Karana’s tribe has lived on the Island of the Blue Dolphins for centuries, but a tragedy forces them to leave. When Karana gets left behind, she must learn to live alone.
Below are some reading passages that we have hand picked to supplement this book. Be sure to read the passage summaries and our suggestions for instructional use.
In the informational text “The Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island,” Jessica McBirney shares the story of the woman who was left alone on San Nicolas Island for 18 years.
Have students read “The Long Woman of San Nicolas Island” before reading the novel to introduce them to the true story that inspired the book, as well as historical background on the native peoples of San Nicolas Island. Ask students to consider, as they read, how Karana’s story compares to the true story of the lone woman of San Nicolas Island, and how well O’Dell captures life for natives on the Island of the Blue Dolphins.
“ICU” is a poem that explores the difficulty of understanding the loss of a loved one.
Have students read “ICU” after completing Chapter 4 to focus on the theme of losing a loved one. Ask students to compare the young speaker of the poem’s loss to Karana’s loss of her father. Ask students to consider how Karana feels about the death of her father and other tribe members as they read Chapter 5.
In this contemporary poem, a child has a realization about her own mortality.
Have students read “Making a Fist” after reading Chapter 8 to focus on the theme of mortality. How does Karana react to her brother’s death? How does the speaker in the poem react to the idea of death? Ask students to compare and contrast both reactions. Ask students to consider, as they continue to read the novel, how Karana regards her control over her ability to survive alone on the island.
In the informational text “Why Dolphins Man Us Nervous,” Robert Krulwich discusses dolphins’ intelligence and how it compares to humans’ intelligence.
Introduce “Why Dolphins Make Us Nervous” after students have completed Chapter 10, in order to provide them with insight into the human-dolphin connection Karana experiences. Ask students to use the article to analyze how Karana connects with the dolphins after she fails to make it off the island. Based on the background knowledge of dolphins that Krulwich provides, ask students why they think Karana gains strength and encouragement from the dolphins? How is this chapter a turning point for Karana and her relationship with the island?
This excerpt is taken from his book Wild Animals I Have Known, based on naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton’s true experiences hunting wolves in the American Southwest, including the infamous wolf Lobo.
Have students read “Lobo, the King of Currumpaw” after reading Chapter 15 in order to show students another example of a character hunting an animal as it relates to the theme of revenge. Ask students to compare Karana hunting the wild dogs that killed her brother to Seton’s description of hunting Lobo — how are the hunts similar? How are they different? What does each hunt reveal about the hunter’s culture?
In William Wordsworth’s poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” the speaker describes seeing a field of daffodils.
Have students read “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” after they have completed Chapter 18, in order to focus on the theme of joy and appreciation for nature. Ask students to discuss how Karana’s relationship to the island has developed, particularly in the context of the themes discussed within the poem. How does Wordsworth use imagery to reinforce the influence of nature? What are the similarities and differences to the way nature is described in the novel?
In this short story by American writer Samuel Scoville, Jr., a young Caribbean boy accompanied by his grandfather goes sponge diving in the reef where a tiger shark killed his father—and where he faces dangers of his own.
Have students read “The Reef” after reading Chapter 19 to provide insight into the dangers of hunting on a reef. Ask students to compare the element of suspense when Karana hunts the “devilfish” (likely a giant Pacific octopus) to Jimmy Tom’s several encounters with dangerous aquatic animals in the short story. How do the authors treat suspense similarly? How does hunting and gathering affect life by the ocean for the characters in the stories? Is the hunt/search worth the risks for Karana and Jimmy Tom? Why or why not?
In Carl Sandburg’s “Wilderness,” the speaker explains how he carries parts of the wilderness inside of himself.
Have students read “Wilderness” after completing Chapter 24, in order to focus on the thematic connection between nature and the wild. Ask students to discuss how Karana has connected with the wildness of the island. How have the identities of both Karana and the speaker in the poem been formed around their interactions with animals and an understanding of nature?
In Emma Bartley’s “First Pet,” the speaker describes a pet hermit crab.
Have students read “First Pet” after completing Chapter 25 to focus students on the emotions of losing a pet. Ask students how Karana’s emotions at losing Rontu compare to the speaker of the poem’s feelings towards losing a first pet? Do you think both stories accurately portray the connections between people and their pets? Why might Karan’s connection to her pet be stronger? What particular characteristics in dogs foster strong bonds between them and humans?
In Ralph Fletcher’s “Funeral,” a group of boys have a funeral for their friend who is moving away.
Have students read “Funeral” after completing the novel as a connection to the theme of change and moving on. Ask students to discuss Karana’s willingness to leave the Island of the Blue Dolphins in the context of the story. How does Karana feel about the change in her life? How does Ralph feel? Is it easier for Karana to move on because she is leaving behind animals but not people, like Ralph?