Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Out Of Darkness

We are captivated by events in our communities, cities, states and country, some more than others as a result of personal connections.  We have, along with many others, felt much joy and deep sadness, laughed until we cry and wept uncontrollably and known unbearable loss. As citizens of the world, we find ourselves missing a lot of happenings but some capture not only our attention but the attention of people around the globe.  We watch and feel with a collective consciousness.

One event, lasting eighteen days, kept the world riveted to any available access to the news.  Titan and the Wild Boars: The True Cave Rescue of the Thai Soccer Team (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, May 7, 2019) written by Susan Hood and Pathana Sornhiran with illustrations by Dow Phumiruk is a moving, memorable and accurate account of those eighteen days.  Once you begin this reading the words and pictures will hold you fast until the final page. 

Like his friends in Mae Sai and many kids in Thailand, eleven-year-old Chanin grew up obsessed with soccer.  He started playing at age six and joined the Wild Boars team a couple of years later.

Nicknamed Titan by his family, Chanin is a fierce competitor despite his small size.  His commitment to the sport is obvious in his training and in his saving for his own new shoes.  On June 23, 2018 after a Saturday soccer practice, Titan's life and the lives of eleven other players and their coach change drastically.  They decide to hike inside a cave six miles from the practice field.  Monsoon season has not started, so they believe they are safe.

Unbeknownst to the thirteen, the rains start in earnest while they are exploring.  Upon turning around to go back to the entrance, they find the tunnel flooding with water.  Coach Ek leads them to a ledge farther into the cave.  The boys pray.  Their coach offers assurances.  He asks them to turn off their flashlights.  It is completely dark.

The news of the missing boys and their coach being trapped within the cave sends shock waves around the world.  Helpers and experts in diving and rescue, numbering in the thousands, come from many countries.  Pumps are put in place to try to lower the water levels. People search for other possible entrances and exits to the cave with no luck.  Inside the cave, Coach Ek teaches the boys meditation to help calm them.  They try to sleep on the rocky spot, drink water dripping from the ceiling, dig through the cave walls and try not to think of their constant hunger.  Day five comes and goes.

Divers are trying to locate the boys and their coach.  The water current is swift and dark with stirred-up silt.  The temperature is bone-chilling.  Dangers lurk in the form of mudslides, huge boulders (house size) and narrow passages.   They set up guidelines along a pathway and leave spare air tanks at selected positions.  After ten day . . . ten days . . .Titan and his teammates hear something.  It's two divers!

In each of the succeeding days, divers make the arduous journey to the boys.  Communications are exchanged between the trapped and their waiting families.  More supplies and equipment arrive to assist in the rescue but on day fourteen tragedy strikes. 

Petty Officer First Class Saman Kunan, a thirty-eight-year-old former Thai Navy SEAL diver and volunteer

dies on his way back to the entrance.

Time is running out for the boys; more rain is coming, and their air supply is diminishing.  Did you know four divers stayed with them until all the boys were rescued?  Did you know how the boys are prepared to be rescued?    Did you know only four were rescued each day?  This factual narrative reads like an action-packed thriller regardless of the facts we know about the outcome. 

Written with meticulous care by Susan Hood and Pathana Sornhiran, a journalist born and raised in Thailand who reported outside the cave last summer, readers are given a sensory and intimate perspective of the trapped boys and their coach and the efforts of all those gathered to save them.  In telling this nonfiction narrative by focusing on the youngest member, Titan, we become keenly aware of each portion of the event as it unfolds.  Through a blend of prose and poetry we feel as though we are in the cave with the boys and the divers. 

Tension builds as the days are divided into sections divulging what occurs inside and outside the cave.  What becomes abundantly clear is the courage and determination of everyone involved.  Including letters from the boys and correspondence from their families heightens our involvement.  Quotes from The Buddha are included.  (Coach Ek was a novice at a monastery for ten years.)  Here is a poetic passage in part and some narrative text.

Stone-cold water
whirling, swirling
sounds of falls
echoed off the walls
smells of mud, sweat, fear
dank humid air
closed in like the jagged rocks
above and below
hunger pains
endless rains

Narrow passages in the rock (one only fifteen inches high) obstructed
progress; the divers could not fit through with their air tanks.  Hours went by,
and each time the tanks ran low, the divers couldn't just surface to breathe.
They were forced to turn back.
Where could the boys be? the divers wondered.  How would they find
them?  And after so many days without food, could they still be alive?

It is with a sense of growing anticipation that we look at the matching dust jacket and book case rendered using pencil, charcoal, and ink sketches and Photoshop to create the digital illustrations by artist Dow Phumiruk.  We are led into the cave through the glow of flashlights (torches) by the boys.  We can see the excitement and curiosity reflected on their faces.  To the left, on the back, on a green canvas a large circle frames the faces of the boys lying in a circle, head to head, with a soccer ball in the center.  Colorful folded cranes sent by well-wishers flutter from left to right and bottom to top.

On the opening and closing endpapers using orange on a paler orange Dow Phumiruk has drawn a map of the cave entrance to the place where the boys are found.  It gives us a visual perspective of the distance between points, stations and pertinent notes as well as a list of the divers and their locations.  Distances are in meters.  On the title page we see the boys riding their bikes to the entrance of the cave.  Our point of view is as if we are inside looking out.  The verso and dedication pages are a vast landscape view of the area; mountains, fields, roadways and, in the scheme, the small entrance to the cave are shown.  The placement of clouds hint at the humidity.

With each illustration, whether a double-page picture, full-page image or several visuals gathered together on one or two pages, Dow Phumiruk brings us deeply into the emotional moments of this story.  We sense the urgency of the rescuers' endeavors and the stress faced by the boys and their coach.  She shifts perspective to accentuate each portion of the story.  Every element is placed in her illustrations with intention.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  Darker colors are used here as we are inside the cave.  On the right two divers each carry a single boy with them to safety.  Along the bottom, on the left and right, almost in silhouette, are a series of divers and rescue workers assisting in helping the boys.  Above this on the right sits Titan and his coach, wondering if they will be saved.  Behind them are the other three boys waiting to leave the cave.  They are the last to leave.  The only light is supplied by head lamps and a large lamp on solid ground above the water.  It's important to note that Dow Phumiruk uses the color in the boys' soccer shirts to add, in my opinion, hope.

Without hesitation I highly recommend Titan and the Wild Boars: The True Cave Rescue of the Thai Soccer Team written by Susan Hood and Pathana Sornhiran with illustrations by Dow Phumiruk for your professional and personal collections.  You will find yourself moved to tears more than once at the bravery and teamwork exhibited by these humans.  I am grateful for the collaborative efforts of Susan Hood, Pathana Sornhiran and Dow Phumiruk to bring this story to us.  At the close of the book is More About the Cave Rescue, Fascinating Facts, The Wild Boars, Stateless No More, Legend of the Tham Luang Nang Non Caves, a Timeline: June to July 2018, an Interview with British Divers Chris Jewell and Jason Mallinson, words about Saman Kunan and Sources and Interesting Websites.

To learn more about Susan Hood and Dow Phumiruk and their other work, please access their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Susan Hood has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  Dow Phumiruk has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  The book trailer premiere along with interviews is found on Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher's site, Watch. Connect. Read.  At Mile High Reading the site of Dylan Teut, director of the Plum Creek Children's Literacy Festival in Seward, Nebraska, there is an interview with Susan Hood and Dow Phumiruk.  Pathana Sornhiran was traveling in Asia for her work at the time.  You can read portions of the beginning of the book at the publisher's website.

To view the other titles selected this week by participants in the 2019 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge, please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher.

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