Island of the Blue Dolphins

Island of the Blue Dolphins

Winner of the 1961 Newbery Medal

Brutal fights, emergency evacuations, abandonment…these are just some of the things young Karana faces in the Newbery Award winning novel, Island of the Blue Dolphins. Inspired by true events, this is the story of Karana, a young Indian girl living on an island off the Pacific coast in the village of Ghalas-at.

The story begins with a description of what daily life is like for Karana in her village, but her quiet routine is soon interrupted when a ship of Aleuts arrive on the island to hunt for sea otter. When the Aleuts try to leave the island without paying for the otters they hunted, a battle breaks out, killing many in Ghalas-at, including the Chief, who also happens to be Karana’s father. With so many men gone from the tribe, they realize they must get help to survive.

When a ship arrives to take the survivors to the mainland, everyone begins packing their belongings and boarding the ship. Once on the ship, Karana realizes her younger brother Ramo has been left behind, although she begs the captain to wait, her refuses saying they must leave before an approaching storm hits the island. Karana jumps off the ship and swims to the island to be with Ramo, and the two hope that the ship will return for them.

While waiting for the ship, Ramo is killed by the wild dogs who live on the island. Karana vows to avenge her brother’s death, and kill the wild dogs, but finds she can’t kill the leader of the pack, and instead tames him and names him Rontu.

As the novel progresses, Karana makes a life for herself, building shelter, learning to hunt for food, and taming other animals on the island for company. This novel slowly reveals Karana’s incredible strength and determination, as well as her strong will to survive and reminded me of a young female Robinson Crusoe. Eventually, a ship does return to the island and takes Karana to the mainland.

I do think this novel is best suited to older readers, or advanced middle readers. There is little dialogue in the story once Karana is alone on the island, so that tends to make the story move a little slower. I think a reluctant reader would quickly lose interest in the story once it becomes more descriptive in nature. However, since the story is told from Karana’s point of view, it sustains the interest of the reader because you can see her thoughts and actions as she plans out her methods of survival and you watch her courage in action.

177 pages                        978-0395-06962-2                            Ages 10-13

Keywords:  girls and women, indigenous people, survival, loyalty, family, island, adventure, self reliance, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old, 13 year old

Recommended by: Angela Cooke Sides, Librarian, Texas

Editor's note: The sequel to this book is Zia


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 elephants and sea birds abound. Once, Indians also lived on the island. And when they left and sailed to the east, one young girl was left behind. — This is the story of Karana, the Indian girl who lived alone for years on the Island of the Blue Dolphins. Year after year, she watched one season pass into another and waited for a ship to take her away. But while she waited, she kept herself alive by building shelter, making weapons, finding food, and fighting her enemies, the wild dogs. It is not only an unusual adventure of survival, but also a tale of natural beauty and personal discovery. ---from the publisher

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