All Thirteen: Christina Soontornvat's 2021 BGHB Nonfiction Honor Speech

Thank you so much to the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards committee for selecting All Thirteen for this honor and for recognizing my work in telling the story of the Tham Luang cave rescue.

When I first began working on this book, I felt a bit like the divers entering the deluge of a flooded cave. This was my first work of nonfiction, and I felt so much pressure to get everything right. Of course, I wanted the account to be accurate, but I also felt a big responsibility to portray the people involved correctly and respectfully. I knew that this would be a rare opportunity to tell a story about Thailand: the people, the culture, and the community. I felt that if I could help readers understand these things, they would have a greater understanding of the depth and significance of these events.


In Thailand with her father. Photo courtesy of Christina Soontornvat.

The interviews I conducted in ­Thailand with the rescuers and the boys’ families were some of the most powerful experiences of my life. I was continually blown away by how hard everyone had worked, slogging through the mud, or hunched over inside dark cave passages for many days and nights, on little sleep. For most of the rescue, they didn’t even know if they would find the boys alive.


The author conducting interviews in Thailand. Photo courtesy of Christina Soontornvat.

I was so moved by the dedication and expertise of the divers and volunteers. But I was equally impressed with the heroism of the twelve boys and their coach. This group was not passively waiting to be saved. They were active participants in the rescue, keeping themselves alive for ten days in the darkness with no food and no certainty that anyone was coming to find them. Sometimes being still and waiting is the hardest feat of all — something so many of us can appreciate now that we have collectively lived through a global pandemic. By staying calm, supporting one another, and keeping their hopes afloat, those boys helped make this impossible rescue a reality. I will forever be awed and inspired by them. I do believe that each of us possesses that same inner strength, even if we may not be aware of it.

[Read Horn Book reviews of the 2021 BGHB Nonfiction winners.]

Working on this book has been the greatest honor of my career, and I am thrilled to share this recognition with my Candlewick team: Andrea Tompa, Sherry Fatla, Lisa Rudden, Karen Minot, and Jamie Tan; and with my agent, Stephanie Fretwell-Hill. Finally, I must thank my father, Amnaj Soontornvat, who accompanied me on my research trip and who provided invaluable support and love.

From the January/February 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. For more on the 2021 Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards, click on the tag BGHB21. Read more from The Horn Book by and about Christina Soontornvat.

Christina Soontornvat

Christina Soontornvat is an award-winning author, engineer, and STEM educator. Her many works for children include picture books and the Diary of an Ice Princess chapter book series. Her middle grade fantasy novel, A Wish in the Dark, and All ThirteenThe Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team were both named 2021 Newbery Honor Books, and All Thirteen was also a 2021 Boston Globe–Horn Book Nonfiction Honor book.

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