You Can’t Judge a Book by it’s Cover. A short story for teens about respecting adults

You Can’t Judge a Book by its Cover

Hi, I’m Mike, I’m 50 and I’m waiting in hospital for a liver transplant.  Bit of a shock for my family.  They had no idea how ill I was.  I kept it from them. I’m not sure if I’ll see another Christmas.

I have two lads. Good boys, they are.  We used to have our ups and downs, it’s true, but in general they are solid.  I always taught them to respect people older than themselves – to be polite, to say thanks.  Politeness costs nothing but it brings dividends, if you know what I mean.  A polite lad is more likely to get what he wants from the world, because the world doesn’t mind giving things to him – he’s always grateful.  He takes nothing for granted.

I used to say to my lads ‘Nobody owes you a living.  You’ve got to put some effort in.  Show that you are willing to work, and be thankful for what does come your way.’

I was a boxer when I was a young man.  Trouble was when I gave up I started to drink too much.  I was off the fitness regime, see?  After a while I couldn’t leave off the booze.  Strange, I never felt really drunk, I just became addicted to drink.  I hid it from my family.  I wanted them to respect me.  In every other way I am a good dad.  I taught my boys to respect their elders, to hold doors open for people and to offer older people a seat on the bus or the tube train.

As I became more ill my liver was damaged by the drink.  I looked OK, but I felt pretty rough.  I had to travel to work on the tube.  I used to dread the journey.  Sometimes I was lucky and people would stand up and offer me a seat.  I always accepted gratefully.  Often I would see young people, fit and healthy, sitting down while much older people were forced to stand.  I would think about my lads and know that they would never do that.  When people get older they often have hidden problems.  It’s not obvious when someone has a bad back or joint pains.  They do not wear a label.  But many youngsters don’t think of that.  They think that unless you’ve got a walking stick, you must be OK, just like them.

I remember a journey I went on with my eldest boy, as usual the train was crowded and I was feeling pretty terrible, but trying not to let it show.  Dan, my son could see I was in pain, but there I was, looking OK except for the sweat breaking out on my forehead.

Dan leaned forward and asked a youth if he would mind giving up his seat for me.

“My dad’s feeling bad,” he explained.

The lad looked up sullenly.  “He looks all right to me,” he said, and he stayed seated.

A girl across the aisle had noticed what was going on.  She quickly jumped to her feet.

“Sit here,” she said, “I’m getting off soon.”

I collapsed down on the seat, gratefully.

“Thanks, love,” I said, “thank you for noticing.”

The lad who hadn’t moved was embarrassed.  He looked up and down the crowded carriage.  A tired looking woman was standing a few feet away.  He stood up and offered her a seat.  She smiled, thanking him profusely and sat down looking very relieved.

The woman leaned over to me and said “you can’t judge a book by its cover, can you?”

In my denim jacket, blue jeans, crew cut and earring, I guess I looked pretty fit.

“You are right there, love, I expect he’ll learn one day” I said.


Although Mike admits he has his faults, he is trying to bring up his sons as well as he can.

What does he say about the rewards of politeness?  Can you think of an example?

Do you think young people should show respect for their elders?  Explain your answer.

Are there occasions when older people do not deserve respect?

In what ways can older people show respect too?

What do you think ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover’ means  in this story?



What questions would you ask to get the most out of this story?

Please feel free to answer in the comments box.  Thanks.

The Boy with the Mop. (A story about making friends, for special needs teenagers)

I wrote this story for a student in our college who found it very hard to talk to others.

The Boy with the Mop

Walter didn’t think he had any friends. People were kind to him in general but he was usually alone. He worked in a large department store, sweeping up. Every Monday he had to sweep the whole of the top floor. On Tuesdays he had to work in the basement, sorting out the bins. He liked Wednesdays best. He worked on the second floor in the toy department every Wednesday. After the customers and staff had gone home, Walter had the toy department all to himself. If he worked fast he could clean all the empty shelves and sweep round all the counters and have a whole hour to spare. How he loved that hour!

Walter considered himself to be a very thoughtful person. His mother had told him so early on in his life.

” Walter, she said, ‘ I can see you are thinking very hard, I can see you are puzzling it out. When you find an answer, just tell me, because I don’t understand it either.’

Walter’s mother was a kind woman. She would notice Walter staring out of the window, or into open space for many minutes at a time. Sometimes he would stare at one of his toys for ten whole minutes as if he was trying to work out how it was made. He would turn it over and over in his hands.

When his mother asked him what he was doing he always replied:

‘I’m just thinking.’

Now Walter could look at any toy for as long as he liked. He was in heaven. Sometimes he would even take the toys out of their boxes and line them up in rows. He particularly liked the remote controlled toys. They made him feel like a god or a king. He was in control. It was a feeling he didn’t have in his normal life. It seemed like everyone else was in control, not him. But he didn’t mind too much. Mostly people were kind, but they got cross if he forgot to do things.

One evening when Walter was on his favourite floor and he had finished work early, he was about to look at the very latest remote controlled toy in the shop. Someone came in over by the stairs and stood looking at him. It was a boy, about his age, holding a mop. He looked lost. Walter wasn’t sure what to do or what to say. He wasn’t very good at being the first one to speak, so he just stared back. The two boys looked at each other for a long time. Walter felt a bit excited. He had wanted to show someone else all these marvellous toys for a while, but thought it might get him into trouble. Eventually the boy took a step forward.

“Hello,” he said. “I’m supposed to clean the toilets on this floor, then I’m off home. Can you tell me where they are?

“No toilets here” said Walter. “First floor only.”

“Done them,” said the boy. “Do you work here?”

“Every Wednesday,” said Walter. “Get to look at all this stuff, see.”

The boy came closer. “Wow, cool. Can I have a go?” He pointed to one of the remotes.

“Don’t break it will you?”

The two lads moved their robots around the floor. Nothing else mattered. Finally Walter’s watch bleeped.

“Gotta go. Come back next Wednesday and we’ll look at those two over there.”

“I will,” said the boy as he disappeared with his mop.

Walter felt a warm glow spreading through his chest. He had found a friend. He didn’t even know the lad’s name but he knew he liked him. He was thoughtful and quiet. He had packed away the toys carefully and made sure that everything was in its place.

Walter knew his mum was teasing when she said he was thoughtful. “Full of thoughts,” she said. But he also knew the other meaning of the word and he was that too. He thought about what other people would like, and tried to make sure others were happy.

“Perhaps I will have a friend now,” Walter said to himself. “Mum said I’d get friends if I was brave enough. Today I was brave and now I’ve got a friend.”