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Book Review

*Island of the Blue Dolphins" by Scott O'Dell has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Karana is a young Native American girl. She lives on a small, weather-beaten island 75 miles off the coast of Southern California in the 1800s.

Karana's father is Chief Chowig. Her mother has died. One day, a ship carrying Aleuts and a Russian captain arrives. The people ask for permission to hunt the otters that live on the island. The captain promises to pay Chief Chowig handsomely at the end of the hunt, but the captain reneges on the deal and a skirmish breaks out. Nearly all of the men in Karana's tribe are killed, including her father.

About a year later, another ship arrives to rescue the remaining Native Americans. Karana's little brother, Ramo, slips away to their house to retrieve a spear. When Karana realizes he is not on the ship, she jumps overboard and swims ashore as the ship is sailing away. She and her brother are now alone on the island, believing that the ship will return for them.

The island is home to a roaming pack of wild dogs, and Karana warns Ramo, who is six years younger than she, to beware of them and never to wander around the island alone. Just a few days later, Ramo wakes up early to look for one of the canoes that the tribe had hidden when the Aleuts came to the island. Karana realizes he is gone and searches for him. She finds him dead on the ground, surrounded by a pack of barking dogs.

After many days of mourning, Karana destroys all the houses in the village. She creates a makeshift bed high on a rock where the dogs cannot reach her.

The next summer she decides to leave the island by paddling a canoe in the direction the ship went when it rescued her people. After one day and night, the canoe develops a crack and she realizes she must return to the island. A swarm of blue dolphins surrounds her canoe and leads her home.

She searches for a good location for a new home and builds a fence around it to protect her from the dogs.

Karana tracks the dogs, killing four of them in revenge for her brother's death. She wounds the pack leader. Instead of ending his life, she nurses him to health. She names him Rontu, and he becomes her inseparable companion. The two spend the next several years together. Gathering food and making clothing consume most of Karana's days.

One summer, a ship carrying Aleuts visits the island, again. Still afraid of them, Karana hides while they are on the island, but a young Aleut girl finds her, and they become friends. The two exchange gifts after several days. The Aleuts suddenly depart, but the human interaction she had with the girl now makes Karana realize her loneliness.

The Aleuts leave many dead and wounded otters behind. Karana nurses one to health. She catches fish for it, and the otter temporarily becomes a pet. Several more years pass. Rontu dies. Karana finds a dog she is convinced is Rontu's son. She traps him and makes him her new pet.

There is an earthquake on the island. Shortly thereafter, Karana spies another ship approaching on the horizon. The ship doesn't stay long. In the time it takes Karana to retrieve a few personal items and go to the bay where the ship was anchored, it leaves. Two years later the ship returns and takes Karana, a few of her personal items and her dog to the mainland.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

Karana and her people practice what could be described as animism or a general paganism. Their beliefs are not clear. However, Karana mentions recalling how Kimki, who became chief after her father died, had spoken with the dead to ask for their advice. Kimki had also spoken to Zuma, the medicine man, a person who "held power over the wind and the seas."

Karana relates how she had never been able to speak to the dead, even though she had tried. She also mentions a legend among her people about two gods who ruled the world at its beginning. When trying to kill a devilfish with a spear, Karana describes his eyes as being like the eyes of a spirit she had seen during a thunderstorm one night.

Authority Roles

Karana's father is the chief of the small tribe living on the island. While there is little time for interaction between Karana and her father before he dies, she respects him and is deeply saddened when he is gone. Her father stands up for the tribe's rights against the Aleuts.

After Karana and Ramo are left alone on the island, Karana is thrust into the role of an authority figure with her little brother. At that time, Karana is approximately 13, and her brother is 7. She tries to warn him of the dangers on the island, particularly the pack of wild dogs.


There is an intense battle between the men in Karana's tribe and the Aleuts who have been hunting around the island. The fight is primarily hand-to-hand combat and is not graphically described. Several men fall on the ground, presumably dead, and Karana's father gets up from the ground once with blood on his face.

Karana finds her little brother dead. He had been killed by a pack of wild dogs roaming the island. He is lying on the ground, surrounded by the dogs, with a deep wound on his throat. Later, in revenge, Karana tracks and kills four of the dogs.

Rontu, the pack's lead dog, becomes Karana's pet. He is attacked by two of the wild dogs. During the fight, Karana hears a dog's leg break. Another dog bites Rontu's throat.

Karana kills a large devilfish by stabbing it repeatedly.



Discussion Topics

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Additional Comments/Notes

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Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

9 to 12


Scott O'Dell






Record Label



Originally published by Houghton Mifflin


On Video

Year Published



John Newbery Medal, 1961; Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, 1961; William Allen White Children's Book Award, 1963; School Library Journal, One Hundred Books That Shaped the Century, 2000


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