Newbery Pie is back! I took some time off this summer to read some other things, but I’m back on the Newbery trail, running hard. Next up is Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. I was excited about picking back up with this book because I remembered loving it as a child, and also because, hey let’s be honest, it’s only 184 pages. I don’t know if it’s because I had such high expectations for it, or because it’s the first week of school and I’m super busy with all of the craziness or something else, but I didn’t love it as much as I remember loving it as a kid. I still saw the merit. I especially noticed and appreciated the way the whole novel reads like a story being remembered and told. There aren’t your usual literary devices. It was just “I did this and then I did that, and it made me feel this way.” You can almost imagine Karana sitting next to you telling you the whole story. I liked Karana’s courage, how she jumped off of the boat for her brother, how she took care of the animals and all that. I didn’t find anything wrong with the book, it just wasn’t as enjoyable for me this time around. Maybe it even bored me a little.
That being said, I still see it’s literary goodness and 4th grade Benji loved it, so in his honor, I’m going to give 4 out of 5 Newbery pies.
ps. One extra fun thing about reading this one, is that I was reading my wife’s old copy from 5th grade. I had fun noticing all of the random words that she highlighted for apparently no reason. 🙂
Sara’s Review: This is probably one of the most widely read Newbery books of the canon. In his Newbery Medal Infographic, school librarian, Travis Jonker, names it as the bestselling Newbery winner. In fact, my 4th grade daughter read it in school this year for Language Arts. I had read it as a child and again as an adult because it recurs as one of the titles on our North Carolina Battle of the Books list.
Popularity does not come without controversy. Debbie Reese, author of the blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature, takes issue with Scott O’Dell’s depiction of the Indians as “savages,” reinforcing that sterotype. Karana, based on a true story of a woman named Juana Maria, is accidentally left behind after her people flee due to the Aleuts, who came to the island to hunt seals and then killed Karana’s father and several other men in a confrontation over payment. Although O’Dell mentions that the Aleuts are there with a Russian, who describes them as “his men,” the enslavement is not directly mentioned.
While her point does have validity, as an English major, I learned that we cannot retroactively apply modern values to works of literature. Authors are a product of their time. If an author today published a book with such little research, he would be criticized online, and as in the case of one book, their book may be recalled.
As a librarian, I know that censorship is a slippery slope. Once you open the door, even with the best of intentions, it may be hard to close it later. We have to be very cautious when anyone asks us to remove a book from our shelves, even if it doesn’t have a shiny gold sticker on it.
Both my 4th grade daughter and 7th grade daughters have no illusions about the fate of American Indians. I asked the younger why she thought the Aleuts killed Karana’s father, and she said, “The Russian guy probably told them to do it if they caused problems.” When we talked about them being “rescued” by the white people, my older daughter chimed in, “Well, that’s a bad idea.” When I asked my 4th grader if she agreed, she said, “yes, because they will be exposed to new diseases, and the white people always hurt the Native Americans by taking their land.”
For its distinguished writing, I give Island of the Blue Dolphins 4 out of 5 pies.