Island Of The Blue Dolphins Literature Study

Island of the Blue Dolphins, written by Scott O’Dell, also the author of The Black Pearl and Sing Down the Moon, is based on the true story of a Native American girl living alone on San Nicolas Island off the coast of California in the mid 1800’s. This novel details the challenges she overcomes in learning to survive without her tribe until the day she is rescued from the island.

Island of the Blue Dolphins Summary

Karana of Island of the Blue Dolphins

A photograph believed to be Karana, the Native American woman whose story is told in Island Of The Blue Dolphin.

Karana and her brother, Ramo, members of a Native American tribe living on San Nicolas Island off the coast of California in the early to mid 1800’s, are left stranded on the island after their tribe boards a ship with white men for the mainland. Ramo is attacked by wild dogs and dies, leaving Karana alone. Karana learns to make weapons and tools to survive, disregarding tribal laws against women in the tribe doing such things.

Throughout the story, Karana adapts new skills and new ways of thinking in order to make her life on the island more acceptable until the day she hopes to be rescued. Overcoming life threatening wild animals, starvation, and natural disasters on the island, Karana becomes a mature young woman with a set of new beliefs, leaving most of the fears and superstitions from her tribe behind her. After a failed attempt to leave the island and journey the mainland on her own, Karana resigns herself to her situation in life and makes the best of it.

Using colorful and descriptive imagery, Scott O’Dell paints a picture of life on the island and its surroundings. Using a straightforward writing style suited for his audience and the nature of the story, O’Dell moves from one adventurous event in the story to the next using nature to describe the passage of time and Karana’s experiences.

island of the blue dolphins literature study

Themes and Other Literary Elements You Can Study

Themes – survival, changing beliefs with age and experiences, new attitudes and appreciation toward other living things, overcoming feelings of revenge, anger, and fear

Plot – parts of a story and mapping a plot map

Conflict – Internal and External Conflict; man vs. man, man vs. self, man vs. nature

Point of View


Figurative Language – metaphors, similes, personification

Character Analysis – Dynamic vs. Static

Questions for Comprehension and Higher Order Thinking

What are Karana’s tribal beliefs regarding females in the tribe and their role in making weapons and using them?

How do Karana’s beliefs change toward tribal laws as she lives on the island alone?

What are her feelings and attitudes towards animals and other living creatures on the island in the beginning of the story? How do they change throughout the story?

What challenges and ordeals does Karana have to overcome? How does she show herself to be resourceful?

What does Karana learn about the fate of her tribe?

What do you think becomes of Karana after the end of the story?

Did you find her story inspiring or sad? Something else? Why?

Activity Suggestions

This exciting adventure story is filled with moments children will be inspired to recreate in projects or reconstruct items Karana used to survive on the island.

Draw or make a diorama of a scene of Karana overcoming one of the challenges she faces when trying to survive.

Make a diorama or model of Karana’s island and her home she builds using the description in the story.

Draw the wild life Karana encounters and lives with on the island.

Make Karana’s weapons and tools she builds and uses to survive.

Create a wordle of words that can be used to describe Karana and her experiences.

Research the Aleuts, who they were and their hunting practices.

Research tsunamis and earthquakes and their causes and effects.

More FREE Literature Studies

Homeschooling Today has many free literature studies for your family. Choose from Charlotte’s Web, David Copperfield, and more.


Katie Glennon is an English teacher and homeschool mom with 30 years of education experience and loves to share her passion for the written word through novel studies and writing. You can find her at Katie’s Homeschool Cottage.

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