Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday - Titan and the Mighty Boars blog tour - 5.08.19

Wednesdays I join Alyson Beecher from kidlitfrenzy and other
#kidlit bloggers to share wonderful nonfiction picture books.
The intention of today's blog post is to give professionals that work in the
education field new nonfiction reading material and ideas to use 
with students to promote a love of reading nonfiction materials.

So many of us sat glued to our TVs last summer while we watched the incredibly brave and dangerous mission of saving the 13 boys on the Thai soccer team from the depths of water-filled cave.  The mission was harrowing and the boys and their coach were on the minds of people all over the world.  While adults watched the news and felt for the boys, even our students were gripped to the story because it was about kids.  They too knew what it is like to be on a team and to be doing something with your teammates.  To see this happen to someone their own age seemed surreal.  

Now we have a book to share with our readers about what happened.  When we read it to kids today it will be recent news.  In a few years, it will be new information to these readers, but the themes of bravery, determination, and teamwork will still hold fast and true.

Titan and the Wild Boars: The True Cave Rescue of the Thai Soccer Team
written by Susan Hood and Pathana Sornhiran
illustrated by Dow Phumiruk
published by HarperCollins

Authors Susan Hood and Pathana Sornhiran have given us the story of Titan, the youngest boy on the soccer team, and his teammates.  What starts out as a fun outing for the boys, quickly turns into a nightmare they never want to revisit.  Hood and Sornhiran tell the important facts of the story but keep it relatable for young readers to appreciate.  

From the very start of the book, there is so much to explore.  Dow Phumiruk's illustrations, rendered in pencil, ink, and charcoal, first show the boys entering the cave with a look of curiosity and amazement on their faces.  Next, we get to explore the endpages which contain a map that shows the direction the boys took and the different parts - stations - of the rescue operation divers worked to get the boys out of the cave.  Also included is a list of the divers names, what part of the cave they were in, and the country in which they reside.

Written in both prose and poetry, the book clearly communicates the emotions in not only the boys, but the divers and all who were involved in the rescue.  And while I watched many newscasts and read online reports when this was happening, I learned even more about what happened through the book.  While news reports state what they currently knew, they typically stay factual and did not convey the emotions.  This book gives us the human side, the emotional side, that gives us even more understanding.

I am very fortunate that both author Susan Hood and illustrator Dow Phumiruk agreed to answer some questions about the book.  Thanks, Susan and Dow!

1.  How did you approach telling this story?

We wanted to make this inspiring story accessible to a picture book audience of elementary school kids. We decided to use a combination of prose and poetry to contrast the frantic rescue efforts outside the cave with the surreal conditions for the boys inside the cave.

2.  Susan and Dow, talk more about the collaboration between the writers and the illustrator.

SH: This is a story about teamwork and international cooperation and we created the book in the same spirit. I teamed up with a co-author, the talented Thai journalist Pathana Sornhiran, who was reporting outside the cave last summer. We owe Pathana so much. Her on-site accounts and translations were invaluable! Both Pathana and Dow brought a Thai sensibility to the book, for which I am so grateful.

DP: In general, for traditionally published books, the editor makes the match between author and illustrator, and there is little collaboration between us until the art is close to final. This project was an exception for good reason, as Susan and Pathana provided valuable feedback during the course of creating the book for accuracy. It added another level of fact checking from the early stages of the project.

3.  What surprised you as you researched and wrote this story?

It shouldn’t have been a surprise, but I was amazed at how difficult it is to research and report developing news. (Most of my other books are based on long-established events.) Rescue plans were constantly evolving given the ever-changing conditions in the cave, so often a news report (from a usually reliable source) was obsolete the day after it was released. It made researching the details of the story extremely tricky. Thank goodness Pathana was there to witness what was happening. I also interviewed two of the divers who personally swam the boys to safety. They were able to help correct a lot of misinformation that was circulating in the press.
I was also impressed with how brave the boys were. They stuck together and endured ten days underground in the dark with no food. Then it was another eight days before they were all rescued! Diver Chris Jewell said, “None of them showed any signs of stress or anxiety. They did everything correctly to help us.”

4.  When did you know you wanted to write this story? 

I was intrigued from the moment I saw a tiny paragraph about the trapped boys in the back pages of The New York Times. I followed the story closely and pitched the book the moment they were safe.

5.  How did you decide to have Titan be the focus of your story?

The boys on the Wild Boars team range in age from 11- to 17-years-old. Titan is the youngest. We chose him as the star of our story because he would be closest in age to our young readers.

6.  What would you like to tell teachers and young readers about this book?

This is a story for our times. Many of the rescuers, including the expert cave divers, thought that getting the boys out alive was Mission Impossible. Their astonishing success shows how courage and teamwork combined with kindness and cooperation really can work miracles!

7.  Dow, talk about the decisions you made for the illustrations.

I started by researching all I could about the boys and the rescue efforts online. I collected all the images I could find as online screenshots in a reference folder I created. I watched interviews with the boys, rescuers, and local volunteers, some which were exclusively in Thai. After sifting through all of this available material, I started sketching digitally to create the layouts. Then I drew with pencil, charcoal, and ink at actual size and brought these back into Photoshop. Combining traditional media and digital art is my usual style, but I tailored my approach for this project by using more textural overlays than I typically do. The rocky surfaces, water, and mud were big features of the setting, and my acrylic splatters and other painted samples in my collection were great for achieving these textures. I utilized many lighting overlays for cave ambience especially. Lastly, my palette for this book was very rich with blues, greens, reds, and golds, while in past projects, I've used more muted colors. The most difficult part of this project is probably easily guessed: consistently drawing 12 boys and their coach as recurring characters throughout the book. Women and girls have always been my focus, but now I can say that I am practiced at drawing boys and men, too. I have joked that one day, when I have some time, I will sit down and count all the hands and feet, fingers and toes, and eyes and ears drawn for this single book! 

Thank you so much, Susan and Dow, for taking the time and answering my questions.  The additional "behind the scenes" information you get from an author and illustrator always fascinates me.  It helps me to not only further understand the book, but I gain a whole new appreciation for the work behind the writing and illustrations!

I know this is a book you'll want to add to your classroom library!  Harper Collins has generously donated a copy of Titan and the Wild Boars to giveaway to a reader.  Please fill out the form for your chance to win!  Giveaway is open through Tuesday, May 14th.


  1. I am excited that this story has been written. What a heart-rending time for everyone. Thanks for the review & the giveaway, Michele.

  2. I'm excited to read it, but a little scared too since I'm claustrophobic!! :)