In 1704, on Juan Fernandez Island, off the coast of Chile, a Scottish sailor watched as his shipmates sailed away, leaving him utterly alone. He was not overly troubled. In his mind, it was a matter of hours, maybe days, before the ship captain came to his senses and returned for him.
In that, Alexander Selkirk was sadly mistaken. As second in command of the ship, Selkirk had tangled for the last time with the unreasonable captain. The island would be his solitary home for over 4 years. Constructing shelter, hunting game, collecting shellfish, discovering long abandoned gardens of Spanish visitors, and above all, coping with the strain of complete isolation, occupied his time. Over the years, Selkirk found consolation in his Bible, the hymns of his youth, a few cats, and the island’s familiarity and freedom which he grew to love.
Finally rescued by a pair of English privateers, Selkirk accompanied the British sailor-soldiers for several years as they battled with merchant ships, amassing a fortune in treasure, and battled scurvy, losing many men to the dreaded mariner’s disease. Selkirk survived all these adventures and at long last returned to London, and later his quiet home in Scotland. Time to settle down to a life of ease, right? Wrong. The drastic changes he underwent during his years as a castaway made it impossible for him to readjust to village life. After years of unrest, back to sea he went, where he would die in 1721, 41 years old.
Several years before Selkirk’s death, an account of his island life was published, which Daniel Defoe read. As a struggling, impoverished businessman, Defoe recognized that it would make a fantastic basis for a novel. He published his story, Robinson Crusoe, in 1719, writing it in first person, as though it were a true account, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Robert Kraske has written a lively, interesting account of Selkirk’s extraordinary life, accessible to mid-elementary and older. At just over 100 short-ish pages, it’s not overwhelmingly long; yet there are plenty of nice, vivid details to capture the imagination of — my guess is — especially boys. A lengthy Author’s Note tells how Kraske went about discovering the details of Selkirk’s life, and about the current state of this real-life Robinson Crusoe’s island. It’s a great intersection between history and literature, naval adventures and Survivor-for-real.
Here’s the Amazon link: Marooned: The Strange but True Adventures of Alexander Selkirk, the Real Robinson Crusoe