All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boy’s Soccer team

Christina Soontornvat, Author

Candlewick Press, Nonfiction, Oct. 13, 2020

Suitable for ages: 8-12 (teens and adults)

Themes: Thailand, Tham Luang, Soccer Team, Entrapment, Flooding, Cave divers, Rescue workers, International teamwork, Culture

Book Jacket Synopsis:

On June 23, 2018, twelve young players of the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach enter a cave in northern Thailand seeking an afternoon’s adventure. But when they turn to leave, rising floodwaters block their path out. The boys are trapped! Before long, news of the missing team spreads, launching a seventeen-day rescue operation involving thousands of rescuers from around the globe. As the world sits vigil, people begin to wonder: how long can a group of ordinary kids survive in complete darkness, with no food or clean water? Luckily, the Wild Boars are a very extraordinary “ordinary” group.

Combining firsthand interviews of rescue workers with in-depth science and details of the region’s culture and religion, author Christina Soontornvat—who was visiting family in Northern Thailand when the Wild Boars went missing—masterfully shows how both the complex engineering operation above ground and the mental struggles of the thirteen young people below proved critical in the life-or-death mission. Meticulously researched and generously illustrated with photographs, this page-turner includes an author’s note describing her experience meeting the team, detailed source notes, and a bibliography to fully immerse readers in the most ambitious cave rescue in history.

What to love about this book:

Christina Soontornvat has adeptly written a story about the rescue of the Thai Soccer team that is riveting and heart-pounding. Most readers know the ending of the boys’ rescue. What they don’t know is the herculean international effort (10,000 people) it takes to bring the team out safely, against all odds they won’t survive. Soontornvat has readers sitting on the edge of their seats as they absorb the details of their harrowing rescue, and the power of the human spirit to survive. The story is suspenseful to the end.  All Thirteen is the best nonfiction I’ve read in a long time.

Soonornvat watches the search for the boys on Thai television. When she returns to the U.S. and sees the media coverage of the rescue, she realizes that “she didn’t see any Thai faces.” The media focuses much of their attention on the expert British and other western divers involved in the ultimate rescue. With her Thai background, she feels she can bring the Thai culture into the story that others miss — a story that “lets the country and culture shine.” Her goal is to showcase the relentless work of the Thai Seals, the military, rescuers, the Get-It-Done-Crew and ordinary volunteers who work day and night to feed everyone and do what ever is needed.

All Thirteen is painstakingly researched. Soontornvat returns to Thailand in October 2018 with only one interview scheduled with Vern Unsworth, a British “cave man” living in Mae Sai. He’s spent many years exploring all the cave passages of Tham Luang and knows it better than anyone. This is a lucky break for Soontornvat because everyone knows and respects him. The two connect and she finds herself booked solid with interviews. It is also important to note that Soontornvat’s mechanical engineering background helps her take scientific information and make it understandable for readers.

The book is beautifully designed and easy to read. There is a narrative that flows throughout the story that draws readers into the center of the action and holds them spellbound. Gorgeous photographs adorn every page chronicling the rescue and diving efforts, the caverns inside of Tham Luang, the boys, the volunteers and the water-diversion teams working to lower the flood levels inside the cave.  Readers are also treated to inserts about the beautiful country of Thailand, the culture, Buddhism, temples, maps of the cave system, diving rules, and information on oxygen concentrations and hypothermia.

Important to the story is the strong relationship between the boys and Coach Ek, the 25-year-old Buddhist soccer coach. He is a major reason the boys survive. He teaches the boys meditation as part of their soccer training. The cave is damp and chilly. The boys are wet, cold, starving and living in complete darkness, except for necessary times when Coach Ek turns on a flashlight. They do have clean drinking water. Coach Ek is determined to keep the boys from panicking or falling into despair before the divers find them on Day 10. He urges them to rest and conserve energy. The boys meditate. They scratch “help” messages into the cave walls. They make promises to look after one another forever. They dream and talk about seeing their families. When divers find them, they are surprised by the boys morale.

Favorite quote: “Breath by breath they each became master of the one thing they can control inside Tham Luang: their own minds.” Page 55

All Thirteen is written for middle grade students, but is also appropriate for teens and adults. The deliberate pacing keeps readers fully engaged and wondering what will happen next. This compelling discussion book belongs in every school library. It’s a perfect Christmas gift for readers who love survival stories.

*Note:  My enthusiasm for All Thirteen was enhanced by attending a virtual zoom book launch October 18 with Christina Soontornvat. It was moderated by author Kate Messner and sponsored by the Book People. If you have a similar opportunity to attend a virtual event, it is worth your time.

Christina Soontornvat is the author of several books for young readers, including the middle-grade fantasy novel, A Wish in the Dark. She holds both a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s degree in science education and lives with her husband and two children in Austin, Texas. Visit Christina at her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the MMGM link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy is provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Freedom Soup by Tami Charles

Freedom Soup

Tami Charles, Author

Jacqueline Alcántara, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Dec. 10, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Haitians, New Years Day, Family Recipe, Traditions, History, Freedom

Opening: “Today is New Years Day. This year, I get  to help make Freedom Soup. Ti Gran says I’ve got a heart made for cooking, and its time I learn how.”

