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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

Island of the Blue Dolphins

Island of the Blue Dolphins - Scott O'Dell, Ted Lewin

A few months back it struck me that I really knew nothing about juvenile literature. As a child I read Choose Your Own Adventure, Garfield, and every year's edition of Guinness' Book of World Records. When I graduated from these, it was on to the breathtaking voyages of Captain Picard and crew.  And then, after taking a few years off from reading, I returned to discover adult literature. I didn't care that I missed the classic children's and young adult books; in fact I often snubbed my nose at those who even associated literature with children—children couldn't possibly understand true literature.

For whatever reason I decided it was time to abandon this silly notion. In 2012, I would explore several books written for younger audiences. I would choose them based on my own inklings, allowing me to ignore Harry Potter or Twilight or whatever other fad thing I didn't want to associate with. I would judge the books according to my own standards and determine once and for all whether this vein of books was for me.

So, for my first foray into juvenile lit, I chose Island of the Blue Dolphins. I'm not entirely sure why I picked this one. I'd never heard of it before it popped up one day on my Goodreads. I'm not usually a fan of tales of adventure, but I figured it was as good of a place as any to start.

Once I had the book in hand, I thought I may as well invite my kiddos to listen to the story. Jaedon was interested, but Zaka declined, choosing instead to play computer. A couple chapters in Zaka was listening intently. And before I knew it, my wife was a part of the reading as well. They all were deeply engrossed in the story (Rhys could care less, but he's two and there just weren't enough pictures to carry his interest). They thought the story was wonderful. Personally, I wasn't sold.

Take a true story about a girl alone on an island for eighteen years. Bad things—horrible things—happen to her. What a wonderful opportunity for some character development; what better way to introduce young readers to the human psyche? But no, there is none of that here. Scott O'Dell spends the entire length of the novel creating a female Robinson Crusoe. Despite all that happens to this girl, she just goes on, hunting and gathering, being as ingenious as the Professor on Gilligan's Island. That's great and makes for a fine story, but where's the human being? Karana shows practically no emotion despite the fact

 

she witnessed most of her people (including her father) killed, she returns to the island to be with her brother who is killed days later, she's alone for eighteen years and eventually learns that everyone she's ever known is dead.

(show spoiler)

 

That seems like quite a bit for any person to take in, especially a girl who is only twelve at the novel's start. The only emotion we even get a glimpse of is anger and this is very short lived. Karana just moves on and makes pretty skirts.


As a tale of adventure Island of the Blue Dolphins has merit. It's also a wonderful place to learn about a different culture, time, and about a largely unknown figure from history. It would be a great read for anyone interested in true survival stories. But it lacks one key ingredient: a human being. After all, a story about a shipwreck without a human being becomes nothing more than a story about a broken vessel. Unfortunately, that's exactly what the novel itself was in the end.