In the Pacific, there is an island that looks like a big fish sunning itself in the sea. Around it blue dolphins swim, otters play, and sea birds abound. Karana is the Indian girl who lived alone for years on the Island of the Blue Dolphins. Hers is not only an unusual adventure of survival, but also a tale of natural beauty and personal discovery.
"A haunting and unusual story based on the fact that in the early 1800s an Indian girl spent 18 years alone on a rocky island far off the coast of California . . . A quiet acceptance of fate characterizes her ordeal."--"School Library Journal," starred review. William Allen White Award; ALA Notable Children's Book; 1961 Newbery Medal winner.
ABOUT THIS BOOK
In an effort to escape Aleutian seal hunters in the early 1800s, the Indians of Ghalas-at board a ship to leave the Island of the Blue Dolphins. When 12-year-old Karana finds that her younger brother is not on board, she dives into the sea and swims back to the island in search of him. Years pass and Karana waits for the ship to return. In the meantime, she builds shelters, gathers food, makes clothing, fashions weapons, and conquers the wild dogs that killed her younger brother.
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR
Scott O'Dell was born in Los Angeles, California, on May 23, 1898. He attended Occidental College, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Stanford University, and University of Rome. He worked as a technical director for Paramount, a cameraman for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and a book editor of a Los Angeles newspaper before serving in the United States Air Force during World War II. The recipient of numerous book awards, he established the Scott O'Dell award for historical fiction in 1981. He died on October 15, 1989.
Based on the real story of the Lost Woman of San Nicolas, these novels show family members caring for one another, and speaks to the question of whether one can survive without parents and family. The resourcefulness and independent nature of both main characters appeal to most young readers. The sense of survival and the keen element of adventure make these novels ideal for classroom read-aloud or a novel study. The themes for young readers to explore are: survival, dealing with loneliness, courage, sibling relationships, and cultural intolerance. These novels have obvious links to the language arts and social studies classroom. In addition to these areas, teachers may wish to link Karana and Zia's stories to science, math, and art. We hope this guide will provide meaningful discussion and activities for you and your students.
Suggested Classroom Activities
Introduce these novels by reading aloud the author's note at the end of Island of the Blue Dolphins. Display a map of the United States and ask students to focus on California. Ask them to locate the city of Los Angeles and the Channel Islands. Have the class brainstorm the skills that someone must have in order to survive on such a remote island for 18 years.
Island of the Blue Dolphins is a classic survival story. How does Karana use her resources to help her survive? Is there ever a point when she thinks she will not survive? Ask students to locate a magazine article that chronicles a modern-day survival story. Then, have them compare and contrast the contemporary survival story with Karana's story.
Dealing with Loneliness
There are times when Karana is extremely lonely. How do the dogs she trains provide the companionship she needs? Ask students to brainstorm ways to overcome loneliness. How are animals sometimes used in our contemporary society to fulfill a void in a person's life? For example, pets in nursing homes, orphanages, and as companions to handicapped people.
Courage and Honor
Ask the class to prepare a ceremony that recognizes Karana for her courage. The students may wish to wear authentic dress and serve food that closely resembles what the people at the mission might have served.
Family and Relationships
Karana loves her younger brother Ramo so deeply that she risks her life for him by jumping overboard into the turbulent sea. Shortly after the ship leaves, Ramo is killed by the wild dogs. Karana, however, never regrets leaving the ship in order to stay with him. Zia is also very protective of her younger brother Mando. Suppose Karana and Zia could verbally communicate. What stories would they share with each other concerning their younger siblings?
Customs and Traditions
How is Karana different from the others at the mission? Zia seems to understand Karana's feelings and differences. Others at the mission don't seem to connect with Karana. Father Vicente isn't at the mission; he is in Mexico. How would he handle the people if he were present? Ask students to write a letter that Father Vicente might write to convince the other padres and Indians to be more tolerant of Karana's differences. What does Karana's situation teach us about dealing with people from other cultures?
The first person point of view in Island of the Blue Dolphins enables readers to know and care about Karana. In Zia, readers are not privy to Karana's thoughts. Ask students to use what they learned about Karana in Island of the Blue Dolphins and write about her arrival at the mission from her point of view. Is Zia accurate in her account of her aunt's feelings and behavior?
Mission Santa Barbara was one of several in a system of missions erected by the Catholic Church in California. The missions are an important part of California history. Ask students to record the information that O'Dell provides about Mission Santa Barbara. Then send them to the library to research the history of the missions. Which ones remain standing today? Are they in use? What other western states are famous for their missions?
The Indians of Ghalas-at, the Chumash, the Cupeno, and the Aleuts are tribes important to the stories of Karana and Zia. The novels provide some information about these tribes during the 1830s and 1850s. Students may be interested in researching the heritage of these tribes. Do they exist today?
There are many plants, animals, and fish in Island of the Blue Dolphins and Zia. Have the class make a list of the most unusual living things mentioned in the novels. Ask each student to select one plant and one animal or fish to research. Instruct them to compile their facts into a one-page report. They may also want to do a color illustration to accompany their written work.
In Island of the Blue Dolphins, Karana calls the multi-armed creature that she encounters a "Devil fish." Most readers will know that she is referring to an octopus. Students intrigued by the accuracy of Karana's descriptions may want to search for other examples of animals, plants, or stones that they recognize from her descriptions.
There are many opportunities in these novels to create math problems. These problems could involve time, distance, and estimation. Ask students to locate scenes in the books that might be pertinent to math. Have each student create at least one word problem. Divide the class into small groups and ask them to solve the problems.
Karana worked hard to create a beautiful skirt from cormorant feathers, and was quite proud of her work. She wears it, along with an otter cape and black bead necklace, when she presents herself to Father Vicente. Ask students to use O'Dell's description of her dress to paint a picture of Karana on this important day.
Teaching Ideas prepared by Elizabeth A. Poe, Associate Professor of English, Radford University, Radford, VA.
Spanish words occur frequently in Zia because the padres are teaching the Indians to speak their language. Gito Cruz, for example, likes to speak a mixture of Spanish and English. He presumably learned the English from the gringos. Have students list the many Spanish words used in Zia. Ask them to guess the meaning of each word, using clues from the context of the story. Students may also enjoy listing Spanish words that are part of the English lexicon.
A Newbery Medal Book
x "A haunting and unusual story. . . ."-- Starred, Library Journal
"Island of the Blue Dolphins has the timeless enduing quality of a classic."--Chicago Tribune
"Strange and beautiful, revealing courage, serenity, and greatness of spirit."--The Horn Book
"A moving and unforgettable story."--Booklist
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