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Book Review: All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys Soccer Team

Title: All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team

Author: Christina Soontornvat

Publisher: Candlewick

Copyright date: October, 2020

Age range: grades 3-7, but I couldn’t put it down! This would be a wonderful book for teens with lower reading levels due to the high interest, short chapters, and graphics. 

Readers, there is a reason why this book has won so many awards and has 7 starred reviews. 

This nonfiction book is just special. 

The Wild Boars Thai soccer team, a mix of Buddhist, Christian, and Muslim 11-17 year-olds, and their beloved coach, frequently venture out together post-practice. They take long bike rides and hikes, not just to cross-train, but to grow closer together by building trust and camaraderie. Coach Ek, their devoted 25 year-old assistant coach who lived in a monastery due to his lack of Thai citizenship, had promised the boys a trip to the cave. The boys had a wonderful time, but due to both a large rain (unusual prior to the start of the rainy season, still 3 weeks away) and saturation from the ground, the cave flooded before the boys could hike out. 

The book chronicles life in the cave for the boys during the 18 day ordeal, but also how all of the people above ground came together, pooled resources, and trusted in the safety of world-renowned divers and doctors to execute the rescue plan. 

Soontornvat breaks down a very complicated story in a way that allows the reader to appreciate the details without getting completely bogged down. The sheer number of experts, military personnel and volunteers must have made this no easy feat.

Long-ish (288 pages) nonfiction books perfect for a read aloud, either in the classroom or with my own kids during our nightly reading sessions, haven’t been at the top of my list. This is the first nonfiction book that is going straight to the top of the list.  Not only does Soontornvat tell this compelling story clearly, the additional information she provides about specific topics can be used to increase the world-view for our children. For example, there are text boxes and special segments on Thai customs, religion, immigration issues in the region, geographic formations, diving do’s and don’ts, maps, and diagrams with clear labels. 

Readers will love the graphics that not only help to tell the team’s rescue story, but develop a better understanding about cave systems. The variety of text features, like maps, cutaways, and close-ups encourage readers to grow even more invested in the story.

The most surprising part of the story was the level-headedness that prevailed inside the cave, despite the confusion and sometimes chaotic feeling happening outside of the cave. Coach Ek used his training as a monk and an athlete to keep the boys calm and safe. The boys were able to use meditation practices to fight off the long days in the damp dark, with little or no food, and not lose hope. Their story of bravery and fortitude is important and I encourage you to add it to your reading list. 

While everyone loves a happy ending, it was still so gratifying to see the team celebrated and pass on their gratitude.

Just in case you need more convincing, here’s what the experts had to say: 

Soontornvat selects details and measures her pacing with the practiced hand of a master storyteller, and while everything is supported by meticulous research, the prose never suffers from information density; rather, every aside—whether on hypothermia, ketamine, or Navy SEAL training—adds tension through understanding. Readers who already know the outcome will nonetheless be enthralled by this singular tale that captures the importance of STEM education, the beauty of Thailand, and the best of humanity—collaboration, innovation, sacrifice, family, and love.—Booklist (starred review)

Soontornvat’s narrative nonfiction account shares these events and those that led to the rescue along with intricate details about caverns, sump diving, and other scientific details that emphasize the harrowing conditions of the rescue. She also touches on Thai culture, immigration issues, Buddhism, and religion…This stellar nonfiction work reads like a heart-pounding adventure story. Every library should have a copy.—School Library Journal (starred review)

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