of a canyon that winds down to a little harbor which is called Coral Cove. We had gone to gather roots that grow there in the spring.

My brother Ramo was only a little boy half my age, which was twelve. He was small for one who had lived so many suns and moons, but quick as a cricket. Also foolish as a cricket when he was excited. For this reason and because I wanted him to help me gather roots and not go running off, I said nothing about the shell I saw or the gull with folded wings.

I went on digging in the brush with my pointed stick as though nothing at all were happening on the sea. Even when I knew for sure that the gull was a ship with two red sails.

But Ramo’s eyes missed little in the world. They were black like a lizard’s and very large and, like the eyes of a lizard, could sometimes look sleepy. This was the time when they saw the most. This was the way they looked now. They were half-closed, like those of a lizard lying on a rock about to flick out its tongue to catch a fly.

The sea is smooth, Ramo said. It is a flat stone without any scratches.

My brother liked to pretend that one thing was another.

The sea is not a stone without scratches, I said. It is water and no waves.

To me it is a blue stone, he said. And far away on the edge of it is a small cloud which sits on the stone.

Clouds do not sit on stones. On blue ones or black ones or any kind of stones.

This one does.

Not on the sea, I said. Dolphins sit there, and gulls, and cormorants, and otter, and whales too, but not clouds.

It is a whale, maybe.

Ramo was standing on one foot and then the other, watching the ship coming, which he did not know was a ship because he had never seen one. I had never seen one either, but I knew how they looked because I had been told.

While you gaze at the sea, I said, I dig roots. And it is I who will eat them and you who will not.

Ramo began to punch at the earth with his stick, but as the ship came closer, its sails showing red through the morning mist, he kept watching it, acting all the time as if he were not.

Have you ever seen a red whale? he asked.

Yes, I said, though I never had.

Those I have seen are gray.

You are very young and have not seen everything that swims in the world.

Ramo picked up a root and was about to drop it into the basket. Suddenly his mouth opened wide and then closed again.

A canoe! he cried. A great one, bigger than all of our canoes together. And red!

A canoe or a ship, it did not matter to Ramo. In the very next breath he tossed the root in the air and was gone, crashing through the brush, shouting as he went.

I kept on gathering roots, but my hands trembled as I dug in the earth, for I was more excited than my brother. I knew that it was a ship there on the sea and not a big canoe, and that a ship could mean many things. I wanted to drop the stick and run too, but I went on digging roots because they were needed in the village.

By the time I filled the basket, the Aleut ship had sailed around the wide kelp bed that encloses our island and between the two rocks that guard Coral Cove. Word of its coming had already reached the village of Ghalas-at. Carrying their weapons, our men sped along the trail which winds down to the shore. Our women were gathering at the edge of the mesa.

I made my way through the heavy brush and, moving swiftly, down the ravine until I came to the sea cliffs. There I crouched on my hands and knees. Below me lay the cove. The tide was out and the sun shone on the white sand of the beach. Half the men from our village stood at the water’s edge. The rest were concealed among the rocks at the foot of the trail, ready to attack the intruders should they prove unfriendly.

As I crouched there in the toyon bushes, trying not to fall over the cliff, trying to keep myself hidden and yet to see and hear what went on below me, a boat left the ship. Six men with long oars were rowing. Their faces were broad, and shining dark hair fell over their eyes. When they came closer I saw that they had bone ornaments thrust through their noses.

Behind them in the boat stood a tall man with a yellow beard. I had never seen a Russian before, but my father had told me about them, and I wondered, seeing the way he stood with his feet set apart and his fists on his hips and looked at the little harbor as though it already belonged to him, if he were one of those men from the north whom our people feared. I was certain of it when the boat slid in to the shore and he jumped out, shouting as he did so.

His voice echoed against the rock walls of the cove. The words were strange, unlike any I had ever heard. Slowly then he spoke in our tongue.

I come in peace and wish to parley, he said to the men on the shore.

None of them answered, but my father, who was one of those hidden among the rocks, came forward down the sloping beach. He thrust his spear into the sand.

I am the Chief of Ghalas-at, he said. My name is Chief Chowig.

