Study Guide Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell

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Also see Themes Analysis in Overall Analysis section for more detail.

Respect for all life

Forgive enemies

Adapt to the situation

Live and let live


Inner strength


Stoic when difficulties are described, but overall, happy. Karana has a “cup half full” or optimistic approach to life which comes across in her telling of the story of her life on the island.

Scott O’Dell - BIOGRAPHY

Scott O’Dell was born in Los Angeles, California on May 23, 1898. He attended Occidental College in 1919, the University of Wisconsin in 1920, Stanford University from 1920-21, and the University of Rome in 1925. He was not focused on graduating and did not. Instead he took courses that were interesting to him and that he felt would help him in a writing career. After college, he worked as a technical director for Paramount Studios, and as a cameraman for MGM Studios. He also worked as a book editor and columnist for Los Angeles newspapers. He became a full-time writer in 1934, writing both fiction and non-fiction. During World War II, he served in the Army Air Corps. In the late 1950s he began writing young adult books. He wrote twenty-eight young adult books before his death in 1989, though some were published after his death. Island of the Blue Dolphins (published in 1960) was his first book intended for a younger audience.

He received many awards for his writing over the years. They include: the Newbery Medal in 1961 for Island of the Blue Dolphins, the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award im 1961, Zur Errinnerung an die 2000-Jahrfeier der Stadt Mainz in 1962, and the William Allen White Children's Book Award in 1963, the Newbery Medal in 1967 for The King's Fifth, the Newberry Medal in 1968 for The Black Pearl, the Newberry Medal in 1971 for Sing Down the Moon, Hans Christian Anderson Award in 1972, the University of Southern Mississippi Silver Medallion in 1976, the Regina Medal in 1978, Parents' Choice Award for Alexandra in 1984 for Streams to the River, River to the Sea: A Novel of Sacagewea in 1986. O'Dell was a very highly acclaimed and decorated writer in comparison to his peers. Two of his books have been made into motion pictures, the first was Island of the Blue Dolphins in 1963, followed by the Black Pearl in 1976.

Scott O'Dell continued to write young adult books until he died on October 15, 1989 in Mt. Kisco, New York.

Los Angeles is near the island on which the story of Island of the Blue Dolphins is set. He first heard the story of The Lost Woman of San Nicholas in 1920. At the time he wrote the story, almost 40 years after first hearing about the Lost Woman, he was upset with hunters. He believed, as Karana did in the latter part of the book, that all nature should be respected. He used the story he had heard about The Lost Woman of San Nicholas as a base on which to weave his ideas about respect for nature. There are not many facts available about the real “Lost Woman.” Scott O’Dell used his knowledge of the area and of the sea, along with additional research to fill in the missing gaps in the known story.

Up until the time that he wrote Island of the Blue Dolphins, Scott O’Dell had only written books for adults. Actually, he originally thought of Island of the Blue Dolphins as a book for adults, but was told that it would make a good book for young people. So, that is what it became. After this book, he wrote only books for young people. He liked the response that he got from his young readers better than the response that he had been getting from adults.

The author wrote a follow-up book, Zia, supposedly about Karana’s niece. While that story uses some of what is known about The Lost Woman of San Nicholas, it is not based on a known person. The title character, Zia, is Ulape’s daughter. But, it is not known whether Ulape actually had a daughter and, if she did, what her name was. If you like Island of the Blue Dolphins, you will also enjoy Zia.

Scott O’Dell’s books are often about strong girls. He even seemed to prefer strong women as characters in his adult books. And, he frequently wrote about Native Americans and Hispanics.

The King’s Fifth is set in the sixteenth century. It is historical fiction as many of the author’s books are. The narrator is a young mapmaker who is in prison. There is a story within the story. It is about an expedition searching for gold in which the narrator took part. Even in this story there is a strong young female character. She seems to be the only one not overcome by greed for gold. She has the same name as the title character of another of O’Dell’s books, Zia, but she is not the same character. This is the author’s second book for young readers. It is a Newbery Honor book and received the German Juvenile International Award.

The Black Pearl, the author’s third book for young people, was also named a Newbery Honor book. It is not historical fiction. Rather, it is fable. It is about Ramon, who is the son of a pearl merchant, and the Manta Diablo, which is a very large devilfish. It is also about a huge black pearl that Ramon finds. The setting is Baja California.

Sing Down the Moon is about a Navajo girl who is first kidnapped and made a household slave in the home of a Spanish woman. She eventually escapes and returns to her home near the Four Corners area, the area where the states of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico meet. In the last half of the book, her tribe is forced to take the Long Walk to a new home. As a result, many died. This is historical fiction, based on real events, but with mostly fictional characters. Sing Down the Moon was named a Newbery Medal book.

Carlota, which won the Hans Christian Andersen Medal, is about a girl who lives on a ranchero. She acts more like a boy and takes part in a famous battle of the Mexican War, the Battle of San Pasqual, near San Diego.

Sarah Bishop is a book about a young British girl in Revolutionary War times. Her father sides with the British and her brother sides with the Revolutionaries. Both of them are killed. She has no more family. She lives in a cave. Like Island of the Blue Dolphins, this story is based on a real person. At the time he wrote the book, the author lived near her cave in Westchester County, New York.

Black Star, Bright Dawn is about another strong Native American girl. She takes part in the Iditarod, which is a thousand mile race through ice and snow. If you are interested in the Iditarod, you will like this book, but it is not as good as those mentioned above.

Scott O'Dell's Young Adult Books

Island of the Blue Dolphins, 1960
The King's Fifth,
The Black Pearl,
The Dark Canoe,
Journey to Jericho,
Sing Down the Moon,
The Treasure of Topo-el-Bampo,
The Cruise of the Arctic Star,
Child of Fire,
The Hawk That Dare Not Hunt By Day,
The 290,
Kathleen, Please Come Home,
The Captive,
Sarah Bishop,
The Feathered Serpent,
The Spanish Smile,
The Amethyst Ring,
The Castle in the Sea,
The Road to Damietta,
Streams to the River, River to the Sea,
The Serpent Never Sleeps,
Black Star, Bright Dawn,
My Name is Not Angelica,
Thunder Rolling in the Mountains,
Venus Among the Fishes,


This book tells the story of "The Lost Woman of San Nicholas." She was a real person. There are records of her existence, but there are not records of everything in the book. Some of what is in the book is based on the author's knowledge of the area along with research that he did.

The Aleuts originated on islands off the coast of Alaska called the Aleutian Islands. Russians had come to their islands about a century before Karana’s time. By Karana’s time, the Russians were in control of the Aleuts. Rather than using Russian hunters, the Russians used Aleut hunters. This was because the Aleuts were very good hunters. While in this story the Aleuts are considered by Karana to be enemies, they actually were only doing as they were forced to do by the Russians. Because of the Russians, they had a hard time surviving as a people. Besides rough treatment, they also received diseases from the Russians, as the Indians did from the white men.


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