All Thirteen by Christina Soontornvat

All Thirteen gives the rescue of the Thai boys’ soccer team the drama and excitement it deserves.

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat. Candlewick, 229 pages plus notes and index.

Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 10-12

Recommended for: ages 8-up

On a “typical Saturday” in June, the Wild Boars soccer team met for a routine practice on the field of Mae Sai, a town in western Thailand. Their coach, Ekkapol Chantawong (better known as Ek), had been building team spirit through strenuous hikes and bike rides. That day, he planned an excursion into Tham Luang cave to round out the afternoon. Since it wouldn’t take long , they packed only a few snacks and didn’t tell anyone where they were going. The cave was infamous for sudden floods during monsoon season. But that wasn’t monsoon season—or not yet.

Everyone who tuned in to the news in the summer of 2018 knows what happened: an unexpected cloudburst poured through the cracks and fissures of Tham Luang mountain and raised every river and stream. Water filled the cave, leaving the boys and their coach trapped on a narrow ledge over a mile from the cave entrance. The story of how an international team of military, cavers, and volunteers rescued all thirteen is truly incredible, especially to one (like me) who didn’t pay much attention to the details. Those details emerge in this carefully researched and well written story that all ages will find thrilling. The author expertly sets the stage with background about the geography, legend, and lore of Tham Luang, expands our understanding with sidebar excursions into the religion, culture, and history of Thailand, and provides a day-by-day narrative of the almost insurmountable difficulties.

Several heroes emerge, including Thanet Natisri, “the Water Expert,” an American immigrant who returned to his homeland to help his father-in-law with a reservoir project. With little formal background in water management, Thanet studied the problem and devised a way to divert rainwater down the mountain and away from the cave, gaining the divers precious yards of dry passageway underground. With determination, ingenuity, and refusal to surrender, the makeshift team pulled off a stunning achievement, and it’s hard to imagine the tale told better than it is here.

Consideration

  • Buddhism is the prevailing religion of Thailand, and most of the boys are practicing Buddhists. Coach Ek is especially devout, and his encouraging the boys to meditate and pray helped them to stay calm. One of the boys, Adul, is a committed Christian, an orphan taken in by his church.

Overall Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

  • Worldview/moral value: 3.75
  • Artistic/literary value: 5

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Janie

Janie is the VERY senior staff writer for Redeemed Reader, as well as a long-time contributor to WORLD Magazine and an author of nine books for children. The rest of the time she's long-distance smooching on her four grandchildren (not an easy task). She lives with her equally senior husband of almost-fifty years in the Ozarks of Missouri.

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