O’Dell, S. (1987). Island of the blue dolphins. New York: Dell Publishing.
LS5360 Newbery Medal. This one came from my daughter’s library, though looking at the inside cover, we must have purchased at Half Price Books – there was a nice inscription from some other mom to some other daughter! I think this book has a timeless message about being environmentally and culturally sensitive.
Exposition: Setting is an island off the coast of Southern California (San Nicolas Island) in the late 1800s. The story begins with Karana, the main character and a native of the island, digging roots when she notices a boat approaching. It is quickly apparent that the Aleuts are an enemy, and events play out building to a confrontation between the villagers and the Aleuts, and the Chief (Karana’s father) and most of the village males are killed. The story is told by Karana, first person point of view. Characters come and go, but the other primary characters are: Chief Chowig, Ramo, Ulape, Rontu, and Tutok.
Conflict: The villagers struggle to survive and eventually decide they must leave the island for the mainland because they wouldn’t be able to defend themselves if the Aleuts returned. Karana’s brother, Ramo, gets left behind, and when they won’t turn the boat around, Karana jumps off the ship and swims back to shore to be with Ramo.
Rising Action: Ramo and Karana feel certain the boat will return so take turns watching while the other gathers food and supplies. One day Ramo decides to go out for a canoe, and he is killed by a pack of dogs, leaving Karana alone on the island – and vowing revenge against the dogs.
Climax: Karana can’t bear to stay on the island with all its memories and decides to escape to the mainland. Her canoe leaks and she has to return to the island but has a change of heart once she is on its shores. She realizes the island is her home and where she is happy. She also decides to confront the dog pack, but in a turn of events, befriends the leader instead of killing him. She names him Ranto, and he becomes her friend.
Falling Action: Karana continues to make peace rather than hunt the island animals and is at peace herself when the Aleuts return to the island. She hides out but watches and realizes there is an Aleutian girl with the crew. The girl, Tutok, finds Karana, and they become friends. Tutok leaves suddenly and without a chance to say goodbye, but Karana is ever thankful for their short time together.
Resolution: White men return to the island and take Karana and her belongings on the boat with them to go to the main island. They dress her in white woman clothing, which she doesn’t like, and the story ends with her sailing away from her island.
Literary Elements: Symbolism: red represents violence and danger (Aleutian’s sails, blood of Chief, brother, bull elephant, dogs), tidal waves clashing, etc. Foreshadowing: especially of clash between Aleutians and villagers, then later of Ramo’s death. Imagery: very descriptive passages describing the scenery on and around the island.