I was surprised that he gave his real name to a stranger. Everyone in our tribe had two names, the real one which was secret and was seldom used, and one which was common, for if people use your secret name it becomes worn out and loses its magic. Thus I was known as Won-a-pa-lei, which means The Girl with the Long Black Hair, though my secret name is Karana. My father’s secret name was Chowig. Why he gave it to a stranger I do not know.

The Russian smiled and held up his hand, calling himself Captain Orlov. My father also held up his hand. I could not see his face, but I doubted that he smiled in return.

I have come with forty of my men, said the Russian. We come to hunt sea otter. We wish to camp on your island while we are hunting.

My father said nothing. He was a tall man, though not so tall as Captain Orlov, and he stood with his bare shoulders thrown back, thinking about what the Russian had said. He was in no hurry to reply because the Aleuts had come before to hunt otter. That was long in the past, but my father still remembered them.

You remember another hunt, Captain Orlov said when my father was silent. I have heard of it, too. It was led by Captain Mitriff who was a fool and is now dead. The trouble arose because you and your tribe did all of the hunting.

We hunted, said my father, but the one you call a fool wished us to hunt from one moon to the next, never ceasing.

This time you will need to do nothing, Captain Orlov said. My men will hunt and we will divide the catch. One part for you, to be paid in goods, and two parts for us.

The parts must be equal, my father said.

Captain Orlov gazed off toward the sea. We can talk of that later when my supplies are safe ashore, he replied.

The morning was fair with little wind, yet it was the season of the year when storms could be looked for, so I understood why the Russian wished to move onto our island.

It is better to agree now, said my father.

Captain Orlov took two long steps away from my father, then turned and faced him. One part to you is fair since the work is ours and ours the risk.

My father shook his head.

The Russian grasped his beard. Since the sea is not yours, why do I have to give you any part?

The sea which surrounds the Island of the Blue Dolphins belongs to us, answered my father.

He spoke softly as he did when he was angry.

From here to the coast of Santa Barbara—twenty leagues away?

No, only that which touches the island and where the otter live.

Captain Orlov made a sound in his throat. He looked at our men standing on the beach and toward those who had now come from behind the rocks. He looked at my father and shrugged his shoulders. Suddenly he smiled, showing his long teeth.

The parts shall be equal, he said.

He said more, but I did not hear it, for at that instant in my great excitement I moved a small rock, which clattered down the cliff and fell at his feet. Everyone on the beach looked up. Silently I left the toyon bushes and ran without stopping until I reached the mesa.


CAPTAIN ORLOV and his Aleut hunters moved to the island that morning, making many trips from their ship to the beach of Coral Cove. Since the beach was small and almost flooded when the tide was in, he asked if he could camp on higher ground. This my father agreed to.

Perhaps I should tell you about our island so you will know how it looks and where our village was and where the Aleuts camped for most of the summer.

Our island is two leagues long and one league wide, and if you were standing on one of the hills that rise in the middle of it, you would think that it looked like a fish. Like a dolphin lying on its side, with its tail pointing toward the sunrise, its nose pointing to the sunset, and its fins making reefs and the rocky ledges along the shore. Whether someone did stand there on the low hills in the days when the earth was new and, because of its shape, called it the Island of the Blue Dolphins, I do not know. Many dolphins live in our seas and it may be from them that the name came. But one way or another, this is what the island was called.

The first thing you would notice about our island, I think, is the wind. It blows almost every day, sometimes from the northwest and sometimes from the east, once in a long while out of the south. All the winds except the one from the south are strong, and because of them the hills are polished smooth and the trees are small and twisted, even in the canyon that runs down to Coral Cove.

The village of Ghalas-at lay east of the hills on a small mesa, near Coral Cove and a good spring. About a half league to the north is another spring and it was there that the Aleuts put up their tents which were made of skins and were so low to the earth that the men had to crawl into them on their stomachs. At dusk we could see the glow of their fires.

That night my father warned everyone in the village of Ghalas-at against visiting the camp.

