O'Dell wrote 33 books during his lifetime. Most were young adult fiction. Many of his books concerned historical California and Mexico in addition to The King's Fifth.
He received the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1972; this is the highest award a children's author can receive.
In addition to The Mysterious Cities of Gold, other O'Dell titles were adapted for screen; these include Island of the Blue Dolphins (1960) and The Black Pearl (1967).