A Scott O’Dell tribute honoring the author of Island of the Blue Dolphins, Sing Down the Moon, The Black Pearl, and many other outstanding novels for children.
I don’t remember how old I was when I got my first Scott O’Dell book, but I remember who I got it from – my mother. She knew I loved to read and always remembered to buy a good book for me whenever there was an occasion to do so. I’m guessing – but I may have been around eleven at the time.
She bought a hardcover version of Island of the Blue Dolphins. It was my first-ever Newbery winning book and I loved it. I treasured that book so much that now, fifty years later, I still have that copy of the book on my shelf. It is one of the few books that survived my childhood and the many, many moves I’ve made since then.
This haunting, memorable story of Karana, a Ghalas-at Native American woman left alone on San Nicolas Island for eighteen years after trying to save her younger brother, stayed with me. It has been lodged in my heart all my life since then. I am moved to tears, remembering how much this book meant to me. It showed me how I, as a woman, can be strong and self-sufficient, and how to get through anything that might come my way. Karana’s true Ghalas-at name is unknown. She was Christened “Juana Maria” after being rescued, but died a few months later and is buried in Santa Barbara.
Years later while I was homeschooling my two youngest children I decided to read Newbery Medal winning novels to them. One of the first I read was the book I had on my shelf, Island of the Blue Dolphins. They loved it too.
If this is actually a photograph of Juana Maria, who lived alone for eighteen years on San Nicolas Island, I have to say, she looks very unhappy. Her eye also looks as if it were injured at some point in her life. She was soon cut down by a disease hitherto unknown to her tribe, which was also the fate of other members of the Ghalis-at people. She died on October 19, 1853.
After that I read Sing Down the Moon to my children. My children liked that book so much they didn’t want me to stop reading. I remember staying up late as they listened intently, reading so many chapters at a time we finished the novel in just a few days.
It was not the first time I’d read Sing Down the Moon. It as assigned reading when I took a Children’s Literature class in college in the 1970’s, not long after it was published and named a Newbery Honor Book.
After reading those two books to the kids I decided to read one on my own, and chose The Blue Pearl. It is much shorter than the other novels and set in a more contemporary time. Those are the only Scott O’Dell books I’ve read so far. I expect I’ll be reading more of them in future years.
When I decided to write tributes to some of my favorite children’s authors, Scott O’Dell was the first I thought of. He will always be first in my mind when I think of the great writers of children’s literature. His writing shaped my life and probably was the greatest influence in directing my own writing toward adventures with young teenage protagonists.
A few links:
Scott O’Dell: A comprehensive website
Scott O’Dell Award For Historical Fiction
Elizabeth Hall, the wife of Scott O’Dell
The Black Pearl is about a teenager diving off the coast of La Paz, Baja California, in Mexico. He’s looking for a precious Black Pearl and must do battle with a huge devilfish called Manta Diablo. Recommended for boys ages 10 to 15. After reading this they may want to become scuba divers.
More books by Scott O’Dell
ZiaBlack Star, Bright DawnStreams to the River, River to the SeaMy Name Is Not AngelicaThe Cruise of the Arctic StarThe Seven Serpents TrilogyThe CaptiveThe King’s FifthCarlotaThunder Rolling in the MountainsSarah Bishop by Scott O’Dell (1991) Mass Market PaperbackThe 290AlexandraThe Road to DamiettaThe Feathered SerpentBy Scott O’Dell The Hawk That Dare Not Hunt by Day (A Later Edition) [Paperback]
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Barbara Radisavljevic says
I read many of these books when I was homeschooling and selling children’s books. I could not help but sympathize with Karana, alone on the island, trying to stay alive.
Linda Jo Martin says
She’s definitely one of my favorite characters in children’s literature, and always will be. I have so much respect and awe for Juana Maria and what she went through.