Acclaimed author Christina Soontornvat shared the inspiration for her children’s books, passed on writing tips and offered support and encouragement to Ransom Everglades middle schoolers during the fifth annual One Book, One Day, One School (OBODOS) event on March 2. Soontornvat’s appearance on the Swenson Hall stage provided the highlight of a multi-faceted, day-long celebration of reading, which centered around her John Newbery Medal-winning A Wish in the Dark.
Students and faculty read the book in advance of OBODOS, then spent the day engaging in reflection and activities connected to the book and its themes or characters. They enjoyed a Thai cooking demonstration, learned Thai boxing moves (Muay Thai), and paired up with one partner blindfolded to complete an obstacle course. They also made their way through a maze, escaped from an escape room and participated in quiet meditation in the gymnasium.
The centerpiece of the activities was Soontornvat’s visit to campus. After signing books for students, she shared the story of her storytelling career. She grew up in a small town in Texas to a Thai father and Texas-born mother, both of whom inspired her writing career. She recalled the stories her father told her about growing up along the river in Bangkok, and the simplified version of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables that her mother – an avid reader – shared with her as a young girl.
“I remember being breathless every night when my mom would tell me about it,” she said.
Yet she never imagined she could write for a living.
“The main reason I never thought of being an author was because I was never satisfied with my writing,” she said. But “I always had stories in my mind that I wanted to tell.”
Soontornvat earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at Trinity College and a master’s in science education at the University of Texas at Austin. It wasn’t until she was in her 30s that she published the first of more than 20 books. Among her many titles: All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team, The Tryout and The Last Mapmaker.
She realized, finally, that her stories came alive – after myriad revisions and hours of work. Her first novel took six years to write. Her most recent, a year. She has won Newbery recognition three times. She urged students to be persistent with their work.
“The very hardest thing is writing the middle” of a book, she said. “The beginning is exciting, and ending is exciting. My advice to you is to write a little every day. “
Founded in 1903, Ransom Everglades School is a coeducational, college preparatory day school for grades 6 - 12 located on two campuses in Coconut Grove, Florida. Ransom Everglades School produces graduates who "believe that they are in the world not so much for what they can get out of it as for what they can put into it." The school provides rigorous college preparation that promotes the student's sense of identity, community, personal integrity and values for a productive and satisfying life, and prepares the student to lead and to contribute to society.