Scott O'Dell Biography

Scott O'Dell Biography

Scott O’Dell’s name is a mistake. He was born Odell Gabriel Scott, but while he was working as a newspaper reporter for the Los Angeles Daily News, an editor mistakenly wrote Scott O’Dell as his byline. The name stuck, and O’Dell legally changed it. After his newspaper days, he began writing books for adults. Beginning in the late 1950s, however, his focus shifted, and he started writing for young adults. He wrote over twenty-six young adult novels, three books for adults, and four nonfiction books. His most famous work is Island of the Blue Dolphins, which won the 1961 Newbery Medal, among other awards. He also wrote the popular The King’s Fifth, The Black Pearl, and Sing Down the Moon.

Facts and Trivia

  • In 1981, O’Dell started the Scott O’Dell Historical Fiction Award—a $5,000 prize for exceptional works of historical fiction.
  • O’Dell attended many different colleges, including Occidental College, the University of Wisconsin, Stanford University, and the University of Rome La Sapienza.
  • He worked briefly as a cameraman and technical director in Hollywood before becoming a writer.
  • Many of O’Dell’s books have been made into films, including Island of the Blue Dolphins in 1964 and The Black Pearl in 1978.
  • The King’s Fifth was adapted into an anime series for television in 1982 and renamed The Mysterious Cities of Gold. It was shown in several different countries.


Scott O’Dell, born Odell Gabriel Scott, is perhaps most famous for his work in children’s literature, especially historical fiction for children, in which his high moral sense and his love of nature and the sea were the foundation by which he would craft a number of important children’s classics, including the noteworthy Island of the Blue Dolphins, considered by many to be his more important work. Born in Los Angeles in 1898, O’Dell was to remain a Californian for much of his life. Interestingly, O’Dell, whose first book would appear in 1924, would only achieve true greatness as an author of children’s literature after his sixtieth birthday.{$S[A]Scott, Odell Gabriel;O’Dell, Scott}

Scott O’Dell was the son of Bennett Mason and May Elizabeth (Gabriel) Scott. O’Dell’s father worked for the Union Pacific Railroad, eventually leaving this to become a small business owner. O’Dell was later to acknowledge a rather cold relationship with his father, which some critics feel accounted for his love of stories that featured a son without the benefit of a father’s guidance, a theme that was later seen in some of his work.

Much of O’Dell’s boyhood was spent enjoying the rugged outdoor life that was early Southern California’s almost rural setting. O’Dell spent many childhood days exploring with his friends and once was involved in the brutal killing of an animal, the revulsion of which forever remained a catalyst for his deep concern for living things and great respect and appreciation of the natural world.

O’Dell attended Long Beach Polytechnic high school and entered the U.S. Army near the end of World War I. After...

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Scott O'Dell was born in Los Angeles, California, on May 23, 1903. His father worked on the railroad, and the family moved often throughout...

(The entire section is 187 words.)


Scott O'Dell was born on May 23, 1903, in Los Angeles, California. Because his father was a railroad man, the family moved often in the Los...

(The entire section is 238 words.)


Born in Los Angeles May 23, 1903, Scott O'Dell remained in southern California all of his life. Living near the sea and in what he called...

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Scott O'Dell was born on May 23, 1903, in Los Angeles, California. Although he traveled widely, he made his home in southern California, the...

(The entire section is 228 words.)


Higgins, James E. Twentieth-Century Children’s Writers. 3d ed. Chicago: St. James Press, 1989. Contains a biographical section on O’Dell.

Russell, David L. Scott O’Dell. New York: Twayne, 1999. Russell’s well-researched and complete biography includes detailed critical assessments of O’Dell’s work as well as a chronology of the author’s life and an expansive bibliography rich with secondary sources.

Townsend, John Rowe. A Sense of Story: Essays on Contemporary Writers for Children. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippencott, 1971. Critical essays and biographical sketches of nineteen authors,...

(The entire section is 90 words.)