Island of the Blue Dolphins

I think it may have been my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Schneider, who read Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell to me.

I remember being enthralled with Karana's story of isolation on an island–not shipwrecked, but left behind when the tribe left. I don't know if I knew before I heard the story that it is based on the story of Juana Maria, a woman from the Nicoleño tribe.

In the book, conflicts with Russian fur trappers and Karana's tribe force the tribe to relocate to the California mainland. Karana jumps from the boat her tribe is leaving on to rescue her little brother. This is probably not what happened in real life. Karana's brother dies early in the story, the victim of wild dogs on the island. Karana decides to destroy the dogs but notices that one of them is different, more like a husky than the dogs she is used to. She manages to tame him and finally finds some companionship on the island.

Karana makes one friend in her years on the island (aside from her pets), a girl who accompanies the trappers who visit Karana's island periodically. But Karana is alone for 18 years before she is taken to the mainland, just like the real Juana Maria.

I did a little further reading online and found out that Juana Maria spoke a language that no one could understand. Multiple people from different tribes tried, but were unable to communicate with her. From the stories, she was happy at the Catholic Mission where she lived, but she passed away 7 weeks after being brought to the mainland.

Archeologists have found Juana Maria's whale-bone home on the island, as well as some caches of her belongings. They thought they found one of her secondary homes in a cave but digs have stopped because of tribes claiming the island as their ancestral land.

I think it's sad that she was unable to speak to people after living for so long by herself. I wish she had been able to live longer and maybe been able to share her story, but there is no way to change history. O'Dell wrote an amazing story and I think it would have made Juana Maria happy to hear.

If you haven't read this book yet, you really really should! I just found out today that there is a follow-up book, Zia. I have to get my hands on a copy.

Advertisements

🎶It’s the end of the world, and I feel fine🎶

I really enjoy post apocalyptic stories. I find the question “what would you be willing to do to keep your loved ones alive?” very intriguing. I haven’t read many of them lately, but I have read enough that it’s hard to pick which ones to share.

One of the first books I ever read in this genre was The Stand by Stephen King. This story is scary because a pandemic could easily happen with the ease of world travel and our dense population. It’s also terrifying to see how quickly some people choose to do bad things to keep themselves alive.

The Road was a great story that felt both real and heartbreaking. The father is working so hard to keep his son alive and safe. I can’t imagine trying to raise a child in such a world.

Kunstler’s World Made By Hand series is a bit of a more gradual decline. The people who have survived a flu epidemic have adapted fairly well and are making their way in the new world. They aren’t above violence though.

If you like zombies, and I do, this is probably the best written zombie book I’ve ever read…and I’ve read a lot. Max Brooks approaches the story as a reporter with individual stories following the pandemic in both geographic and chronological progression around the globe. (I was blown away to discover that Max Brooks is the son of Mel Brooks, as in Blazing Saddles, Young  Frankenstein and Space Balls!)

Though not true zombies, Amanda Hocking’s Hollowland series is along those lines. This is a young adult series, and the writer began her career by self-publishing online. She has found well deserved success. I loved the main character’s grit and determination. She will do anything to protect her brother and even manages to befriend a lion that helps protect them.

Another great YA series is the Ashfall series by Mike Mullin. The supervolcano under Yosemite erupts and sends the North American continent into chaos. The main character is a 15 year old boy trying to get from Des Moines to his family in Indiana. I’ve read the first two books in the set and loved them. I hope to catch up on the series this summer. 

One of the most powerful stories about a world gone wrong is Life As We Knew It and the follow up books in the series by Susan Beth Pfeffer. An asteroid hits the moon and shifts it closer to Earth. This results in tsunamis and massive flooding. Then later on, as the world reels, volcanic activity skyrockets plummeting the globe into a nuclear winter (of sorts). The story follows a 15 year old girl and her family in Pennsylvania. The second book is about a family in New York City and the third book brings the two families together. These families rely on the power of love and their devotion to one another to see them through.

