With two books out this summer, it's time my website gets a new look. Please take a look around. What do you think? What could I do to make it even better?
News: My new picture book My Breakfast with Jesus is getting reviews on social media. If you've read it, I'd love for you to leave a book review on Amazon, Good Reads, B&N & share about it. It's a great way to segue into a discussion about race and culture with kids. I'm @TinaMCho on Instagram & Twitter.
Star-worthy news: The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story has received THREE stars so far! One each from Kirkus, Booklist, and Publisher's Weekly. I'm grinning from ear to ear. Only my teens don't get it. haha Only my writing tribe understands.
My daughter painted this verse for me for my birthday. It's what I base my writing on.
Happy official summer! How are you doing?
My 3rd picture book released quietly into a troubled world on June 2nd. This nonfiction picture book features children from around the world eating various breakfasts and showing Jesus' love & kindness. How the world needs this now! Use this to teach kids about diversity and that Jesus loves them no matter what color their skin is. On that same topic, I wrote this blog post for the Christian Mommy blog, "9 Ways to Encourage Your Children to Think Globally." My heart hurts for my home country of the USA. I'm praying for you daily!
Leading up to the book's release, I tried something new--doing short videos on Instagram Stories. I featured a breakfast and 1 spread from the book for five days. I saved all the videos on my Instagram Profile under "Breakfasts," if you'd like to see some of them. I'm tinamcho on Instagram. Follow me, & I will follow you.
If you'd like a chance to win this book, check out 2020 Vision's debut June picture books rafflecopter here.
Today was my last day teaching at this international school in Korea. I've taught kindergarten at this school for 4 years. Time to move on. But change is hard! Please pray for us as we seek what God has for us.
Proverbs 22:6 Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.
It's Children's Day here in Korea, and we've been blessed with the day off from school & work. If you'd like to know more about Korea's Children's Day, I blogged about it here. My kids are in high school now, and so we celebrated by eating at Subway and doing some light shopping. Plus, it was a rainy day.
Things are easing up in Korea. Korean public schools will start next week with grades staggered. International schools like mine are still working on their schedules.
May is also Children's Book Week. I thought I'd share some favorite books my kids have enjoyed over the years.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon trilogy by Grace Lin
The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
Stink The Incredible Shrinking Kid series by Megan McDonald
The Lemonade Wars series by Jacqueline Davies
Geronimo Stilton series
Dork Diaries series by Rachel Russell
The Cupcake Diaries series by Coco Simon
Thea Stilton series
Cam Jansen series by David Adler
The Cul-de-sac Kids series by Beverly Lewis
Linda Sue Park's MG novels
Are you seeing a consistency? At least with my kids, upper elementary through teenage years are hooked on a series. Mine were comfortable with a certain author and then would buy/check out all the subsequent books.
I must share one favorite board book of each of my kids.
Can you guess who liked which one? Well, enjoy Children's Book Week with your favorites & the children in your life!
Part of being an author means we learn new things, especially about social media, right? I've conquered Facebook & Twitter. I've been lurking around Instagram and posting photos now and then. Lately, I learned there's a whole new world in Instagram with Instagram Stories. Who knew there were more hidden goodies in the circled rings around people's names? Oh goodness, have I got a lot to learn. I have to beg my teenaged kids to help their elderly mom. haha So TODAY I'm doing my first-ever Instagram live interview with author Jessica Kim, of the new middle grade, STAND UP, YUMI CHUNG. I'm almost done reading this awesome book. One you need to put on your list! Anyway, if you're free this afternoon/early evening depending on your time zone, do check in the Kokila Instagram channel. I'll be waking up super early on my Saturday morning to participate. And I cleaned my office just for you. Hope to SEE you. And please follow me. @TinaMCho. If you have Instagram tips, please leave them in the comments!
Update: Here's the recording of my part: https://photos.app.goo.gl/Wfp9CjAx8TSyo2TV6
I thought I'd update my blog and let you know what's going on in my part of the world. If you follow me on social media, you probably already know. Our school has been closed by the government for 1 week due to coronavirus. We are now starting week 2. And the government just announced schools will be closed through 3/23. God help us all! At the time of this writing, there are 4,335 cases in Korea with 26 deaths. Every hour the number rises.
