I'll share today about one of my favorite books from childhood, "Island of the Blue Dolphins", by Scott O'Dell. I know it was THE first young adult novel I ever read. I still remember sliding it off the shelf in my elementary school library, from the "Big Kids" chapter book section. It's an odd detail to recount, on selecting a book, all these years later. Perhaps that's a nod to the important place literature holds in my history, that looking for a book has always been as enjoyable as actually reading one.
I re-read "Island of the Blue Dolphins" a couple summers ago for the first time in 30-odd years. The story line is constructed so animatedly, simply a soliloquy of its virtually soul character, Karana. The story, set on an island off late-19th century California, speaks of interior strengths we all possess but few called to use. Karana could do anything. She is a Katniss of her time. It read as fresh as it must have done the year it won the Newberry in 1961. I urge you to read it, even if only to compare YA novels of today.
I love this cover art by Evaline Ness, from the version I first checked out (I own this one, thanks to Alibris). I see a gestural strength in Karana's portrait, her resigned but content expression, the graphic punctuation of the round abalone hair clasps against her jet black hair. "Island of the Blue Dolphins" has been re-issued many times since, but I think this classic cover is the best.
Last August, on our way to Bend in central Oregon, my family and I stopped and picnicked in a beautiful state park at the foothills of Mt. Hood. The trees were already changing from the towering, dense, Douglas fir to the angular, airy, arid-loving pines close to the lakeside where we ate. Lucy, our then 14-year old daughter, poked around the water's edge. Later she showed me a selfie taken of her shadow, an image of wild, wind-whipped hair and sand and shell. I immediately thought of teenage Karana. She could have taken this selfie, too. Two girls, on the edge of adulthood, very separate eras and circumstances, but the same raw material. Literature reveals itself in our lives in many unexpected and wonderful ways.
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