A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
FEBRUARY 6:

  • Happy birthday Jerome Wexler (Venus Flytraps) and Betsy Duffey (How to Be Cool in the Third Grade).
  • It’s the birth date of Berta Hader (1891–1976), The Big Snow.
  • Baseball legend George Herman“Babe” Ruth (1895–1948) was born on this day. Read Home Run: The Story of Babe Ruth by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Mike Wimmer.
  • It’s Lame Duck Day. This does not refer to injured waterfowl, but to those whose tenure is about to expire. However, go ahead and read the Duck & Goose books by Tad Hills, The Story of Ping by Marjorie Flack, and I Can Help by David Costello.

For authors and artists week, I’d like to talk about the most impressive author I ever worked with, Scott O’Dell. Scott was in his mid seventies and I was in my late twenties when we first met. A tall man, large in body, spirit, and charisma, he could tell stories like no one I had ever met. Probably even more important to me, Scott genuinely paid attention to and appreciated junior publishing staff members. When I traveled to Italy, he outlined the “do not miss” spots like Fiesole. Whatever you did for him, he thanked you and encouraged you personally.

By that point he had become one of America’s most accomplished writers for children. In his home Scott displayed on a mantle the treasures he’d gathered—the Newbery Medal, the Hans Christian Anderson Medal, and the Regina Medal. These were all, by the way, heavy and impressive objects. As someone who came late in his life to writing for children, perhaps he valued his profession more than he would have if it had come easier.

Born in Los Angeles in 1898, Scott attended a number of colleges and eventually worked in the motion picture industry. He was on set for the first filming of Ben Hur. Eventually he became the book review editor for the Lost Angeles Daily News and wrote some books for adults. But a true story that he had encountered always haunted him, about a young Native American who spent eighteen years alone on an island off the California coast. There was no record of how she spoke, and because Scott wanted to give this character, Karana, great dignity, he wrote in iambic pentameter, the language of Shakespeare. He had no idea who might want to read this story—and entrusted a copy to his friend Hardwick Mosley, West Coast sales representative for Houghton Mifflin. Houghton thought Island of the Blue Dolphins a children’s story, published it in 1960, and Scott won the Newbery Award for his first book.

Married to children’s librarian Elizabeth O’Dell, who would be his lifelong supporter and first-reader for his books, Scott loved no group of people more than librarians—they read his books, they could tell him what children said, and they appreciated his stories. Although Island of the Blue Dolphins was published when Scott was in his sixties, he lived and wrote for another thirty years and crafted other superb novels: Zia; Black Star, Bright Dawn; The King’s Fifth; The Black Pearl. Always personally generous with the money from his books, Scott set up the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction to help other authors receive recognition for their efforts.

How I wish I could have dinner with Scott and Elizabeth again. No one was ever kinder to me, a young woman trying to find her way in the publishing profession. But I do pick up Island of the Blue Dolphins from time to time—just to hear the sound of his eloquent storytelling voice. Please join me in doing so today.

Here’s a passage from Island of the Blue Dolphins:

Our island is two leagues long and one league wide, and if you were standing on one of the hills that rise in the middle of it, you would think that it looked like a fish. Like a dolphin lying on its side, with its tail pointing toward the sunrise, its nose pointing to the sunset, and its fins making reefs and the rocky ledges along the shore. Whether someone did stand there on the low hills in the days when the earth was new and, because of its shape, called it Island of Blue Dolphins, I do not know. Many dolphins live in our seas and it may be from them that the name came. But one way or another, this is what the island was called.

Share

Originally posted February 6, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: 20th Century, Award Winning, History, Multicultural, Native American, Newbery, True Story
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Island of the Blue Dolphins
Share

COMMENTS

  1. Sydnee says:

    This story is truly beautiful and amazing. I think I read it every year from third grade until middle school.

  2. Lars Guthrie says:

    I didn’t know (or realize) that “Island” was written in iambic pentameter. How wonderful. Thank you so much for this site. I faithfully read it every day.