I could probably come up with 20 more books like this that I think are good enough, or unique enough to tell you about. I would have recommended another volcano triggered apocalypse story if I could recall the name, and there’s an odd one by a classic author, again my brain is not working–where 100 years has passed since a virus wiped out most of the educated class. The servants survived in greater numbers and the result is an uneducated group of people who no longer even speak English correctly. I wish I could think of the name!

What big teeth you have!

If I had to pick a favorite fairytale, it would be Little Red Riding Hood. I don’t know why, it’s just my favorite.  Which is why I was excited to get in a new picture book called Wolf In the Snow by Matthew Cordell.

While it doesn’t follow the traditional Red Riding Hood story, there is an obvious comparison. The story is told all in pictures, the only words are the howling, whining and sounds of breathing. It is simple, but powerful. I won’t give it away but kindness is always returned is a great theme for this book.

For the traditional version, you’ll want to read Little Red Cap by the Brothers Grimm.

If you want a different culture’s Red Riding Hood, you might try Lon Po Po retold by Ed Young.

This Caldecott Award winning book tells a version of the story from China. I read it to my 6th grade students last year and we were surprised that it seemed to combine Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs.

If you want to laugh at a story about Red Riding Hood, try The Cat, the Dog, Little Red, the Exploding Eggs, the Wolf, and Grandma by Diane & Christyan Fox. 

The cat is trying to read to the dog, and he keeps interrupting and misinterpreting the story. You have to read this gem to truly appreciate the humor.

So let’s see if I have this right. The Red Hood is on her way to help an old lady when she meets the Wolfman. He has an evil plan. He likes to dress up in girls’ clothes and eat people. He and Red have a big battle, and Red’s father puts an end to Wolfie.

A more grown up version of the story can be found in the Daniel Egnéus illustrated book.

I found this one at the dollar store, of all places. The artwork is amazing!


And all this leads up to the book that I don’t have yet: Liesl Shurtliff’s Red the true story of Red Riding Hood.

I loved her books Rump  and Jack and I’ve been waiting for this for a few years. Red is Rump’s best friend in the first book so I was sure she would get her own book.

One last book recommendation for you. Tanith Lee’s Wolfland from her Red As Blood collectionif you want a little more sinister in your story.

It’s not a very nice story, is it?

Are you absolutely sure this is a children’s book?

The Last Tsar

I’ve always been intrigued by the tragic story of Tsar Nicholas II and his family’s fate after the Communist Revolution in Russia. The years leading up to the takeover were full of odd events as well. I’d read enough online about the enigmatic figure of Rasputin and his relationship with Tsaritsa Aleksandra to be excited when I came across Robert Alexander‘s Rasputin’s Daughter.


I had never realized that Rasputin had any family. I had always pictured him as a villain and so I was surprised to find his daughter a character I could sympathize for.

I decided that since Rasputin’s Daughter was so well researched and written that I would continue reading Alexander’s books. Next I read The Romanov Bride.


This book follows the story of Elisavyeta (or Ella), sister of the tsaritsa Aleksandra, who also married a member of the Romanov family. But this story takes place as the Communist Revolution is building momentum and Ella’s fairytale life isn’t spared from immense changes.

The final book I read by Alexander is considered a Young Adult title. It’s The Kitchen Boy. This book was the shortest but was definitely my favorite.


I can’t help but think that the family knew their time was drawing short. They still managed to hold themselves with dignity and keep their family ties strong in the face of their less than generous captors and guards. Alexander told this story in a way that makes you believe you know the narrator’s identity until a plot twist at the end.

The Russian people of course have a different perspective on this tumultuous time in their history than I do, as I’m only an outsider looking in. Robert Alexander did spend a lot of time researching his books and are well worth the read. While we may not be able to point to a definitive “better” choice between the Tsars and the Communists, we should learn from these tragic events so that they need not be repeated.

FYI: a mass grave was uncovered in the Russian wilderness that contained the remains of Tsar Nicholas’ family and staff, but the bodies of the two youngest children were missing. Later a pyre was discovered with the remains of the children. The woman who eventually settled in America claiming to be Grand Duchess Anastasia was genetically proven to be unrelated to the family.