I am honored to host an author’s interview with Tina Cho, a kidlit friend of mine. Although we’ve never met, I feel we are kindred spirits, as we share a common faith and educational background. Her latest book “Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans” was released August 14th, and inspired by true life events.
What a blessing Tina could not only participate in such a mission, but write about it to make others aware of the heartbreaking situation in North Korea. Most children have no idea how difficult life can be in other parts of the world. I’m sure they will be surprised, even as I was, at the full extent of their difficulties. Those of us living in developed countries have so much compared to the citizens of North Korea.
I love the storyline! The message is clear— a little bit of compassion goes a long way to ease the hardships of those less fortunate. Even one child can make a difference. The text draws children in from the start:
“Out in the countryside, across a bridge, to an island blanketed with rice fields, Appa and I ride. We reach a place where mountains become a wall. A wall so high, no one dares to climb.”
And the illustrations are charming and colorful, just like the story. Take a look!
Well, without further ado, let’s move on . . .
-Thanks, Tina, for taking the time to answer a few questions. The life of a published author (and one who teaches full time, too) is very full, I’m sure. So, tell us what inspired you to write the story.
Since moving to Korea in 2010, I heard about the plight of North Korean refugees, especially at church. I had never heard about them before. My colleague tutored some of these refugees English and told me about the rice balloon launch. I accompanied and helped with this event. I knew I would write something about it.
-And we are glad you did! I know your faith is a strong part of your life, as it is in mine. What part does it play in your writing?
My writing tends not to be strictly for the Christian market, go figure, but I’m able to allude to Christian elements through my writing. I discussed this more in detail at the Rate Your Story blog here. I want children to have wholesome stories and of course, come to know Jesus.
-So, was authorship always a goal of yours, or did it come unexpectedly?
When I became a writer, of course, my goal was to be an author of a book. But beforehand, I was only a teacher and wasn’t writing.
-Did anything about writing/publishing surprise or disappoint you?
I think the disappointments in writing are the wait time involved to hear back from publishers and of course, rejections. The surprising part of publishing is realizing someone wants to publish my stories! I can’t get over the fact that someone wants to pay me for my writing! I’m also surprised/happy with all the book love from kidlit friends like you!
-Awwww, thanks, Tina! So what inspires you most about writing for children?
Children are our future. The Bible says to tell the next generation the good things of the Lord. I want to leave a legacy for my children and future grandchildren. Our kids need to know about kindness, compassion, and the people who lived before them who were great examples of these principles.
-Amen to that! I agree wholeheartedly. On that note, tell us a bit about your childhood. . .
I grew up in Iowa with plenty of books. I remember my mom reading to me and also I enjoyed listening to books on record albums! (that shows my age)
-Ha! I remember that, too, Tina. Now that you are a full time school teacher, when do you find time to write?
Evenings and Saturdays
-And where is your favorite place to write?
I write in my tiny office off my bedroom. It’s really a tiny room between the bedroom and bathroom and has a vanity, but it’s big enough for a small table with my laptop and little floor shelf.
-Oooh. Sounds good to me . . . I’ve always wanted a tiny house!
All writers want to know— do you have a solution for writer’s block?
Take a shower! I don’t know what it is, but taking a shower always seems to help.
-Now that’s a unique solution . . . I think you win the prize for originality!
One tidbit of advice for aspiring writers?
Join critique groups! My writing is stronger because of all my writing friends.
-I definitely agree, Tina! Do you have a favorite go-to beverage while writing?
Water, Dr. Pepper if I’m sleepy, and I like a Japanese plum juice called maeshil here in Korea.
-Mmmmm. Japanese plum juice . . .sounds inspiring! So, pantser or planner?
-Pen or keyboard?
Both. I plan in my notebook with a pen, and then move to the keyboard.
-Do you have a favorite vacation spot?
Flying home to the States! But a unique vacation we took last March was to a southern island of Korea called Jeju. It’s like the Hawaii of Korea. I did research for a story.
-Aaaahhhh. I can sense another book in the making. . . What were your favorite books as a child? As an adult?
One book I still have is Little Rabbit’s Loose Tooth by Lucy Bate. I also read anything by Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and the Betsy Book Series by Carolyn Haywood.
As an adult, I’m mostly reading kids’ books so I can stay up on what’s out in the market. I’ve recently enjoyed Ruta Sepetys’ YA books, and I’m currently reading The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl, written by a writing friend, Stacy McAnulty.
-Hmmmmm. I’ll put Stacy’s book on my reading list, too. And I do love Ruta’s books as well— especially “Salt to the Sea.” This might be obvious, but do you have a favorite genre to write?
-So, where do you get your ideas?
From my kids, my students, and from being in another country.
-Other than joining a critique group, do you have any last minute tips for kidlit writers?
Never give up! And join SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).
-Tell us one thing most people don’t know about you . . .
I’m left-handed. I guess this is on my mind because it was Left-Handed Day recently, and I read an awesome article about how handedness is determined as early as 18 weeks in the womb.
That’s fascinating, Tina! Thanks so much for sharing a part of your writing life with us. I trust your new book will be read around the world!
For the whole story of how Tina was inspired to write, “Rice from Heaven,” click here.
You can find a copy here. And it’s selling out fast!
Connect with Tina:
Have you read Tina’s latest book? Were you aware of the situation in North Korea? We’d love to get your help input below!
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My MG Biblical fiction "The Heart Changer" debuted in 2019 with Ambassador International.