The Aleuts come from a country far to the north, he said. "Their ways are not ours nor is their language. They have come to take otter and to give us our share in many goods which they have and which we can use. In this way shall we profit. But we shall not profit if we try to befriend them. They are people who do not understand friendship. They are not those who were here before, but they are people of the

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What people think about Island of the Blue Dolphins

173 ratings / 134 Reviews
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  • (4/5)
    5569. Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O'Dell (read 14 Jul 2018) Every once in a while I read juvenile books which seem to me I should read. This book is a famed book which purports to tell the story of a girl who lived on San Nicolas Island, off the coast of California alone for 18 years ending in 1853. It seems quite improbable but depicts the girl as quite a resourceful girl, as she lived her Robinson Crusoe existence. It reads easily and I even found it a bit poignant,, particularly when her dog--which she had tamed from the feral state--dies. And the girl evolves,on her own, from a killer of animals to a more likeable persona. I have read less interesting juvenile books.
  • (4/5)
    This 1960 novel of a girl who is left all alone on a smallish island when the rest of her people relocate elsewhere was, I think, already considered something of a classic when I first read it as a kid in the 1970s. I think I actually read it several times, but I remembered very little about it -- just enough for me to feel a sense of deja vu on re-reading it now.And I was surprised by how well it held up. Adult me wasn't quite as enthralled with the story as I think young me was, reading what was probably the first such survival tale I ever encountered, and I did find myself wishing, just a little, for a longer, more fleshed-out and detailed telling. But I can absolutely see why kid me found it compelling, and I still liked it and even, in the end, found it unexpectedly moving. Also, how glad am I that, in reviewing a book from 1960 about a girl from an indigenous society, I don't have to add comments like, "Well, you do have to keep in mind that it's a product of its time"? Very. Very glad.What I'm really wondering now, though, is how I ever managed to forget the fact that this was based on a true story, albeit one about which very few details are known. That really does add an extra layer of poignancy to the experience of reading it, I think. You can't help but wonder about the lost story of the poor woman (probably not a girl as young as the one in the novel) who actually lived this life, or one like it.
  • (4/5)
    I first read this in 3rd or 4th grade, but I didn't remember most of what happened so I don't even count it as a reread. This is a classic book about Karana, a Native American girl who is left behind on an island off the California coast in the 1800s (what I didn't know was that it was based on a true story, which is pretty cool). She spends many years (mostly) alone, surviving on her own with the occasional animal and human companion. This is a very internal book, made up mostly of descriptions of Karana's thoughts and actions. It is beautifully written, and even though you get the sense that nothing bad will happen to her, the suspense is still present. Although, the ending seems a little more ambiguous now that I'm reading it as an adult...
  • (5/5)
    liked it! Sad though in some places.
  • (4/5)
    I liked it.
  • (3/5)
    Kind of a downer.
  • (4/5)
    In the Pacific, there is an island that looks like a big fish sunning itself in the sea. Around it blue dolphins swim, otters play, and sea birds abound. Karana is the Indian girl who lived alone for years on the Island of the Blue Dolphins. Hers is not only an unusual adventure of survival, but also a tale of natural beauty and personal discovery.
  • (1/5)
    I had to read this as the summer read along with my incoming sixth grade students. I read it, but it was not as impactful as I hoped. I didn't get The Big Thrill that I'd anticipated. Actually, it was boring, and I'm struggling to see how my kids could develop some cool projects out of it, besides the usual diorama of the landscape, journal entries pretending to be the protagonist, etc. This book fits right in there with Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (The Yearling) and Jean Craighead George (The Talking Earth), and I don't see how the faraway life struggle against nature is relevant to today's kids anymore; it's as distant as Harry Potter's magical fantasies.
  • (5/5)
    this book is amazing i love it soo much and even though i don't usually like sad books this one was really good
  • (4/5)
    My mom made me read this book in the 8th grade. At first I fought the Idea. When i finally got into the book I loved it. In the Pacific, there is an island that looks like a big fish sunning itself in the sea. Around it blue dolphins swim, otters play, and sea birds abound. Karana is the Indian girl who lived alone for years on the Island of the Blue Dolphins. Hers is not only an unusual adventure of survival, but also a tale of natural beauty and personal discovery.
  • (4/5)
