Biography of Scott O'Dell

Although Scott O'Dell is known today as an author of children's books, he only began this part of his career late in life. As a young man, O'Dell worked as a soldier, an assistant on movie sets, and as an author of books for adults. Indeed, his colorful life story features as much adventure as that in his books.

Scott O'Dell was born in Los Angeles, California in 1898. His given name was Odell Gabriel Scott. As a child, O'Dell was always fascinated by the sea, and his family even lived for a time in an island house on stilts. O'Dell's love of California and the sea is clear from his work. Many of his children's books, including Island of the Blue Dolphins, Zia, and The Black Pearl reflect these interests.

O'Dell was 20 when the United States entered World War I, and he enlisted in the Army. However, the war ended before he finished his officer's training, so he never had to serve at the front.

After being discharged from the military, O'Dell took courses at several different colleges. He ended up in Los Angeles, where he worked for various film studios on some of the greatest silent films of the era. He read scripts, built sets, and worked as a camera man for the 1925 version of Ben Hur. The production of Ben Hur took him to Italy, where he stayed after the film wrapped and wrote his first novel, which was never published.

It was during this period of his life that O'Dell changed his name. Because of a clerical mistake, his name was printed on a document as Scott O'Dell instead of as Odell Scott. He liked the sound of this new name so much that he had it legally changed, and then published all of his books using it.

In 1934, O'Dell published his first book, Woman of Spain. Although O'Dell's adult books are seldom read today, they were received well enough for him to build a career out of writing and editing.

While researching a nonfiction book about California, O'Dell stumbled across the story of Juana Maria, the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island. He was so fascinated by the story that he made it the subject of Island of the Blue Dolphins, which he wrote in 1960. He did not intend for it to be a children's book. But when he showed a draft to his friend Maud Lovelace, a children's writer, she told him that it would be excellent for young people. O'Dell and his publisher agreed, and Island of the Blue Dolphins won many awards and became a bestseller.

After the success of Island of the Blue Dolphins, O'Dell dedicated his career to writing for young people. He wrote a sequel to Island called Zia, as well as several other popular children's novels, including Sing Down the Moon, The Black Pearl, and The King's Fifth.

O'Dell and his wife moved from California to upstate New York in 1975. He died 14 years later in 1989.

Study Guides on Works by Scott O'Dell