  3. Teri-K says:

    As a girl growing up in an age where females in TV and movies were usually shown as victims, Island of the Blue Dolphins was an amazing delight. I really need to go re-read it soon. It will be even better knowing that O’Dell was a man worthy of respect.

  4. beth says:

    I loved this book as a kid. I found it through a school anthology that had the chapter with the giant octopus fight.

    Then my kid had an anthology with a chapter, but it was the making-a-beautiful-skirt chapter, which made selling the book to him a bit of an uphill battle. But I managed :-)

  5. Erica S. says:

    I love hearing about the authors themselves and their publishing histories – it feels like I’m getting an insider’s peek into a secret world. As a newly appointed school librarian, I especially like hearing about O’Dell’s appreciation of librarians in this post.

  6. Wendy Braun says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this personal perspective about Scott O’Dell. All lthree of my (now grown) children consider Island of the Blue Dolphins one of their all-time favorite books. O’Dell did such an amazing job of bringing Karana’s story to life. We even made a special trip to the beautiful Santa Barbara Mission to see her buial place. Every time I look out on a clear day and can see the sharp outline of the Channel Islands, I have to admit, I think of her…

  7. Colleen says:

    When I was in middle school we participated in a reading program called Accelerated Reader (AR for short) and we were required to read books and then take electronic tests on them, earning points based on how well we scored on the test. Island of the Blue Dolphins was my first AR book and I have loved it ever since!

  8. Autumn Topping says:

    I had forgotten that I read this as a child but I remember it now. I will have to read it again. I loved hearing your story about the actual writer!

  9. HAMID says:

    THIS IS THE BEST BOOK EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! EVERY ONE SHOULD READ IT!!!!!!!1

  10. Erika says:

    I just found this review, and had to go reread it (wasn’t sure if my daughter was ready for it yet–I’m thinking another year). It’s as wonderful as I’d remembered–and I love the author’s note at the end, where he thanks Maude and Delos Lovelace. A Betsy-Tacy connection!

  11. Anita says:

    Yes, thanks for reminding me of the Lovelace connection. Always nice to see great authors helping each other.

  12. Trisha says:

    Coincidentially, I was just thinking about this book yesterday, and thinking I need to have my daughter read it soon. I read it for the first time with my son and he loved it as much as I did. Thank you for this post. I always find the backstory on the author very interesting. Great to know how much he appreciated librarians.

  13. Allison D. says:

    I think this is one of the only books I loved when I was younger that I don’t reread each year. Knowing now that it was written in iambic pentameter, and knowing why O’Dell made that choice, I will definitely be rereading it soon.

  14. Allison Hunter says:

    I remember reading this book in 6th grade for class. It was the first “required” reading book that I fell completely in love with. I never realized it was in iambic pentameter. This will definitely go on my list of beloved books to “revisit”!

  15. Darcel Fode says:

    My heart skipped a beat when I saw the cover of the Island of the Blue Dolphin. I escaped into the world of books as a child…and lived my life through the characters. I empathized with Karana’s loneliness, enjoyed her adventures and wept with her losses…what a thoughtful memory! I just purchased the Almanac and will enjoy browsing throughout the year. I am presently a substitute teacher in elementary schools and my daughter is a kindergarten teacher so I hope we can share some of these treasures! How generous to post this also as a blog!

  16. Tish Dersnah says:

    My father brought home a copy of Island of the Blue Dolphins that he had purchased at a book signing in Chicago. Reading about Scott O’Dell and how kind he was, makes me treasure my signed copy even more.

  17. S.Matt Read says:

    I wrote to my friend’s eleven year old and told her the story you told us about the dolphins accompanying the boat of people who delivered O’Dell’s ashes into the ocean. She loved it!

Leave a Comment

Daily children’s book recommendations and events from Anita Silvey.

Discover the stories behind the children’s book classics . . .

The new books on their way to becoming classics . . .

And events from the world of children’s books—and the world at large.