The library is always a great place to be, but it has been especially great these past few weeks. The start of our summer reading program has meant excited children and happy families in the Children’s Department. Families are ready for a bit of normalcy, and part of the summer routine for many of them involves signing up for our reading challenge. Our summer reading theme this year is “Tails and Tales,” so we are exploring animals, nature and the stories we tell about them.
The best book I read this year featured nature as a dominating, formidable main character. You may remember the story. In 2018, a boys’ soccer team in Thailand went caving after practice. What they didn’t know was that Thailand’s monsoon season was starting a month earlier than anticipated, leaving them stuck in an increasingly flooding cave. CHRISTINA SOONTORNAVAT‘s bestselling narrative nonfiction book, “ALL THIRTEEN: THE INCREDIBLE CAVE RESCUE OF THE THAI BOYS’ SOCCER TEAM,” recreates the edge-of-your-seat feeling we all experienced while waiting to hear of their fate.
Soontornvat begins with the story on that fateful day, as the soccer players leave practice and seek out an adventure before they call it a night. The Wild Boars, she explains, are an active and adventurous group — caving or hiking is not out of the ordinary after a long practice. A little rain was in the forecast, but not much. After all, monsoon season typically doesn’t begin until June and it was only May. Soon enough, it begins to rain and water enters the cave from several locations. In just a few short hours, the rushing water is cloudy and 6 feet deep in some places.
When the boys don’t turn up that night, their worried parents form a search party. Teammates who didn’t tag along know where they are, and soon enough, emergency services arrive at the mouth of the cave. Over the next few days, everyone — including local water experts, international cave divers and the prime minister of Thailand — is working together to get the boys out of the cave. In all, the boys remain in the cave for 18 days.
This is a story of endurance. It is also a story of mutual aid, of everyone offering what they have to help the boys, because we are, of course, all connected. Their story transcended the town of Mae Sae, the country of Thailand and borders around the world. When we watched this on TV or read it in the paper, we felt like a part of something larger. We were all rooting for the boys, for the cave divers, the Thai Navy SEALS and everyone else who stopped their lives to ensure the boys’ survival. Soontornvat effectively recreates that sentiment in “All Thirteen.”
A good narrative nonfiction book must have three key components: a compelling story, engaging images and accurate references. In short, it needs to be good, and it needs to be factual. Soontornvat achieves both in spades. I read every time I had a free moment, when I wasn’t reading about it, I was thinking about it. Even though I knew the outcome, I found myself rapidly turning the pages for some piece of good news.
Soontornvat also includes full-page maps and descriptions of things such as the formation of a karst cave, Buddhism, stateless people in Thailand and the stages of hypothermia. The images, which are all credited, are both crisp and helpful in understanding key aspects of this story. The source notes at the back of the book are exhaustive. I would recommend this book for anyone in upper elementary grades or older.
Our reading challenges are available for all ages. The Children’s Department offers the following challenges: pre-reader (ages 0-4), early reader (ages 5-8) and reader (ages 9-12). They can sign up online at www.joplinpubliclibrary.org/summer-reading-program or in person at 1901 E 20th Street. Participants earn prizes (including free books), so sign up today.