My day has now given over to online learning or schooling. Since I teach kindergarten, I rewrite my lessons for the parents to teach to their children. I video myself teaching at least 1 lesson every day. I upload videos, worksheets, all assignments to an online platform called Class Dojo. Students work from home and upload their assignments to their online portfolio. Writing lessons in a new way, working with parents, videoing, checking assignments--it's more time consuming than regular teaching. My teenage children receive their instruction through Google Hangouts and Google Classroom etc... They are online from 9 - 3:30 with a break for lunch. We are not the only country doing this. Most countries in Asia are now doing online school. Some have been doing it since January!
Can we go out? Sure, but on our own risk. We wear a mask wherever we go, but as they say, the best protection is washing hands with soap & warm water. There are 5 cases in my big city, most of the cases are in the southern part of Korea. Many times throughout the day, the government sends emergency alert text messages telling us if someone in the area just became infected and what stores and places to avoid.
Because the government says not to have assemblies, we even had online church, live streaming. It's easy to get downcast, having to stay inside all the time. But we have to remember, God is greater than the coronavirus! Pastor shared the popular verse, Isaiah 40:31 "but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." Be like an eagle and soar above the storm! Whatever your "storm" is today, rise above it and just keep writing!
In 2010, we moved to South Korea for my husband's work. At churches I heard about people helping North Korean escapees. I had never heard about them in the states. I researched on the Internet, reading all the articles I could find, watching You Tube videos about them. Most of the articles kept mentioning a Pastor Chun, calling him the "Schindler of Asia." So in 2012 I looked him up, found his church & school for North Korean children, and with my husband translating, I interviewed him & two North Korean boys who had recently escaped. Afterward I set out to write a picture book manuscript about this fascinating story. First draft was written November 29, 2012. It went through 16 miserable drafts with my faithful critique group Pens & Brushes, until a couple of them piped up and said I should try this as a middle grade novel.
A MG novel? I had never written one before. Another critique partner, Nancy I. Sanders, had a self-paced course "How to Write a Middle Grade Novel in One Month," which I took. I already had the basic plot line. I wrote the 21 chapters between March/April 2015. Revised 4 times with some beta-readers & used editor Cheryl Klein's book Second Sight. Then someone told me about the Scholastic Asian Book Award--submit a story about Asia, written by an Asian. That's me. I had nothing to lose. I was floored when someone contacted me that my MG novel had been shortlisted for this award, and would I fly to Singapore for the results? In May 2016, I took a day off from teaching, flew to Singapore for the Asian Festival of Children's Content conference, when I discovered the renowned picture book historian & author, Leonard Marcus, was one of the judges! My MG novel titled at that time, Chasing Freedom: The Asian Underground Railroad, won 2nd place, or what they called 1st Runner Up. Scholastic Asia wanted to publish. I blogged about that experience here.
After receiving the contract from Scholastic Asia, I didn't feel that it was right for me and my story. $500SG + few edits. I knew that since it was my first novel, it needed a lot of work. After talking to many professionals in the industry, I passed.
In December 2016, I signed with my wonderful agent, Adria Goetz, who loved a couple of my picture book manuscripts. I told her about this novel, and she agreed to help. From 2017-2018 I revised with Adria. She sent it out to editors, and they sent back rejections. I revised per their suggestions. She sent it out again. 11 rejections. Then Adria had a wild idea. Try writing it as a novel in verse. She had just sold one, and my previous picture book, RICE FROM HEAVEN: THE SECRET MISSION TO FEED NORTH KOREANS was written as a lyrical picture book. Adria knows my writing better than me. I loved reading novels in verse but had never written one.
So I read the great novel in verse authors' works that I could get my hands on, checked them out from the library when I was in the states during summer, even took an SCBWI Novel in Verse webinar with author K.A. Holt. During the latter part of 2018 - beginning of 2019 I worked on rewriting this as poetry.
Until March 2019, I sort of QUIT. I was depressed. Who was I to try to write a novel in verse? or a MG? I don't classify myself as a poet. Some parts of the story just weren't coming together. Being across the ocean from my agent, somehow Adria could sense something was wrong. She emailed me to have a phone chat in April. Just what I needed. Adria was such an encourager, a believer in me & my writing, and gave me a great pep talk & kick in the pants, so to speak.
