Wednesday, February 27, 2013

AICL Cringes: ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS is the all-time best selling Newbery Medal winning book.

Editor's Note: On 2/24/2014, I inserted "AICL Cringes" to the initial title of this post, to clarify how I feel about ISLAND being the all-time best selling Newbery Medal book. I also added a link to a presentation I developed on the book, using Prezi. 

Over at SLJ's 100 Scope Notes, Travis Jonker posted a infographic about books that have won the Newbery Medal. I like infographics. They are way cool, and I want to learn how to make them.

Here's a blown-up chunk of the infographic:

Island of the Blue Dolphins is making a lot of money for its publisher, but should any teacher be using it as though it is a reliable story about anyone who is in the book? The Aleuts? The people of San Nicolas?  Learning, as Jonker reports, that it is the all-time bestselling Newbery Medal winning book helps me understand why its publisher wants it listed on CBC Diversity's Bookshelf of "diverse" books. Having a "diversity" stamp on it gives it some credibility it does not deserve.

Lets take a look at some of the "knowledge" the book imparts. Check out this video, titled "Massacre on the Island of the Blue Dolphins" in which one student poses as a reporter who is "reporting live from San Nicolas Island." She is interviewing Kimki, who she says may be the next leader of the Ghalas-at people.

The massacre the reporter is talking about is one in which the Aleut people kill the Ghalas-at people.  One reason the book is a best seller is that it fits with what most people "know" about Indigenous people as warring savages who killed each other as a matter of course, but that's not the case.

There's always more to the story.

More context is vital to understand any warfare or killing. In this case, the Aleut men who worked on the Russian ships were enslaved and if they didn't do as they were told, their women and children would be killed. Whether or not O'Dell knew that when he wrote his book doesn't matter. What does matter is what kids "learn" by reading it today.

In reading Island of the Blue Dolphins, kids "learn" that Aleuts killed all these Ghalas-at people.

That alone is enough reason for me to say that IF it is going to be taught, it should be taught in a critical framework wherein children question what O'Dell wrote.

My source for the info about enslaved Aleuts is Native America in the Twentieth Century: An Encyclopedia, published in 1996 by Garland Publishing.

Update on 2/24/2014: 

Please see the Prezi presentation I made of this book: "An Island of Well-Intentioned Ignorance"


Anonymous said...

What a great website!

I recently reread "The Island of the Blue Dolphins" with my 10-year-old daughter. I remembered the lone girl's courage, but was disheartened by the cultural appropriation of voice. We discussed these issues together (check out my blog post: )

Thank you for listing current and appropriate book recommendations. We will check some of these out.

Cheers. Carole

Debbie Reese said...

Thanks, Carole! Read your blog post, and am always encouraged when parents teach their children to question texts.