Island of the Blue Dolphins

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Island of the Blue Dolphins
Blue dolphins.jpg
First edition
Author Scott O'Dell
Cover artist Evaline Ness
Country United States
Language English
Genre Children's novel
Publisher Houghton Mifflin
Publication date
Media type Print (hardcover & paperback); Audiobook
Pages 194 pp[1]
ISBN 0-395-06962-9
OCLC 225474
Followed by Zia

Island of the Blue Dolphins is a 1960 children's novel written by Scott O'Dell and tells the story of a young girl stranded alone for years on an island off the California coast. It is based on the true story of Juana Maria, a Nicoleño Native American left alone for 18 years on San Nicolas Island in the 19th century.

Island of the Blue Dolphins won the Newbery Medal in 1961.[1] It was adapted into a film of the same name in 1964. O'Dell later wrote a sequel, Zia, published in 1976.

The 50th Anniversary edition includes a new introduction by Newbery Medalist Lois Lowry and also includes extracts from Father Gonzales Rubio in the Santa Barbara Mission's Book of Burials.

Historical basis[edit]

This novel is based on the true story of Juana Maria, better known to history as "The Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island," a Nicoleño Native Californian left alone for 18 years on San Nicolas Island, one of the Channel Islands off the California coast, before being discovered in 1853. It was believed that she lived in a cave on the island. In 2012, Naval archaeologist Steve Schwartz believed he discovered that cave and began an investigation.[2] Commanders at the Navy base on the island about 65 miles southwest of Point Mugu ordered Schwartz to halt the dig in 2015.[3][4]

Plot summary[edit]

The main character is a girl named Karana. She has a brother named Ramo, whose curiosity usually leads to trouble. Her people live in a village called Ghalas-at and the tribe survives by means of gathering roots and fishing. One day, a ship of Aleuts led by a Russian named Captain Orlov arrive and persuade the natives to let them hunt sea otter in return for other goods. However, the Aleuts attempt to swindle the islanders and leave without paying. When they are confronted by Karana's father Chief Chowig, a battle breaks out and lives are lost on both sides. The tribe is greatly reduced and the Aleuts leave the island leaving little payment for the otters they hunted. Karana's father and many other men in the tribe die during the battle.

Later, the "replacement chief" Chief Kimki leaves the island on a canoe for new land in the East. Eventually, he sends a "giant canoe" to bring his people to the mainland even though he himself does not return. The white men come to Karana's village and tell them to pack their goods and go to the ship. Karana's brother misses the ship to retrieve his fishing spear. Although Karana urges the captain to wait for Ramo to return, the ship must leave before a storm approaches. Despite restraint, Karana jumps off the ship and swims to shore and the ship departs without them.

The siblings live alone on the island, hoping the ship will return. However, Ramo is brutally killed by a pack of feral dogs. Alone on the island, Karana takes on traditionally male tasks, such as hunting, making spears, and building canoes to survive. She vows to avenge her brother's death and kills several of the dogs, but has a change of heart when she encounters the leader of the pack. She tames him and names him Rontu (meaning "Fox Eyes" in her language).

Over time, Karana makes a life for herself. She builds a home made of whale bones and stocks a cave with provisions in case the Aleuts come back, so she can hide from them. As she explores her island, Karana discovers ancient artifacts and a large squid (which she calls a devilfish). As time passes, she decides to hunt the devilfish. She also tames some birds and an otter while feeling a close kinship to the animals (the only inhabitants of the island beside herself).

One summer, the Aleuts return and Karana takes refuge in the cave. She observes the Aleuts closely and realizes that a girl named Tutok takes care of the domestic duties including getting water from the pool near Karana's cave. Fearful of being discovered, Karana goes out only at night yet the curious girl stalks Karana and the two meet. Karana and Tutok meet several days in a row. However, when she lets Rontu out with her, Tutok calls him hers. Karana and the girl exchange gifts and she realizes how lonely she's been. Karana wishes that Tutok would not leave yet the next day Karana makes food for her and she doesn't come and Karana sees the ship departing. Sadly, she returns to her house and starts rebuilding.

More time passes and unfortunately Rontu dies. Karana soon finds a young dog that looks like Rontu and takes him in naming him Rontu-Aru ("Son of Rontu"). One day, Karana sees the sails of a ship. It docks at the shore, but then leaves. Two years later in the spring, the boat comes back, so Karana dresses in her finest attire and goes to the shore to meet the boat. Her rescuers see that her dress made of cormorant feathers is not appropriate for the mainland and they have a dress made for her. She does not like the dress, Karana realizes that it is part of her new life. The ship takes Karana and Rontu-Aru to the mission in Santa Barbara, California. There, she finds out that the ship that had taken her people away had sunk, before it could return from the mainland for her.

Film adaptation[edit]

A film adaptation of Island of the Blue Dolphins was released on July 3, 1964. It was directed by James B. Clark and starred Celia Kaye as Karana. Jane Klove and Ted Sherdeman adapted the script from O'Dell's novel, and the film was produced by Robert B. Radnitz and Universal Pictures. The film was made on a slight budget but did receive a wide release three months after its New York premiere.[5][6] The New York Times's Howard Thompson gave the film a rather condescending review upon its release, saying it was strictly a children's film.[7] However, Kaye won a Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year for her performance.[8] The film earned an estimated $2 million in rentals in North America.[9]


  1. ^ a b c Island of the Blue Dolphins. ISBNdb (2009). Retrieved 2009-08-26.
  2. ^ Chawkins, Steve.,0,1564818.story Los Angeles Times. October 30, 2012.
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Island of the Blue Dolphins". Retrieved 2010-06-15.
  6. ^ Thompson, Howard (July 4, 1964). "Island of the Blue Dolphins (1964)" (Review). The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-06-15.
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Celia Kaye".
  9. ^ "Big Rental Pictures of 1964", Variety, 6 January 1965 p 39. Please note this figure is rentals accruing to distributors not total gross.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Onion John
Newbery Medal recipient
Succeeded by
The Bronze Bow
Preceded by
The Helen Keller Story
Winner of the
William Allen White Children's Book Award

Succeeded by
The Incredible Journey