With encouragement & prayers, I finished the 5th novel in verse revision that May, and we changed the title to The Tune without Words b/c there was already another book with my previous title. She sent it out to editors. In June editor Carolina from Harper Collins asked if we were interested in publishing it as a lyrical novel in verse GRAPHIC NOVEL.
A graphic novel?! Truthfully, I had only read 1 previous graphic novel of my niece's--one of Raina Telgemeier's books. I'm not really into say-- superhero graphic novels & comics. (no offense!) I did read comics growing up, The Sunday Funnies like Peanuts, Garfield, Dennis the Menace, Cathy, etc...
But graphic novels have changed! Blogging friends showcased graphic novels that were being published about historical topics and nonfiction. Articles are being written on the effects of students reading them in the classroom. While in Iowa during the summer, one that I really liked was HIDDEN: A CHILD'S STORY OF THE HOLOCAUST written by Loic Dauvillier & Greg Salsedo, illustrated by Marc Lizano. So I told Adria, yes, let's go for it.
The editor from Harper Collins found an illustrator, Deborah Lee, a Korean American illustrator in CA, who would illustrate a sample poem so we could get an idea. She sent illustration samples in August. I fell in love with the characters & color palette. It was so poignant & made me cry. I want children in the U.S. and around the world to know that as we speak--some kids in N.K. are escaping or living hidden in China. With Deb's illustrations, this story will really come to life and especially bring out the cultural aspects that people might not be familiar with.
I signed the contract in November, my biggest yet, & received first edits in December which I submitted & will continue to revise until it's perfecto! Carolina has been a wonderful editor for this story.
But even better--God has perfect timing. I've been wanting this story to be out in the world, but it wasn't the time yet. Most of you know I teach at an international school in S.Korea. I've wanted them to do a service ministry with North Korean refugees but it never worked out, until now! The same North Korean school run by Pastor Chun agreed to have some of our high school students come in March to do an English camp with their 40 North Korean children. I'm one of the teachers on the team. And now I can share with him that this story finally sold & will become reality in 2022! God is good. His timing is perfect.
Sorry to ramble on and on, but don't give up on your story. If you believe that it needs to be told, find the best format/genre/style, take classes, study the craft, and it will get out into the world ❤️
Happy 2020! A new year of hope. My word for the year.
"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you HOPE and a future." Jeremiah 29:11
I received a perfect gift from my publisher Harvest House--a book called My Unedited Writing Year by Hope Lyda to help spawn creativity in my writing! It's like a journal in which I write down ideas and answers to their prompts.
2019 was a great writing year for me. KOREAN CELEBRATIONS published by Tuttle debuted. I worked on revisions and edits for My Breakfast with Jesus which comes out June 2nd from Harvest House and revisions for The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story from Kokila imprint of Penguin Random House which comes out August 4th.
My agent sold another manuscript. Details will be announced soon. I can't wait to share!
Meanwhile, I'm in the midst of a 3-week Christmas break from school and will return to teaching my precious kindergartners on January 9th. I'm also trying to recover from bronchitis which seems like I've had the past month or more. I'm participating in Tara Lazar's Storystorm, writing down a book idea each day in January.
2020 will be an interesting year. My daughter will graduate from high school. Acceptances to various universities are rolling in. My two picture books mentioned above will publisher this summer. I spent New Year's Day writing and revising. Scroll down for a fun, cuddly, inspiring photo from my research!
You never know where writing research will take you! This, by far, is my favorite photo from it. Happy New Year! May you be blessed with abundant writing, creativity, and contracts.
They are almost twins. My Breakfast with Jesus publishes with Harvest House Publishers June 2, 2020. The Ocean Calls publishes with Kokila/Penguin Random House August 4, 2020. It's been so much fun watching them come from story idea, to selling to a publisher to being assigned an illustrator to seeing the final covers! Now I'm awaiting the arcs. My Breakfast with Jesus was actually the story idea of my awesome agent, Adria Goetz, who told me I should write this story. She knows my writing better than I do! And it sold. The Ocean Calls started with a tweet on Twitter that I read about haenyeo. I was fascinated with these granny divers, looked them up and was hooked. There were no picture books about them. So I wrote it after lots of research and traveling to watch them. More on that later!
