|The Scott O'Dell papers|
March 19, 2012
Scott O’Dell once summed up being an author in three simple words: “Writing is hard.” As a writer of children’s historical fiction, he excelled in creating his own story out of real events. He found inspiration in history books and in oral histories. He said, “Research is what I enjoy most. I often write of events, people, and backgrounds that I know little about, just because I want to know more.”Island of the Blue Dolphins is based on the legend of “The Lost Woman of San Nicholas Island.” O’Dell adapted the true story of a native woman from the Channel Islands who was left behind in 1835 when the dwindling populations of Indians were removed from the islands. Subsequent rescue parties were unsuccessful in locating her until 1853, when Captain George Nidever arrived on the island to find a 50-year-old woman who smiled and talked in an “unintelligible” language. She was taken to the Mission Santa Barbara and given the name “Juana Maria.”
When Scott O’Dell published Island of the Blue Dolphins in 1960, it became a worldwide success and went on to win the Newbery Medal and was adapted into a motion picture. He continued writing historical fiction for children, winning the Newbery Honor for his next two novels, The King’s Fifth (1966) and The Black Pearl (1967). O’Dell would later write the sequel to Island of the Blue Dolphins, called Zia, in addition to 25 novels over the course of his career. In 1982, O’Dell established an award to honor authors, especially new authors, of historical fiction for children and young adults. The Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction is given annually and seeks to continue O’Dell’s efforts to create interest in the genre.
A manuscript for Island of the Blue Dolphins is part of the Children’s Literature Research Collection here at the Free Library of Philadelphia. The opening page of the manuscript is handwritten by Scott O’Dell. The remainder of the document is a typescript that includes notes between O’Dell and his editor at Houghton Mifflin. Though it only highlights the end of the creative process, this final draft includes supplemental pages and revisions that allow researchers to understand the amount of work that goes into each book. This collection, though small, represents the best of children’s historical fiction. For more in-depth information about the Scott O'Dell papers, please see our online finding aid!