So I’m in bed Sunday morning reading and loving the stories, the reminiscences of various Canadians in Everybody’s Favourites as they recall special books from their childhood. I make a list of titles to get—for me, for friends, nieces and nephews, ones to browse through at the library. I note that many of the books mentioned I haven’t read and I begin to wonder what kind of childhood did I have…??
Then a title jumps out at me: Island of the Blue Dolphins.
I know this book.
I can see the cover, a darkish blue, the illustration of a girl on the grassy edge of a cliff by the sea, a cradle floating in the water. I remember that it’s a slim hardcover and suddenly I’m overwhelmed with a whim to see it, maybe even crack it open again. I go down to the basement, sort through my sadly unsorted kid collection.
I find it.
Familiar as I am with the cover, I don’t remember ever reading it but it has drawings [by the author] and so I take it upstairs and snuggle back under the covers and after a page or two… I do remember… and I’m eight or nine or ten again and it’s summer and I’m not sitting on my front porch amongst pots of wax begonias but am right there on one of those wind-swept, wildflowery all-cliffs-and-rocks-and-sea islands off the coast of Scotland wherever Scotland is, and I’m tearing around with Fiona, who was born in the Western Isles, lucky bugger, but left as a child with her family to live in a city where a few years later she became unwell and the doctor ordered her back to the health-giving properties of life by the sea with her grandparents where she adventures about, rows boats, plays with oyster shells, befriends seals and finds a lonely cabin to live in before eventually uncovering the mystery of a long-lost baby brother.
Spoiler alert: there’s a happy ending.
How could I have forgotten this story? I used to want to be Fiona (that is, when I wasn’t wanting to be Nancy Drew). In fact, I think it may be Fiona, Child of the Western Isles, that’s responsible, at least in part, for my love and fascination of watery environs, of gulls and oysters and wind-swept hills. Not to mention lonely cabins and row-boats.
It may even be this story that led me to invent a baby brother one year. When my teacher asked if my parents would be coming to the parent/teacher night, I replied that no, they wouldn’t be going because my mother was in the hospital having a baby, a boy, I said. I’m not sure if I gave him a name. I only remember my mum and dad coming home from the event and telling me how surprised Mrs. Thingy was to see them…
This book, I notice, is one of the handful I own that is stamped with the name of my elementary school and that I possibly forgot-to-return, aka pilfered. So ancient is it that it has a strip of foolscap glued onto the back inside cover with the word Due handwritten at the top and a list of dates written below it in a variety of ink and handwriting styles. March 1st [no year] is the last date. I really can’t give it back [by that I mean I really don’t want to], but I’m thinking I’d almost like to write to the school and pay for the book. [But not the late fines!]
Then again, I wonder… is owning up a noble and good idea or am I just inviting the very-late-and-possibly-pilfered-book-patrol to show up at my door with a warrant?