Danny Dunn on a Desert Island
by Jay Williams & Raymond Abrashkin
Cover Artist: Ezra Jack Keats
Review by Paul Haggerty
Wildside Press Kindle Edition ISBN/ITEM#: B00PQYRITG
Date: 17 November 2014
Danny Dunn on a Desert Island is the second volume of the Danny Dunn series. This time the science is a little lower-key, with more of a MacGuyver plot.
When Professor Bullfinch and Dr. Grimes nearly crash their plane on the little runway behind the Professor's house, both blame the other. Of course, the truth is that they're both to blame because the plane has two sets of controls, both being operated at the same time by the Professor and Dr. Grimes. With both fighting each other's actions, it's a miracle they survive at all. And yet this is a perfect example of the two men's relationship. They vie and struggle with each other over everything, and still manage to not only survive but make scientific breakthroughs one after another.
In this case, after a hearty conversation as to who is best prepared to deal with the realities of the world outside of academia, Dr. Grimes challenges the Professor to a duel of resourcefulness. They will be flown to two uninhabited islands and left to themselves for a month. The one that has made himself the most comfortable at the end of the month (in the opinions of an objective observer) will win the challenge. Naturally, Danny wants to go along, and naturally his friend Joe does not, but will anyway because that's what best friends do. And naturally, their parents agree to allow this, but only after a spirited discussion that takes place off screen. Danny will accompany and assist Professor Bullfinch, and Joe will go with Dr. Grimes.
First, they gather food, supplies, tools, and safety equipment because while they're going to face nature with nothing but their raw intellect and resourcefulness, they're not going to be suicidal about it. Once loaded on the plane, they travel to Peru where their designated islands are located. And naturally, this is where everything takes a left turn into disaster. Forced into making an ocean landing by a powerful thunderstorm (and two pilots each trying to do different things), the four manage to escape with their lives and a few hastily grabbed crates that they get into their escape raft before the plane sinks.
As this is a book about resourcefulness, the castaways quickly find an island, set up shop, and immediately begin to argue about what to do first: find shelter, gather food, make weapons, or explore. While the science is significantly lower tech than the first book in the series, it's a matter of seeing what is available and how to use it to best advantage. Aquaducts made from hollowed logs, a firepit, and heated stones are turned into a heated bath. Sticks and chunks of obsidian become axes and hammers. Of course the supplies they salvaged from the plane just happened to contain some vital parts otherwise unobtainable. Like the emergency transmitter that sends out an SOS to anyone listening. They may be on the island for a while, but it's a forgone conclusion that rescue is going to come eventually. Although it might be a while longer than they'd hoped given that Danny thinks it's a really good idea to temporarily disable the transmitter so they don't have to go home too early.
Danny Dunn on a Desert Island is a fun little adventure with witty dialog and just enough peril to make it interesting without being dark. The devices cobbled together are easier made on the page than in real life (yes, I did try to make a spear when I was young) but the theory is sound.
The most questionable part of the story is the portrayal of the natives they inevitably meet. If you're reading this to your children, or if they're reading it themselves, you might need to have a little talk about how different American society was fifty years ago.