Mining for Heart through Bonding & Back Matter by Tina Cho

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. 

IMG_6505Grandmothers 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.IMG_6591

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.

9781984814869_TheOceanCalls_CV_LR1. 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.

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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.

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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.


45 thoughts on “Mining for Heart through Bonding & Back Matter by Tina Cho

  1. What a beautiful post. It makes me want to read this story even more. I love reading about how an author approaches a nonfiction subject and this sounds like a beautiful weaving of fact and story that will appeal to so so many young readers – and their adults!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So lovely. I love hearing how authors approach a nonfiction subject – and focusing on ‘heart’ was truly inspirational. Can’t wait to read this book.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I first learned about the incredible haenyeo women in White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht. I look forward to your beautiful picture book that I know will bond children with their elders and inspire them to face their fears.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love books about the deep connection between grandmas and grandchildren! I also had close bonds with two grandmas and a great-grandma that continue to this day, even though they have long since passed on. My writing desk was once my grandma’s sewing table, paid for in installments. I do my researching from my great-grandma’s rocking chair. These objects help me remember the lessons they taught me and inspire me as I strive to write to to inspire another generation. Thank you for encouraging children to see their grandparents for the wonderful treasures they are.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Wow! There’s heart in all aspects of your process and undoubtedly what made this a succesful book. Congratulations Tina. This is a book I will definitley look for. I am intrigued by the history of these Korean women, but also of your ability to present it in picture book form.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I enjoyed reading about the history of how this book came to be, the fact that it’s inter- generational, and that more practices and cultures from outside my own are presented. I learned new things just from this interview. So glad you have these memories in your head and heart, and now a book, Tina. Congratulations to all involved!🌎✌🏼💙🎶🎨📚

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Also wanted to say that I like the structure and organization of how this book was written around 4 quotes. I often do that in songwriting, so found the comparison interesting.✌🏼

    Liked by 1 person

  8. By contrast, my grandmother was of the rocking chair variety–a thin and tiny woman with a strong opinion on many subjects. In a million years, I couldn’t picture her diving in the ocean. She was a school teacher who loved to grade the letters I wrote to her (in red pencil). I’m beyond curious and excited to read your book, Tina, to learn more about the way of the haenyeo.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Your grandmother sounds like my mom, Leslie! My mom is a retired ESL teacher, who used to love to redline my work. It made me a better editor, but the grammatical “PTSD” has stayed with me😆

      Liked by 2 people

  9. This is such a beautiful story about the bond between a grandma and her granddaughter! I loved the way Tina showcased culture and tradition. The illustrations are a true work of art as well and allowed me to feel like I was apart of the story.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Congratulations, Tina! I have never heard of the haenyeo. What a fascinating and fun story for you to explore and write. Beautiful illustrations! Look forward to reading your new book that focuses on intergenerational relationships! Doesn’t get better!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I had never thought of back matter as adding to the heart of a story, only as adding more information. But I have intuitively added things to back matter that does this. Now, I will be on the alert to do it consciously or with intent. Thanks, Tina, for sharing how your thought process! And thank you, Beth, for featuring Tina and her book!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve discovered, or should I say others have discovered, that I sometimes put the heart I’m focused on in the back matter more strongly than in the story. So I’ve learned to write the back matter early on and see what emerges there that I may need to strengthen in the story.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Love the title, her deep connection to family, and the sweet sharing of one of her Korean cultural traditions. I also like the hope that readers will make special active memories with their grandparents. Love the illustrations too!

    Liked by 1 person

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