nos·tal·gia [no-stal-juh] – noun:
A sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell is a middle-grade novel written in 1960. It tells the tale of a young girl, Karana, stranded alone on an island and how she survives for years. The internet tells me it’s based on a true story about Juana Maria, a Native American who lived alone for 18 years on an island during the 19th century.
I’m not sure how young I was when I first read this book, but I would guess I was in fifth or sixth grade. I do remember that Mum recommended this book to me and I did not want to read it. I thought it would be boring. I’m not sure why, but I suspect it was because I was mostly interested in fantasy (and Goosebumps) and had yet to discover the joys of historical fiction. Why would I want to read something real?
But somehow she talked me into reading the book (or perhaps bribed me?) and I loved it. It made me cry then and during my re-read in the last year or so, it made me cry again. I sure do love books that move me to tears!
If you haven’t read this book, and you enjoy strong female characters and survival and natural elements (or if you know a stubborn little middle-schooler who will totally love this book even though they don’t realize it yet), I highly recommend it.
Over at Hello Giggles, Kerry Winfrey wrote a nice little appreciation post and touches on some of the appeal for young readers:
“Did the idea of hunting and gathering present an interesting juxtaposition to our lives full of Lunchables and Dunkaroos? I don’t know, but despite my meager survival skills, I still kind of thought I would rock at making arrowheads and identifying non-poisonous plants.”
Personally, I never had such delusions about my own survival skills – many camping trips with my family proved my inadequacy in the wild outdoors. But this book still appeals to me.
There’s a sequel to the book, Zia, which was published in 1976. Apparently it takes place after Karana is reunited with her people. I haven’t read it and likely won’t. Island of the Blue Dolphins is one of those rare books I’m satisfied with as a stand-alone. Other examples are Ender’s Game and Love Virtually. Sometimes I just like to have some questions unanswered or endings unresolved, you know?
There’s also a film adaptation from 1964, directed by James Clark. I don’t recognize any of the cast: Celia Kaye, Larry Domasin, Ann Daniel, Carlos Romero, George Kennedy and Hal John Norman – but I’m not well versed in older films, so this will surprise no one. I might try to find the film and give that a go, but I have a feeling it just won’t capture the magic or the nostalgia that the novel holds for me.
I don’t know if this book has a large following today, but I think if it’s not required reading in school, it should be!
Any other fans of Karana out there? Let me know!