I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at Tina Cho’s debut picture book, RICE FROM HEAVEN, which releases in just a few days. This amazing story, told from the heart, arrives at an opportune time as children are hearing about North Korea in the news. When I learned that the book is based on Tina’s participation in a secret mission to provide food for starving North Koreans, I wanted to know how she took that experience and translated it into a children’s book. Thankfully, Tina obliged my curiosity and agreed to share her story.
I’ll feature RICE FROM HEAVEN in a future Perfect Picture Book Friday post after I can actually get my hands on a copy and soak up the story. But I just couldn’t wait to share this behind the scenes look at such an important picture book.
My debut picture book, Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans is based on a real event that I helped with. Here’s how I made it into a story.
On May 2, 2016, I went with a colleague and others to an undisclosed location in South Korea to help North Korean refugees send rice in huge balloons over the border. Since moving here in 2010, God has given me a passion to help North Koreans. I had never heard of their plight when I lived in the United States. I thought I would turn the experience into a children’s magazine article. I carried a small notebook and asked lots of questions for forming the article. It was a night forecasted for rain, which was best for winds to carry the balloons over the border. We wore ponchos and attached Styrofoam containers to huge helium balloons, 200 of them. And as we let them go into the dark sky, I thought about the children who might find rice in their yard in the morning. That’s when a title struck me: Rice from Heaven. The rice reminded me of the Bible story of manna raining down from heaven for the Israelites.
About a week later, I sat down to write the story. However, it came out as a picture book story, not a magazine article. I wrote it as fiction to avoid using people’s real names and added a girl main character. It has gone through 17 drafts. The first draft was written in third person point of view with too much information, but it has morphed into 1stperson point of view so that I could make it more lyrical.
What is the heart of the story? For me, that last spread of North Korean children happy to find rice is pivotal. But also, the takeaway message for readers, I hope, speaks to their heart to have compassion put into action to help those less fortunate than themselves. I’ve been writing on some of my bookplates, “Grow the grains of kindness,” because it features a lovely rice stalk. I hope at least one child’s heart is stirred from this important story.
As most of you know, this summer President Trump met with the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to bring about change, especially with nuclearization. I hope change does come; however, until the concentration camps are dismantled and North Korean families can be free and filled with food, the country is still oppressed. I hope Rice from Heaven will shed light on the situation.
Thank you, Beth, for having me on your wonderful blog!
Tina Cho is the author of three picture books– Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans (Little Bee Books/Bonnier Publishing August 2018), Korean Celebrations (forthcoming Tuttle 2019) and Breakfast with Jesus (forthcoming Harvest House 2020). Although she grew up and taught in the United States, she currently lives in South Korea with her husband and two children while teaching at an international school.
You can visit and learn more about Tina Cho at:
her website: http://www.tinamcho.com
Facebook: Tina Wheatcraft Cho