The Cay by Theodore Taylor was the January selection for the book club/class that I’m leading at our co-op. I chose this book because I still remember reading it myself when I was a kid, roughly the same age as the students in my class. (The class is for sixth through eighth graders, with a few fifth graders thrown into the mix because we’re homeschoolers and we can do that.) In fact, it made my birthday post a few years ago as one of my lifetime favorite books. In addition to the fact that I personally love the story, it is a fairly short at about 140 pages, and it’s very exciting. These two characteristics are good for the reluctant readers in my class (most of which are boys).
I had forgotten just how good this book is! Set during World War II and in the Caribbean, it’s the story of Phillip Enright, an American boy who lives with his parents on the island of Curaçao. When submarine warfare comes to the Caribbean, Phillip’s mother begins to make plans for her and Phillip to return to the U.S. However, before they can be safely away, their boat is hit by a torpedo and Phillip is thrown overboard. When he comes to, he is onboard a raft with an old black man. Because of a head injury, Phillip soon loses his eyesight and has to depend upon this black man, Timothy, for everything. The novel details the next six months or so of their life on an island and how Phillip comes to trust and even love Timothy.
The themes in this book are so good and easily discerned. We had a lively conversation at co-op about the plot, conflict, and themes, and I was gratified that many of the students seemed to understand them readily. Everyone (at least everyone who participates) had an affinity for Timothy and saw the growth in Phillip. What more could I want? 🙂 I will not be surprised if many of the students cite this book as their favorite of the year.
I can’t end this review without sharing that as a family we also listened to the audiobook version of the novel. Narrated by Michael Boatman, this audiobook is superbly done. The DLM loved it and has requested it numerous times. I love the fact that there is an interview with Theodore Taylor at the end of the book in which he shares how he came to write the story. I give this audiobook a Highly Recommended.
I am participating in Read-at-Home-Mom’s Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge. January’s theme is award winners, and The Cay certainly fits into this category because it won the 1970 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award and it was published in 1969. (The Old School part of the challenge requires that the books be published before the year of the participant’s birth. Ahem.) Apparently its winning this award was controversial at the time (read here, especially the comments). For my class in our racially very homogeneous homeschooling community, I can’t help but think reading this book was a good thing. Your mileage may vary.
Highly Recommended. (1969)