    this book is very venturous. its about a girl who had to go against her tradition her tradition to survive. her tradition was that women couldn't go to war and couldn't make weapons. her brother was eaten by a wild dogs. she lived on an island by herself for the rest of her life well most of her life . she was a brave girl she could make good weapons even though she was a girl and she had good aim shooting the wild dogs with her bow and arrow. when the Russians and her dad and the tribe went to war a lot of people died including the Russians that's y she had to do what she had to do
  • (5/5)
    a beautiful book that demonstrates sacrifice and courage
  • (2/5)
    I read this to my daughter to completion, so I added it to my collection, though I would never have chosen to read it myself. This is book is supposed to be a classic, but I did not find it interesting. But I'm sure that's just me -- I'm not into survival stories like Hatchet and White Fang. In this case, it's a native girl who was left behind on an island when everyone else fled to somewhere more mainland. She builds shelters, finds water, harvests fish and seafood, makes friends with the wildlife, all typical survival stuff.My problem is that it doesn't really build toward something. There's no rising action. There's a teensy amount of dialogue. The action is frontloaded to the beginning. And at some point, you wonder why this story is important (and you don't find out until the end that it's because this was a true story -- hence the dullness).
  • (5/5)
    This is one of my very favorite books as I was growing up. I read it several times, imagining myself as Karana, living alone on an island. I loved it!
  • (5/5)
    This is a really great book. Karana, the main character, is going to leave the Island of the Blue Dolphins with the rest of her family, but her brother is left behind and she swims back to take care of him. Then, her brother is killed by wolves, and she swears revenge on them. Later, she changes her mind when the leader makes friends with her and follows her everywhere. The wolf and Karana have many wonderful adventures together, including trying to go to the island that her family went to. Then, when the old leader dies, his son takes his place in Karana's hut. Together, they are rescued by some Englishmen, and they are brought back to the mainland (the U.S.A.) I recommend this book to girls who like adventures.
  • (4/5)
    I liked all the friends (including the animals) that she made! At the beginning of the story, I seemed bored of the book, but as I kept reading, it just got better and better. There were many sad events in the story, but as many, or even more, happy parts of the book to make up for all the sad parts that were deeply emotional. I will never forget Karana, Rontu, Rontu-Aru, Tutok, or Won-A-Nee (Mon-A-Nee). I think Karana was a very brave girl living with only animals on the island. This is a great novel! I hope a lot of people will also enjoy this book.
  • (5/5)
    It just was amazing I loved it so much ??
  • (4/5)
    Island of the Blue Dolphins is about a Native American girl named Karana who is left abandoned on an island after her tribe was attacked by Aleutian hunters. She fights to survive by herself, feeling so alone and far away from her people. I would use this book in an ELA or social studies classroom. For instruction, I would use this book to introduce my students to the cruelty Native Americans faced (along with many other minority groups). This book also teaches great lessons about perseverance and strength in times where it would be easier to just give up.
  • (4/5)
    I thought this book was awesome it was so interesting and intriguing.
  • (2/5)
    Karana is twelve years old when her people leave their island, but circumstances leave her behind. Her story of years of survival on her own unfolds in Island of the Blue Dolphins by author Scott O'Dell.After recently reading and becoming engrossed in Sing Down the Moon by the same author, I decided to revisit this Newbery Medal-winning children's classic based on true events. I remember listening to the reading of it back when I was eleven or so, but the author's writing style didn't do much for me back then.So I tried again, curious to see if adulthood would give me a new appreciation for this book. As I read, it reminded me of the movie Cast Away at times, what with a lone human being fending for herself on an island: building shelter, hunting and gathering food, facing the elements and hostile wild animals, etc. And some parts here and there moved me, particularly near the beginning.On the whole, though, this still wasn't the most interesting book for me. Lots of solitude, very little dialogue, and although the heroine is a brave, self-reliant girl-turned-woman, I wouldn't have stuck with this understated account about living in nature if I didn't know it would be a quick read.Still, because I have enjoyed one book by this author, I plan on trying at least one more.
  • (4/5)
