The Black Pearl by Scott O’Dell

Genre: Adventure

Interest Level: Grades 6 – 8
Grade level Equivalent: 5.3

This black pearl story has nothing to do with Pirates of the Caribbean, to my son’s disappointment. In the Black Pearl, Ramon Salazar just turned 16. This is the age that his father agreed to take him into the pearling business. Ramon’s dream is to find the ‘Pearl of Heaven.” This pearl will be enormous, perfect, and would buy a whole fleet of boats. He finds it in the dreaded Manta Diablo’s cave. This enormous manta ray haunts Ramon. Not even the donation of the Pearl of Heaven to the church can rid Ramon of the curse that the pearl has brought his family.

This Newbery Award book is written by Scott O’Dell, who wrote another Newbery book, the Islands of the Blue Dolphins. The first thing I noticed about this book is the disconnect between the story and the cover art. Ramon is clearly Latino. Yet, the boy on the cover is clearly not. He is light haired, light eyed, and fair skinned. He certainly would not be that light in his line of work of hunting for pearls and being on the deck of a boat for days at a time. The cover I found above is much more representative of the story. Culturally interesting is the formality between his father and himself. It is a great honor to be brought into the business and knowing that his financial future is secure. Ramon is very careful in his words, calling his father, Sir. His father is clear that Ramon must earn a place on his boat. In contrast, my 80 year old father yelled at me to “get my ass off the couch and help him fix his computer.” I, in turn, told him to “get his own ass off the couch, get down to the senior center, and take a class on how to work his iPad.” My husband, whose relationships with our sons and his father are more like Ramon’s, just shakes his head and walks away. This is a great adventure story and would be enjoyed by kids fifth grade and higher.

O’Dell, S. (1967). The black pearl. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.