The Cay (hardcover)
by Theodore Taylor
AR Level 6.7, 5 points
The Cay is our necessary reading for sixth grade, the only book we are mandated to read. I was a bit cynical, despite the feedback I’d been given by previous sixth grade teachers. The book was published in 1969, making it a full 10 years older than me, and my students generally don’t read books older than themselves (with a few exceptions). I am happy to say that it didn’t disappoint.
Philip is an American boy growing up on a Dutch island in the Caribbean during World War II. His mother decides that due to the dangers of the German U-boats, she and Philip would return to Virginia while his father remained on the island. Their boat is hit by a torpedo and Philip finds himself on a raft with an old black man, Timothy. Timothy is from the West Indies and calls Philip “young bahs” (young boss) since Philip is white. Philip assumes his role as a white man and treats Timothy disrespectfully, as he was taught that the black men were beneath the white men. He quickly has to change his attitude, since he is at the mercy of Timothy. Timothy takes care of Philip and we see a change in attitude, Philip learning the hard way that Timothy deserves to be treated with respect and courtesy. I won’t spoil the ending, but it is definitely worth the read.
What I liked about this book was that it demonstrated the ability of a person to change. Philip had been taught that he was superior to the black men on the island (and maybe in general?), and Timothy proved himself to be worthy of respect. Philip showed him the dignity he deserved after realizing this.
What I didn’t like about this book was the blatant racism that was shown. I wanted to hold Philip’s head under water. But I realize that it was good character development- if he didn’t behave so abominably early on, we wouldn’t have seen such a dramatic change in character. It is also good for students to see this so they can realize how wrong it is.
Book 4 of 40 (year 2)