Every year many fourth grade students read Island of the Blue Dolphins in school. The book is a fictional account based in a historic tale of a Native American woman who spent eighteen years alone on San Nicolas Island (part of California’s Channel Islands). Alone on the Island of the Blue Dolphins is a documentary that gives insight into the true story behind the book.
The Newbery Award-winning book is often seen as a female version of Robinson Crusoe. It seems hard to believe that anyone could survive eighteen years alone with just her dogs for company. And yet this amazing story has a factual basis. In the early nineteenth century when all the other Nicoleños were removed from the island, for an unknown reason, the Lone Woman of San Nicolas was left behind. She survived there until a ship came to the island in 1853. Finding the woman alone, they took her to Santa Barbara when the priests christened her Juana Maria.
The film shows archaeologists, historians, and others as they try to piece together what life would have been like for her. Some of these people have been involved with the island for many years. They have answered many of the questions that arise from such a situation, such as what she would have eaten and where she got her water.
The film explores a few areas of how she came to be alone on the island. It also looks at what happened to her after her “rescue.” It touches very briefly on what could be a spiritual side to her life, but really, we can’t be sure about such things because she was never really able to communicate with anyone after she was brought to the mainland. The various other Native Americans in the Santa Barbara area were of different backgrounds and couldn’t understand her. So it turns out that even when among other people, she was still very much alone.
In watching the film, there is a sense of seeing the detective process at work. One of the people we meet even goes by the title “historical detective.” It is a matter of finding clues and then interpreting those clues to gain a better understanding.
For those who have had to do a project in school based on Island of the Blue Dolphins or are getting ready to have such an assignment soon, Alone on the Island of the Blue Dolphins could be a good addition to the information that is in the book.