I don’t have very many distinct memories of books I read as an elementary-school aged child. I do remember a few book series I enjoyed reading, like Nancy Drew, The Babysitter’s Club and Sweet Valley Twins (Ugh, anyone else remember those? I distinctly remember also that as a girl about Miss M’s age, my mom said I was not allowed to read the “high school” series from Sweet Valley. Good call, Mom!).
As far as individual books go, Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’ Dell is one of the few I clearly remember reading. I also remember that after reading it, I incorporated it into my own imaginative play as I pretended to be the main character from the story. I’m fairly sure I read it in 3rd grade (based on my memory of which house I “played” this in, from the many I lived in during childhood). So it was a natural choice to add Island of the Blue dolphins to our read-aloud this for this year. Though I am sure it is one Miss M could have handled on her own, I definitely wanted to share the experience of this book together with her. I entered into it with some apprehension, however, that I might be disappointed in the re-read of this book that was so highly regarded in my memory!
Luckily, I was not disappointed. I think I enjoyed it just as much as I remember having enjoyed it when I was Miss M’s age, and Miss M said it was one of her favorites of this year as well.
While this strikes me as a book many of us probably read as a child, here’s a brief recap of the plot: Karana is a girl living with her small tribe on a remote island off the coast of California. The population of the tribe is decimated following a battle with a group of Aleut hunters who have come to the island to hunt otter. Eventually the decision is made that the remnant of the tribe must leave the island. The tribe’s chief leaves to get help from the mainland, and a ship arrives to take the tribe away. Karana’s brother, however, is not found aboard the ship as it is leaving the island, and Karana abandons the ship to find her brother, knowing they will be left behind.
Karana’s brother is killed by wild dogs soon after. (I suppose this could upset some sensitive readers — but if a potential reader/listener reads the summary on the back of the book before beginning, they will have a sizable hint that something must happen to her brother, as the summary states she is alone on the island!). Karana is thus left alone on the island to find her own way to survive — for what she first believes may only be weeks, months or a year — but for what instead turns out to be 18 years before a ship finally arrives that takes her to the mainland.
Karana’s story is one not only of survival, but of finding friends in unexpected ways, of harmony with her surroundings and of finding peace in difficult circumstances. I grew up as an only child (in my immediate household — I have half and step siblings I did not live with), and I think that I could relate to Karana’s “aloneness” in some ways. Other than that, I find it a bit hard, actually, to put my finger on why I liked this book so much as a child and still like it now. Clearly, I don’t directly relate to her experience of being alone in my current living situation (quite the opposite — I definitely would appreciate a few more moments of peace and quiet!). I suppose I might be most drawn to Karana’s strong sense of resolve to press on despite the obstacles and find beauty and enjoyment around her.
(Small side note — I picked the small cover picture that reflects the cover of the copy of Island of the Blue Dolphins that I own. Isn’t it a great illustration? I like it much better than some of the other covers).
After many quite serious, historical read-aloud this year, we’ve next moved on to something much more “fun” and lighthearted. Miss M and I are a few days into read The Mysterious Benedict Society, having heard and read many positive reviews. It’s a long one though so this might keep us occupied for a two (or three or four) weeks…if we can keep ourselves from not staying up too late reading it.
I’m linking up with Read Aloud Thursday @ Hope is the Word!