Book Synopsis:

Every year, Haitians all over the world ring in the New Year by eating Freedom Soup, a tration dating back to the Haitian Revolution. The year, Ti Gran is teaching Belle how to make the soup. Just as she was taught when she was a little girl. Together, the dance and clap as they prepare the holiday feast.

“Know why they call it Freedom Soup?” Ti Gran asks. She then tells Belle about the history of the soup, the history of Belle’s family, and the history of Haiti, where Belle’s family is from and the passing down of traditions from one generation to the next.

Why I like this book:

Tami Charles’ lively holiday Haitian tale is a celebration of family, culture, traditions, and community. Just look at that gorgeous cover! Dance your way across this joyful story with Ti Gran, whose feet tap-tap to the kompa beat as she shows her granddaughter how to mash herbs, peel the cooked pumpkin, chop the vegetables and brown the meat for their special soup.

Reader’s will learn about a Haiti, a faraway country where Ti Gran was born. Her descemdents were slaves working in sugarcane and coffee fields until they fought and won their freedom from the French in 1803.

Make sure you read the “Author’s Note” at the end.  Tami Charles’ shares her family’s story with readers and more detailed history about abolishment of slavery in Haiti and Haitian Independence Day.

Jacqueline Alcántara’s bold and colorful illustrations make this vibrant story sing from Ti Gran’s soup kitchen to the revolutionary scenes. They also capture the spirit of the Haitian community. The beautiful collaboration between the author and illustrator, makes Freedom Soup a perfect multiculture choice for holiday collections.

Personal Note:  I was thrilled to review this beautiful and upbeat Haitian story. Haiti is special to our family because our daughter went on two medical mission trips to Haiti and introduced us to this beautiful country that is filled with so much soul. We sponsored Haitian children for years so they could attend school. It is also a poor country that has suffered many natural disasters in recent years.

Resources: Make the recipe for Freedom Soup, which is printed at the end of the book along with an Author’s note. Make sure you read the “Author’s Note” at the end.  Charles’ shares her family’s story with readers and more detailed history about abolishment of slavery in Haiti and Haitian Independence Day.

Tami Charles is the author of numerous books for children, including her fiction debut, Like Vanessa. During an appearance on Good Morning America, she featured a Thanksgiving version of Freedom Soup, which she first learned to make from her husband’s ti gran. Tami Charles lives in New Jersey.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Review copy provided by the publisher.

Islandborn by Junot Diaz


Islandborn

Junot Díaz, Author

Leo Espinosa, Illustrator

Dial Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Mar. 18, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Immigration, Community, Culture, Memory, Diversity, Imagination, Belonging

OpeningEvery kid in Lola’s school was from somewhere else. Hers was a school of faraway places.

Synopsis: When Lola’s teacher asks the students to draw a picture of where their families emigrated from, all the kids are excited. Except Lola. She can’t remember the Island she left when she was just a baby. But with the help of her family and friends, and their memories — joyous, fantastical, heartbreaking, and frightening — Lola’s imagination takes her on an extraordinary journey back to the Island. As she draws closer to the heart of her family’s story, Lola comes to understand the truth of her abuela’s words: “Just because you don’t remember a place doesn’t mean it’s not in you.”

Why I like this book:

Junot Díaz has written a poetic and nostalgic story about Lola’s family immigrating from their home on the Island (likely the Dominican Republic) to build a new life in New York City.  Lola’s lively and exuberant curiosity leads her on an enchanting journey of discovery of self-discovery. She relies upon the memories of her family, friends and neighbors to help her imagine an Island and a culture that has bats the size of blankets, music, dancing, bright colors, sweet mangoes, beautiful beaches, tropical sunsets, hurricanes and a terrifying monster (dictator) who hurts the people. Leo Espinosa’s dazzling illustrations bring Lola’s Island to life. They are a beautiful celebration of creativity and diversity. Brown children will see themselves in the many different skin-tones. Beautiful collaborative effort between the author and illustrator. This book belongs in school libraries.

Junot Díaz was born in the Dominican Republic and immigrated to New Jersey. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Drown; The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; and This is How you Lose Her, a New York Times bestseller and National Book Award Finalist. Visit him at his website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

Krista Kim-Bap by Angela Ahn

Krista Kim-Bap

Angela Ahn, Author

Second Story Press, Fiction, Apr. 18, 2018

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Pages: 158

Themes: Korean food, Culture, Family relationships, Fitting in, Friendships, Diversity, Multicultural

Book Synopsis: Krista and Jason have been best friends since preschool. It never mattered that he was a boy with reddish-brown hair and green eyes, and she was the “Korean girl” at school. And Jason has always loved hanging out with Krista’s family — especially for the food!

