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 (Scholastic). Her middle grade fantasy novels, A Wish in the Dark and The Last Mapmaker, plus nonfiction title All ThirteenThe Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team (all Candlewick) were each named Newbery Honor Books. All Thirteen was also a 2021 Boston Globe–Horn Book Nonfiction Honor book and The Last Mapmaker received a 2023 Walter Honor in the younger readers category.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing.