Back in elementary school I made visits each week to our small public library and remember reading and re-reading the same favorite books over and over. I also remember looking at The Cay by Theodore Taylor many times, but just couldn't get past the cover. Nothing about it seemed appealing.
This fall I finally decided to overlook the hideous covers I have seen on this book and go with the recommendations of several friends who enjoyed this one. When I first introduced it to my fifth grade book club, they were also not impressed with the cover. One student had seen the movie and helped me sell it to the others.
Just today we finished it, and I will admit that this is yet another argument for not judging a book by its cover.
Set in 1942 on the Dutch island of Curaçao, Philip, an eleven year old boy and his mother prepare to return to the United States, fearing for their safetey during World War II. Leaving their father behind, the two board a ship for Virginia, only to be torpedoed. Philip awakens after the blast on a raft with Timothy, a black man from the island. Philip had never had any interactions with black people and knows only the racist beliefs that his mother has impressed on him. However, as time passes and Philip's blindness (an injury from the accident) makes him dependent on Timothy, he begins to realize that the color of someone's skin is no way to judge a person.
As a reader, I loved Timothy- the care he showed for Philip, the way in which he spoke, his ability to prepare Philip for life on the island without him. My own reading of Timothy's dialogue with Philip to my students left much to be desired, not being able to compare with the way in which I envisioned Timothy's voice in my head. (This is one case of me looking forward to seeing the movie version just so I can hear Timothy speak).
While I tried to have discussions with my fifth graders, only a few of them were able to really process this story on a deeper level and understand the message that Taylor is able to share in this story. Even if I had picked this book up to read as a child, I am not sure I would have appreciated it as much as I do now, yet I wish I wouldn't have waited quite so long.