Welcome, and congratulations to Tina Cho on 4 starred reviews for The Ocean Calls! Bravo! That’s not an easy feat! Today Tina shares her process of “mining for heart” in the writing of this fabulous new picture book about a Korean tradition, grandmothers who dive deep into the sea to harvest its treasures.
Tina has generously offered a GIVEAWAY for a copy of The Ocean Calls! Please leave a comment below to be in the drawing.
Grandmothers have been important in my life. I had a special relationship with three of my grandmothers—my maternal & paternal grandmothers plus my maternal great-grandmother. I’d ride my bike over to their house, play board games or learn to cook something, and occasionally sleep over. During those times we bonded together. And I still bond, although long distance, with my 96-year-old grandma over the phone each weekend.
What does that have to do with my new picture book, The Ocean Calls? I wanted that special intergenerational bond to be at the heart of my story.
And I think I achieved it mostly, because my editor said that was one of the themes that grabbed her. She wanted even more.
I was in awe when I discovered Korean elderly women called haenyeo who dive off the coast of Jeju Island with no breathing equipment. They were strong, powerful, and knowledgeable of the sea. These weren’t your rocking chair grannies. I researched everything I could find about them. And when that wasn’t enough, I had to see them with my own eyes. Yep, my family and I flew to Jeju.
1. The first thing I did to get at the heart of the story was to show bonding. Bonding between my characters—a grandma and her granddaughter. But also, my readers need to bond with my characters. The story starts with Dayeon (pronounced Dah-yeon) and her grandmother stretching and looking out at the ocean when Dayeon says she wants to be a haenyeo like her grandma because she’s like a “treasure-hunting mermaid.” So right off the bat, I have a granddaughter who wants to be like her grandmother & learn a tradition. And I grab today’s generation using a comparison to mermaids. But Dayeon has a fear of swimming in deep water, from the previous summer’s visit to grandma’s house (There’s that bond of spending time together & a relatable incident for young kids). However, Grandma teaches Dayeon the way of the haenyeo in subtle ways—while doing the dishes they practice breathing techniques. She teaches her haenyeo songs and wise advice about how to stay calm. All these come to play when Dayeon faces her fear to dive like a haenyeo.
2. The second thing I did to get at the heart was to write detailed back matter. What does back matter have to do with heart? Well, if you don’t understand who the haenyeo are or their ways, you won’t truly experience the heart of the story. I think I spent more time revising back matter with my editor than I did with the story part! I used four quotes from haenyeo sort of like headers, in which we rearranged all my facts to fit. Reading the back matter is where readers bond with the nonfiction content.
3. The last thing my story needs is application, which will come from you, the readers. I doubt that many of my young readers will go diving with their grandparents. However, I hope that they will think about a special grandparent or elderly person in which they can bond with, spend time with, and learn something with. And if I inspire them to be active with a grandparent, to me, that is heart in action.
Don’t forget to leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of The Ocean Calls!
Bio: Tina Cho is the author of four picture books– Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans (Little Bee Books August 2018), Korean Celebrations (Tuttle August 2019), My Breakfast with Jesus: Worshipping God around the World ( Harvest House June 2, 2020), and The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story (Kokila/Penguin Random House Aug. 4, 2020). Her lyrical middle grade graphic novel, The Tune Without Words, debuts from Harper Alley in 2023. When Tina isn’t teaching or writing, you might find her at the beach, not diving, but hunting for seashells and other sea gifts.