By: Theodore Taylor
(Not technically a series, but followed by Timothy of the Cay)
Can we just talk about that cover for a hot second?
Yes. That’s real.
Whoever designed that should be fired. I can’t take it seriously. The quality of that image isn’t great, but in real life, this cover is even weirder. WHY IS HE HOLDING A CAT? What’s up with the kid sketchily staring in the background? What is that creepy facial expression supposed to mean? Why is hair SO WHITE?
It all (sort of) makes sense once you start reading the book, but seriously? Who would ever pick this up off the shelf? Every time I read it in public, I made sure no one saw the cover; I was so embarrassed.
The Cay isn’t terrible, truth be told. It’s obviously old and dated; there’s a good bit of politically incorrect stuff in there that probably passed in 1969 as progressive.
It’s about an eleven-year-old boy (the sketchy background kid) named Phillip who gets shipwrecked on a cay with a seventy-year-old man (the creepy expression guy) named Timothy and a cat (the cat) named Stew Cat. Phillip and Timothy are from Curacao, and the book takes place in 1942, during World War II, so that part is cool.
It’s definitely a children’s book. Super short, quick, easy read. I thought it was going to be about adventure and shipwreck and appreciating your family and blah blah blah. And it is.
But if you look closely, see that writing on the front cover? It says, “It took blindness to make Phillip truly see.” (Spoiler alert: Phillip goes blind.)
And there’s a short little author’s note from Theodore Taylor at the beginning that simply reads: “To Dr. King’s dream, which can only come true if the very young know and understand. April 1968.”
Wait. Dr. King? As in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? I thought we were talking about shipwrecks and tropical islands and sand and coconuts?
Yep, this book is supposed to be about race and racial equality and prejudices and white and black. Phillip’s “blindness” is supposed to allow him to see Timothy (the black man) without color, without being able to really see him as black, even though he knows he is a black man.
And that’s all well and good. It comes across very didactically, especially for today’s readers. There’s some awkward description of Timothy’s nose and an awkward appropriation of his Caribbean dialect, which seems like it probably would’ve been reworded if this had been written in 2015. But all in all it’s a cute little book.
Definitely not anything you need to read, but not a waste of time either.
Plus I’m a sucker for cats.
Here are some books that are similar to The Cay:
(for more by Taylor)
Timothy of the Cay by Theodore Taylor
Ice Drift by Theodore Taylor
A Sailor Returns by Theodore Taylor
(for books about shipwrecks)
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss
(for books about kids seeing past race)
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
(for books about kids on islands)
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen
Changes That Heal by Henry Cloud
The Nazi Connection by F. W. Winterbotham
The Once and Future King by T. H. White
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi