Wednesday, 29 June 2022

Jarrett: Don’t deprive students of a wonderful book

I would like to offer a rebuttal to the opinion piece I read recently which blasted the book “Island of the Blue Dolphins” by Scott ODell. The complaint was that the portrayal of the Aleuts was inaccurate and insulting and therefore the book should be pulled from school curriculum.

My point is this: The book is historical fiction. “Historical” means that there is some nugget of truth or fact. “Fiction” means that most of the story is made up. Most readers, including fourth graders, can discern that authors twist facts, add their own details, exaggerate, or just plain lie. It’s up to the reader (or the teacher) to ferret out the truth, or perhaps, to just enjoy the story for what it is, a fictionalized survival story about a young girl abandoned on an island.

I am retired now, but I taught fourth grade for many years and this story was always part of my curriculum. We read it together and even my most “reluctant readers” were very engaged. It was a great introduction to the study of California Indians. ODell wrote this story in 1960, long before the PC and woke movements. Today, teachers could easily incorporate fact checking as part of the lessons. They could also add (not replace!) other stories, either by native authors or about native people. In other words, deepen and broaden the lesson.

I think we do not give children enough credit for understanding complex or contradicting ideas. Heroes can have faults, because they are human, after all. Ideas that may have seemed true or appropriate at one time, we now know are not correct or fair. The earth is not flat after all!

Please do not deprive students of this wonderful book! Help them to understand that it is not factual in its representation of the Aleut people, but please do not take away a story that so many have loved for so long.

Carolynn Jarrett lives in Clearlake, California.

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