CAROL GORDON EKSTER: I “met” Tina Cho through social media. Someone connected us on Instagram when I posted a page from my YOU KNOW WHAT? book that I couldn’t read, because it was the Korean translation edition.
Tina was kind enough to have her husband translate it. I became interested in this kind #kidlit author and found out about her inspiring picture book and wanted to know more.
Tina, can you tell us about how you came to write Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans with Little Bee Books, 2018. It is inspiring and beautifully written.
TINA CHO: In May 2016, my teaching colleague invited me to join her as she helped a North Korean refugee church with a rice balloon project in which balloons would carry rice over the border. I thought I would write a children’s magazine article about it. However, as the night wore on, the title Rice from Heaven came to me, and I knew I had to turn this into a picture book.
I want American children to know there are children on the other side of the world who are starving and don’t have much.
CGE: What was the path you traveled to become a children’s author?
TC: I started writing in 2008 in California. I had been an elementary teacher and now would try children’s writing. I joined an SCBWI writing group, took online picture book classes, was involved in the 12×12 picture book challenge, and joined three online picture book critique groups. I do freelance writing for the education world along with traditional children’s writing, and I’m teaching again at an international school. Through all of this, I have grown as a writer and learned so much from the kidlit world.
Finally, two years ago, I landed my agent, Adria Goetz, who I found on Twitter! Now Twitter is my 2nd favorite social media after Facebook 😊 I’ve met some awesome editors as each of my picture books are with different publishing houses—small, medium, and large. They each do things differently, and I’ve enjoyed my experiences so far.
CGE: You now live in Seoul, South Korea. Does that have an effect and influence on your writing?
TC: Living in South Korea has affected my writing. In fact, all four of my picture books have something to do with Korea! These would not have come about, if I hadn’t moved here. And believe me, moving to another country was a big struggle for me, but with God’s help, I’ve conquered it. This coming school year will be our 10th year.
There is a children’s writing community here; however, they speak Korean. And I don’t. I have only attended one of their sessions, because American author Rosemary Wells lectured. There are also some SCBWI members throughout the country. When I moved to Korea, a few of us met once. But again, because of language, we didn’t continue. And some are far away from the Seoul area. Thankfully, South Korea, has the 2nd fastest Internet in the world. So being in three online picture book critique groups has been wonderfully helpful, as well as various Facebook groups. I’m able to chat in real time with many of you. My goal, however, is to make it to an SCBWI writing conference stateside next year!
CGE: You write a variety of genres. Tell us about that and if you have a favorite.
TC: I write fiction and nonfiction picture books, but my favorite is nonfiction because the facts or plot line of a person’s life is already set. I don’t have to make anything up! I just have to uncover the facts and set them to beautiful language. I also like taking a true story and bringing it to life for children, like my first picture book Rice from Heaven. It’s based on a true event that I participated in, but I fictionalized parts of it to protect the refugees and make it suitable for the age group. My fourth picture book is based on real women divers off a South Korean island, most are between 50-80 years old. They dive with no breathing equipment. Again, I fictionalized a story with these haenyeo, women divers, to make it interesting for children.
CGE: What does the future hold for Tina Cho?
TC: Today, August 13, 2019, my second book launches! It is a nonfiction picture book from Tuttle Publishing, KOREAN CELEBRATIONS, about holidays and traditions. I landed this through querying the editor!
MY BREAKFAST WITH JESUS, publishes with Harvest House early 2020, a nonfiction picture book about how children around the world eat different breakfast foods and share Jesus’ love with others. This was my agent’s book idea, and I ran with it!
THE OCEAN CALLS: A MERMAID HAENYEO STORY publishes with Kokila (Penguin Random House’s new imprint) summer 2020. I explained previously this is about the women divers. A girl conquers her fear of diving and follows her haenyeo grandmother’s tradition. I first learned about haenyeo—guess where? On Twitter! That’s why it’s important to be on Twitter!
And my agent is trying to sell my MG novel about North Korean children escapees. (I have many North Korean contacts.)
This summer I look forward to visiting family & friends in Iowa & doing a couple book signings.
CGE: Thanks, Tina. It’s so exciting to hear about your upcoming books. Our #kidlit community here wishes you continued success.
You can connect with Tina here:
email tinamariecho [ a t ] yahoo.com