    First Line: I remember the day the Aleut ship came to our island.I'm not quite sure how I missed this one growing up. With a 1960 copyright date, it was certainly around when I was young, but somehow it got lost in the shuffle, and I never read it. I've now corrected that oversight, and I'm glad I did.In the Pacific Ocean, there is an island that looks like a big fish sunning itself in the sea. Blue dolphins, sea elephants, birds, otters... wildlife is abundant there. When the strangers come in their red-sailed ship, Karana's father reluctantly gives them permission to fish and to hunt for otters in their waters, but their hunting comes to a bad end. Not long afterward, a ship comes for Karana's people, and they gather their belongings and climb aboard. When Karana sees that her little brother is left behind on the island, she jumps ship and swims back.Unfortunately Karana soon finds herself all alone on the island. She spends year after year there, but this isn't a tale merely of survival, it's a story of a girl who truly appreciates the natural world surrounding her. My eyes were riveted to the page as she built herself shelter, a canoe, fought off wild dogs, and explored the island. An author's note in the back told me that this story was based on fact, and that explanation made the book even more special.I can see why this book is a Newbery Medal winner. Island of the Blue Dolphins has a wonderful setting and a character into whom we can all project ourselves. It wasn't just Karana building a shelter or trying to outsmart the wild dogs-- I was, too. When I finished the last page, I had to sit quietly and let the sea breeze calm and the vision of a fish-shaped island sunning itself in the sea quietly fade away.
  • (3/5)
    This is a really good book! If you have read it you should really check out the sequel to it. It's called ZIA. :)
  • (5/5)
    This was one of my all time favorite novels as a child. I used to imagine the same thing happening to me (usually in a forest rather than an island, since that's where I lived). Read and reread.
  • (5/5)
    Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell This is a chapter book, reading level 5.5. When a tribe of Indians who had lived for thousands of years on an island measuring just 3 miles by 9 miles leaves the island, one girl is left behind. This is the story of her life beginning before the white men came to fish for otters in 1602 to her rescue some 20 years later. There are facts known about this girl and many myths. The book attempts to tell her story as well as possible. Rich in descriptions, youngsters will imagine her life well and be interested in what becomes of her. Newbery winner.
  • (3/5)
    When Karana is left behind with her brother on an island, they fight to survive. After her brother is killed by a pack of wild dogs, Karana must survive alone. She does her best to find food and fend off the wild dogs, as well as avoid enemy attacks. She almost escapes on a canoe, only to have her boat spring a leak. She barely makes it back to the island. This book is a good historical fiction to read and discuss with students. This is based on a true story and has rich vocabulary and ideas for students to experience.
  • (4/5)
    In the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California there is an island called the Island of the Blue Dolphins where a young girl names Karana is left to live alone for 18 years. This girl is faced with the death of her brother by wild dogs, ordeals with octopi and hunters that visit the island and would kill her if they knew she was there. This book would be a great read-aloud. The writing lends itself to a slow pace that allows for the audience to enter the world of Karana. The story is based on a true story and is a Newbery winner.
  • (4/5)
    It was a really good book for children. If you're planning to join Survivor then you must read this ;p. It was hard to put down. It was really exciting in a way despite the lack of characters. I really love Rontu, it was sad when he died. A nice "coming-of-age" story.
  • (4/5)
    This is a story of a young girl, Karana, living on an island with her people. A ship comes to take them away from the island after many of their people were massacred by hunters. The people no longer wanted to live there anymore. Karana is ready to leave on the ship with the rest of her people when she realizes her brother is missing. She jumps in the water to go get him and ends up being left as well because of the storms that were coming. Her brother is killed not long after this by a pack of wild dogs, so Karana is left on the island alone. She becomes strong and makes a home for herself as well as weapons. She lives for a long time until a ship does come back and takes her to another land. I thought this book is a good story for young readers. The story that develops here is probably something that children nowadays would ever think about or picture happening to them. Classroom Extensions: I would use this book as literature for the whole class and do shared reading and discussion with it as the students read a chapter a day. This would involve the students making predictions on what might happen and how they feel about the situations Karana is facing everyday. I would have the student write a letter to Karana or a poem for her telling her the way they feel about her situation.
  • (4/5)
    Such a famous book that I had never read until I moved to the California coast and realized this took place right "in the neighborhood." I love the story, the slow-moving one-day-into-another pace with rich descriptions of otters and starfish and wild dogs and pelicans and the occasional surreal event (spoiler alert: skeleton playing a pelican-bone flute). I am something less (much less) than a survivalist and would most likely not have lasted three hours on the island. But I greatly admire this young woman who developed incredible survival skills and the writer who imagined her story.
  • (5/5)
    The story is about a girl who stays behind on an island for her brother when her entire tribe leaves on a boat. She is left alone to survive and she thrives and protects herself. This story challenges social norms and gender roles in both her culture as well as my own.