Now in fifth grade, everyone in Krista and Jason’s class is preparing their Heritage Month projects. But Krista has mixed feelings about being her school’s “Korean Ambassador.” Should she ask her sometimes grouchy grandma to teach the class how to cook traditional Korean kimbap?

With a new friendship pulling her away from Jason, and the pressure of trying to please her grandma, grade five is going to be interesting.

Why I like this book:

Angela Ahn has written a sweetly satisfying coming of age novel about an 11-year-old girl, who is a third-generation Korean-Canadian trying to fit in at school. The author creates a nice balance between cultural traditions, differences, family relationships and friendships.

Krista is a feisty protagonist who seems comfortable with herself. Somewhat a tomboy, she prefers jeans and t-shirts and wears her hair in a pony tail. She spends a lot of time with her best friend Jason, until she’s invited to a “Red Carpet” birthday party by a popular girl at school. This means Krista has to wear a dress and her older sister helps her modernize a traditional hanbok. Her outfit is a hit and the girls invite Krista to hang with them at lunch and after school. This cuts into time with Jason and she is torn between wanting to fit in, be true to herself, trust her instincts and be loyal to Jason.

There are many mouth-watering food scenes in this story and readers will learn about Korean dishes, like kimchi and kimbap, as Krista builds a relationship with her traditional grandmother. She asks her grandmother to teach her how to cook and be part her classroom family heritage project.

This story is perfect for diverse classroom settings. It is a fun, realistic and fast-paced novel that tackles interesting issues for a Korean-Canadian tween living in Vancouver. It’s a book worth reading!

Greg Pattridge is the host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

The Mask that Sang by Susan Currie

mask-that-sang-518kxm1cjsl__sx346_bo1204203200_The Mask that Sang

Susan Currie, Author

Second Story Press, Fiction, Sep. 6, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 9-12

Themes: Bullying, Native American heritage, Family Relationships, Orphans, Residential Schools

Opening: Faster, faster! Cass kept scrambling past garbage cans and over cracked pavement, although her legs were dead stumps and her lungs screamed. The boys were close behind her, the same four who chased her home every day.

Book Synopsis: When Cass Foster’s estranged grandmother unexpectedly leaves her house and savings to Cass and her mom, it’s just the thing they need to change their lives. Cass is being bullied at school, and her mom just lost her job—again—so they pack up and move in. With the gift come more questions than answers for Cass.  Why is her mom reluctant to live there? Why was this relative kept so secret? Why won’t her mother read the sealed letter from her own mother?

While exploring her new room, Cass finds an intriguing and powerful mask in a drawer and she is inexplicably drawn to it. A strange relationship grows between Cass and the mask; it sings her songs, shows her visions of past traumas and encourages her to be brave when facing bullies. When Cass finds the mask gone, her quest to get it back leads to an unexpected discovery about her family’s Cayuga heritage that will bring her and her mother into the arms of a community that’s been waiting for them.

Why I like this book:

Susan Currie works magic in this multi-layered novel, that culminates in a touching and spiritual tale about Cass and her mother finding their roots in a Native American community. It is a journey of discovery that is richly textured with themes of bullying, family relationships and finding “home” in a very tight and loving community.

The characters are diverse, believable, and memorable. Cass is spunky 12-year-old, who sprints home from school dodging bullies that shout insults about her shoes and clothing, call her names, throw objects at her and knock her to the pavement. She’s not sorry to say goodbye to her old school and apartment and move to her very own home and a start fresh at school. Mom is an orphan who never knew her mother.  She’s resentful and reluctant to accept the house and money her “mother” leaves her. Cass quickly makes friends with a boy named Degan Hill, who is a talented artist in her class. She discovers that Degan is Native American, when Ellis, a classroom bully, makes racial slurs. Cass finds a kindred spirit in Degan. She confides to Degan about the mask singing and telling her things. Degan tells Cass that the mask she finds is a “false face” that can have a good or evil spirits running through it. Their friendship grows and a trust forms between them. Change comes for all the characters.

Readers will find themselves richly rewarded by this satisfying tale. The plot is engaging and well-paced with the right amount of tension to keep readers interested. It sheds light on a dark past in Canadian history. Cass is drawn to the mask she finds in her drawer. She is distraught when it is missing from her drawer. Even though the mask is gone, it continues to sing to her, encourages her to be brave, shows her visions of a past she doesn’t understand and leads her to its hiding place.  I like how the author brings the story full circle. This is an emotionally honest story filled with heart.

I urge you to check out a picture book I reviewed Oct. 21, I Am Not A Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer. The story focuses on the Indigenous children who were taken from their families in the 1920s and put in “residential schools” where they were forced to forget their heritage.  It is a good companion book for The Mask that Sang.

Susan Currie is a winner of Second Story Press’ Aboriginal Writing Contest, resulting in this, her second book. Her first book was Basket of Beethoven, published in 2001. She has an MA in children’s literature and has been an elementary teacher for 17 years. Susan is adopted and after discovering a birth aunt a few years ago, she subsequently learned about her Cayuga heritage. The Mask that Sang grew out of her experience of discovering her roots.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.