Island of The Blue Dolphin



So there is the children’s novel being read in 4th grade now.  It’s Island of the Blue Dolphin written by Scott O’Dell and first published back in 1960.  It’s a timeless story about a young girl who was stranded on an island and had to fend for herself alone for 18 years.  It’s based on the true story of Juana Maria, a Native American, who was left behind on San Nicholas Island off the coast of Southern California in 1835.

The young girl, Karana in the novel, was only 12 when she was left by her people who sailed to the mainland and the rescue ship coming back to get her apparently sank.  She had to learn to survive alone by eating seafood, fighting off feral dogs, building canoes, making clothes, and building shelter.

So #1 Grand Girl’s class heads to the beach in Ventura to learn some of the skills Karana used to make a life for herself alone on the island.  Naturally, Kongo had to come too.

In at the photo above she identifies San Nicholas Island about 65 miles off the California Coast.


Docents instructed the class about the plants on the island and the tools Karana would have used to survive.  These included abalone shells (abalone is one of the monkey’s favorite dishes), scallop shells, rocks that could be used as hammers, which leaves to make baskets from, and so forth.

It was very much hands on.  The class learned how to make string from a yucca plant which could then be woven into clothes or used to tie boards together to build a canoe.  It could also be a paintbrush to preserve the canoe wood and when you mixed it in water it becomes a soapy shampoo.  It make you want to go home, hike the trail behind the house and get some yucca leaves and start making string and shampoo!


Here the class takes their turn in gently tapping on a yucca leaf so that it can be frayed into string after letting it soak in water.



They took turns scraping a scallop shell across a piece of driftwood to make planks for a canoe.  Then they took various planks other classes had worked on before them and learned how to tie them together to make a canoe which would later be patched with tar (naturally occurring on many of the Channel Islands) and made waterproof.



Of course you needed a fire to cook your food, dry your clothes, keep you warm, and ward of the feral dogs that roamed the island and were a constant threat.  Eventually Karana befriends the leader of the pack and life is a lot safer for her.

Amazingly, the kids were able to get smoke within a few minutes using the fire drills and little hearths.  They quickly found that if they worked together they could make it work a lot faster.


The frayed end of a yucca leaf quickly becomes a paintbrush to paint the canoes using ochre that had to be crushed to powder and then mixed with water.


After working on all the skills needed to survive, they took off on sort of a survival scavenger hunt on the beach to collect things that might be useful such as shells, feathers (for arrows), spear sticks, firewood, and so forth.


This school has great field trips and a terrific group of teachers.  While getting out of the school the children always get to do something hands on to reinforce lessons in the classroom.  Kongo is so, so happy to be back in 4th grade again!

Not only that but these kids will be shoe-ins for a Survival audition!

Travel safe. Have fun.


One thought on “Island of The Blue Dolphin

  1. How exciting that kids are learning the skills Juana Maria had to use to survive! Our teacher read that book to us in class in 1963, and I’ve never forgotten it. Am so glad it is still being read.