1961 Newbery Medal: Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O’Dell, was published in 1960 by Houghton.

Rating: 2/5

Island of the Blue Dolphins is not nearly as interesting as O’Dell’s Newbery Honor-winning book The King’s Fifth. There’s not nearly as much dialogue or character interaction, for one, since the premise of this book is a girl stuck on an island by herself for years. There’s also not enough action or tension to help with the overall tedium of the plot.

The most interesting thing about this book is that it is inspired by a true story: the story of “The Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island” (Juana Maria), who lived for eighteen years by herself on San Nicolas Island (off the coast of California) after her tribe left. This is a survival story, so O’Dell imagines what Juana Maria (Karana in the novel) must have done to live off the land and survive as the only human.

There’s a brother, too, which O’Dell gives as the reason for why Karana is left behind, but then the brother makes a quick exit about thirty minutes (or so it feels) after the tribe leaves, when he runs into a pack of wild dogs. Thus, Karana quickly realizes the impetus for her staying behind is now gone, and now she must wait for the ship to return.

I do honestly enjoy survival stories, but the ones I’ve read lately have been underwhelming. Karana is well-prepared to stay for years on the island, and I suppose that’s a bit of what takes the wind out of the sails: there’s never any sense of real danger or real struggle. The most exciting part of the book is a tidal wave, followed by an earthquake; it’s the only part of the book where Karana loses her unflappability and becomes more like a real person. I think the story, on paper, is great—again, I love survival stories—but actually written out, Island of the Blue Dolphins is underwhelming and mostly boring.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2YZ8muB