The Cay, by Theodore Taylor, 1969

the cay“Dis be de mos’ outrageous good story, Phill-eep!”

I can almost hear the words as they would sound spoken in Timothy’s Caribbean cadence. Timothy’s an old friend of mine. So are Phillip and Stew Cat, the trio of castaways in The Cay. This is a book I’ve treasured since my childhood. I shared it recently with my boys, and I must give it a place of honor here on my blog. It is quite easily among the five best books I’ve read. Ever. It strongly, strongly influenced my decision to write in the middle grade genre. I’m evidence that the right book in the hands of the right child can have a lasting impact. I’ve been that child. Now I want to be that writer.

Let me share some of the accolades The Cay has received:

Awards

1970 Jane Addams Book Award
1970 Lewis Carroll Shelf Award
1970 Commonwealth Club Award
1970 Award of the Southern California Council on Literature for Children and Young People
1970 Woodward School Annual Book Award
1970 Friends of the Library Award, University of California at Irvine

Lists

The Horn Book Honor List
The Child Study Association’s list of Children’s Books of the Year
Publisher’s Weekly’s list of Children’s Books to Remember
The American Library Associations Notable Books
The New York Times Best Books of the Year
School Library Journal‘s Best Book of the Year

Pretty impressive, eh? And in my opinion, The Cay should have at least won Newbery honors that year (although William Armstrong’s Sounder would have been very difficult to topple). I wish I could meet Mr. Taylor. I’d dearly love to talk to him, but he passed away nine years ago. For what it’s worth, I’m going to honor him and, in my opinion, his best work with a Squeaky Award.

The Cay takes place at the outbreak of World War II on the tiny island of Curacao, a major supplier of gasoline for allied forces, where Phillip’s father has been called to oversee the refinery. When the Germans target the island, Phillip’s mother freaks out and attempts to return to America with her son. Unfortunately, the ship they sail on is torpedoed.

During the chaos, Phillip is struck on the head by a falling beam and wakes up to find himself on a raft in the middle of the Caribbean with only Timothy, a giant black sailor, and a cat for company. He’s repulsed by Timothy’s ugly face and angry at his unreasonable stubbornness. Then his world darkens and blindness sets in.

They land on a small cay far off the shipping lines. Without the benefit of his eyes, Phillip learns to “see” Timothy for what he is, an amazing man of wisdom, strength, and kindness. It is an extraordinary, heart-warming tale, one I would recommend to every single person with the ability to read. About a fifth to sixth grade independent level, it’s appropriate as a read aloud for children far younger.

Squeaky AwardThe dedication page reads: To Mr. King’s dream, which can only come true if the very young know and understand. April 1968, Laguna, California

Mr. Taylor, your book has had a lasting impact.

The Kindle version of The Cay sells for 5.99. It’s the best purchase you could make this year.

9 thoughts on “The Cay, by Theodore Taylor, 1969

  1. I love this book, too. It’s too often overlooked, I think, and I have gifted it several times–including to my dad, who served in the Navy’s Caribbean fleet during WWII.

  2. A totally agree with Michelle I. I read this in the 5th grade and it had a lasting impact on my world view. Recently shared it with my 4th grade daughter and reread it with “older eyes.” Still a great read some 40 years later and short enough to read in one sitting (maybe 2 hours).

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