Titan and the Wild Boars: Interview with Susan Hood and Dow Phumiruk

Today I’m thrilled to welcome Susan Hood and Dow Phumiruk to my blog to discuss their new title releasing tomorrow (5/7/19), Titan and the Wild Boars: The True Cave Rescue of the Thai Soccer Team. 

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First, let’s hear from Susan!

Hi, Dylan! Great to be here again! Co-author and Thai journalist Pathana Sornhiran sends her regards and wishes she could join us, but she’s traveling for work in Asia.

Tell us a little bit about your new book, Titan and the Wild Boars, from your perspective.

Titan and the Wild Boars is a nonfiction picture book about the true cave rescue of the Thai soccer team last summer. It focuses on the youngest team member, eleven-year-old Titan, the boy closest in age to our readers. I co-authored the book with Pathana, a talented Thai journalist who was reporting outside the cave last year. The book combines prose and poetry to reflect both the frantic efforts of the rescuers outside the cave and the surreal conditions for the boys trapped inside. Extensive back matter includes additional resources, maps, a timeline, fascinating facts, and an interview with Chris Jewell and Jason Mallinson, two of the best cave divers in the world, who personally swam the boys to safety.

Tell us about each of your processes writing this book.

Pathana and I wrote the book together based on Pathana’s on-site reporting, supplemented with research from other sources—a variety of online press reports and videos noted in the back of the book and online. It was tricky. We often found errors and inconsistencies in the press because of translation errors and because rescue plans were constantly evolving given the ever-changing conditions in the cave. For example, most illustrations in the press showed the boys swimming out of the cave or on a plastic stretcher (called a Sked) underwater. Neither was true. The passage was tricky enough for expert divers to navigate let alone inexperienced boys who might panic. The boys were sedated and carried on Skeds, but these stretchers were only used in the sections of the cave that were not underwater, according to diver Chris Jewell. Poor Dow was very patient with “late-breaking news” that required changing the art. (Thank you, Dow!) We all wanted to get it right! In the case of discrepancies, we relied on Pathana’s translations and reports as well as our consultation with the divers who actually rescued the boys on those final days.

What about this story drew you in?

This story grabbed me by the heart from the moment I saw a tiny paragraph about the missing boys in the back pages of The New York Times. What I LOVE about this story was that, despite these terrifyingly divisive times, these boys managed to bring the whole world together in kindness.

More than twenty countries put aside their differences and joined forces to tackle what many called “Mission Impossible.” The rescue effort was a stunning example of the miracles that can occur with international cooperation.

Why is this a “must have” title for classrooms and libraries?

If there was ever a true story about teamwork, this is it! The boys stayed together in the cave and looked out for each other, taking turns sleeping in the tight space on the rocky ledge and digging for an escape route. Imagine if they had split up and were not found together! Outside the cave, thousands of people from all over the world came together to lend their help, money and expertise; to donate supplies; to cook for the rescuers; to do their laundry; to search for other escape routes atop the mountain; to pray for the boys; to report the news to the waiting world.

The book is also a tribute to courage. What these cave divers faced was unprecedented: monsoon rains, powerful currents, the deafening roar of the water, sharp rocks, mudslides, whirlpools, impossibly tight passages, zero visibility. In the beginning, the divers doubted they could bring the boys out alive, but they dove in and gave it their all anyway, with tremendous results.

Finally, the book is about acceptance and forgiveness. Everyone recognized that mistakes happen. No one blamed the boys or their young coach for their misadventures.

For classrooms and libraries that want to learn more, numerous articles and videos in the back of the book and online provide a great jumping-off point for discussions with kids.

What can readers expect from you in the future?

I have a new book coming out from Candlewick Press. It’s with the illustrator right now, but I can’t talk about it yet. And I’m in the research stage for three new ideas in three different genres.

Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?

Many thanks to you, Dylan, for helping us celebrate the launch of our book and for all you do to connect kids and books!

And now, here are Dow’s answers!

Tell us a little bit about your new book, Titan and the Wild Boars, from your perspective.

It’s an incredible story of people coming together from all over the world to help save these boys, a feat of impressive teamwork by necessity for this common goal.

Tell us about your process for illustrating this book.

I will agree that we were all committed to accuracy, and I think our book-making team’s dedication to this project makes it very special. I had no problems with revising as needed (happy to do so, Susan!). One example on my end is that close to deadline, I recalled an interview with the team where they mentioned that one of the boys was wearing a watch. I went back and put a watch on that boy and ended up resubmitting several spreads! Probably my biggest hurdle was in getting to know these boys enough to capture their likenesses. I have never drawn such a large group of recurring characters for a book. It probably goes without saying that the illustrations for this project were the most challenging in my career to date.

 What about this story drew you in?

Like Susan, I love how this is a story that highlights the kindness in efforts of so many people, so many of whom were strangers to one another. In addition, as an immigrant from Thailand, I knew I could not say no to being a part of this project! My parents would’ve been so proud to know that their American-raised daughter could illustrate this adventure set in Thailand to share with kids all over the world.

Why is this a “must have” title for classrooms and libraries?

I’ll add the obvious diversity aspect: that this inspirational story with its universal themes will bring kids an awareness of children who are much like themselves, despite being on the other side of the world. Titan and his friends love soccer, adventure, and their families. When given the opportunity to write letters home while still trapped, they wrote, “I love you all. I miss you.” They joked about what they wanted to eat after they were home. I can imagine they are just like kids I know and love. I also think a story of heartening global effort should be shared again and again. It is a reminder of our shared humanity.

What can readers expect from you in the future?
I have a few projects in the works. For two I am the illustrator, and for another two I am both author and illustrator (for the first time!).

Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?

I hope you will check out our book. Thank you so much again for having us here, Dylan!

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