In the meantime, more book news is on the way. While I wait, I continue to write & revise my WIPS with my three critique groups. And I'm thankful to attend SCBWI online webinars and hear more great writing advice. How's your writing?
My 2nd picture book is out today, August 13th, 2019, from Tuttle Publishing. This nonfiction children's book is like it says, all about Korean festivals, holidays, and traditions with recipes, games, and crafts mixed in.
A colleague asked me which of my picture books is my favorite. I told her what most authors say--each book is like our own child. We love them all. Korean Celebrations, in particular, had a long birthing period, NINE YEARS from conception to birth!
If you want to know the backstory, keep reading.
Before we moved to Korea in 2010, I was part of a wonderful in person critique group in California headed by the awesome author, Nancy I. Sanders. She lands many contracts BEFORE she writes the book. She told us her strategy. She queries publishers with ideas that could fill a hole in their publishing line. So I tried it. I came across Tuttle Publishing in Vermont and noticed they had a book on Japanese Celebrations and Filipino Celebrations. But nothing about Korean holidays. So I came up with four book ideas, including Korean Celebrations, and sent them a query on July 29, 2011. FIVE months later, the acquisitions editor emailed and said yes, send detailed proposals, starting with Korean Celebrations.
Insert: [September 2010 our family moved to South Korea for my husband's work. I noticed that Korea had holidays almost every month. So that was another reason for writing this book. I wanted my kids to know about the holidays.]
I researched and wrote up an outline (TOC) and sent it in. FIVE months later I had heard nothing and inquired. My proposal had been passed to the children's editor, Terri Jadick. NINE months later (March 2013) Terri got back to me stating they really needed an illustrator before she could propose the book to the committee. So the illustrator search began.
Two possible illustrators made sketches for the job. But for various reasons, they turned down the project. Finally, July 2017, I signed the contract, as they had found a new illustrator, Farida Zaman, a Toronto based artist who had traveled worldwide. I love her watercolor illustrations. By this time, I had an agent, the lovely Adria Goetz, and so she handled everything for me.
October 18, 2018 I saw via pdf the inside of my book. It's always a happy day when you see your words come to life. February 5, 2018 they sent me the cover, And July 16, 2019, while at my sister's house in Iowa, I received my book copies.
And today, August 13, 2019, KOREAN CELEBRATIONS is out in the world!
The moral of this backstory: Never give up on a book idea. It might take years, but it's worth it. And YOU can come up with book ideas and query a publisher, too! It might just work!
I was invited back to help with the rice project which I wrote about in my picture book RICE FROM HEAVEN. This time, it was the prepping of the rice and balloons for the North Korean refugee church's next launch. They wait for rainy weather to send the balloons up. So Saturday June 1st, my husband and I rode the subway for an hour to Seoul. (Previously I had helped with the balloon launch in 2016 and didn't get to participate in this prepping step.)
It was very organized with a meeting first. The N. Korean pastor told of their project's history and purpose. Before he was a Christian he just wanted North Korea to basically be destroyed. But after he became a Christian, God placed on his heart to show love to them, and one of the ways is through this rice balloon project. The church buys bags of rice, around 20 kg per bag, and then they measure the rice into plastic bags, put 3 plastic bags in a Styrofoam box, and tape them up. They also buy plastic to make their own balloons. My husband and I helped on the rice side. Most of the volunteers are North Korean refugees. Some are South Koreans or foreigners like myself who either attend the church or are helping with the project.
The pastor also brought out my book and showed the volunteers as some were new. I'm thankful to support such an important project. And an added bonus: I met a North Korean who studied at Iowa State University last year in their intensive English program. (I'm from Iowa.) What a small world for a North Korean refugee to study in Iowa! As I said in the author's note of my book, we may never know if they even receive this rice. But I hope they feel the love and care that was sent to them. Perhaps it will be a malnourished soldier who takes it. I've heard a true story of a soldier who found literature, escaped, and found the organization that sent it.
Tina M. Cho, children's author
I'm a children's author and freelance writer for the educational market. Welcome!