Today is the last in a series on why representation matters in picture books written by me. Next week, you can find details on how to win picture books from each of the four authors in the series: Dorina Lazo Gilmore-Young, Xochitl Dixon, Dorena Williamson, and me.
Growing up in the Midwest in the 1970s, I don’t recall reading any books with characters that looked like me. In fact, I often forgot I was different on the outside. Inside I was a little white girl. Imagine the confusion I continue to entertain in my brain. Who am I?
I think the first time I saw an Asian character was in my daughter’s chapter books, The Cul-de-Sac Kids. She fell in love with that series because of it. A few years ago, my son enjoyed reading middle grade novels that featured Korean characters. Why? He could relate.
As a teacher, I like sharing picture books with characters that represent my students. Their eyes brighten, and they sit up a little taller. Representation matters. Children gravitate toward characters like them, whether it’s with their looks or some shared feature/hobby.
As a Christian, I want children to realize that God made us all, no matter our skin color. That we all came from Adam & Eve. That we are made in the image of God.
As a parent and teacher, I want children to respect others because God loves each individual and created them. I want families to be globally minded and to know God loves everyone no matter their skin color.
One way we as parents and teachers can help narrow the racial divide is by sharing diverse books and meeting with people who don’t look like us.
My picture book, My Breakfast with Jesus, published by Harvest House in 2020 and illustrated by Guy Wolek is about children from around the world eating their diverse breakfasts and sharing Jesus’ love with others.
In 2017, my agent suggested I write a story about food, friendship, and hospitality inspired by Jesus cooking His disciples a fish breakfast in John 21. And how neat I also had that idea in my notebook!
Living in South Korea for ten years and teaching at an international school allowed me to see a variety of foods. I had fun writing this nonfiction story researching breakfasts and deciding which countries to feature. I hope it inspires kids to learn about other cultures, taste the food, and share Jesus’ love in creative ways.
My other three picture books feature Korean culture. I want kids in the U.S. and around the world to hear stories about other kids who are alike yet different from them. Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans is about an event I participated in with North Korean refugees, sending rice in huge balloons over the border to North Korea. Korean Celebrations is a nonfiction picture book featuring holidays and traditions. The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story is based on real women divers of Jeju who dive deep into the ocean without breathing equipment, and most of these women are 50-80 years old.
Stories are important in shaping who we become. As an author, I want to write stories that not only share culture and represent who I am, but stories that honor and glorify God. When a child reads one of my books, I hope they have a new understanding and appreciation for the people represented in my books, but also come away with awe of our Creator who made us all unique in His image. Reading books that feature characters different from us opens windows to other cultures and good discussion. And in the events surrounding this year, our children need to hear those conversations.
Thinking back to my early years, what if there were picture books with little Asian girls? Would I think differently about myself?
Give your child the gift of reading diverse books. Give them that window to see into other people’s lives.
For more than 2,000 years, people have started their day with a delicious meal in their bellies and the love of Jesus in their hearts. From bacon and eggs in the heart of North America to fresh baked bread in Antarctica, believers from each continent gather in the morning to share good food and conversation, giving thanks to God for all the wonderful things He’s done.
Tina Cho is the author of four picture books and an upcoming middle grade graphic novel. After living in South Korea for ten years, Tina, her husband, and two teenagers reside in Iowa where she also teaches kindergarten.
What do authors do in the summer?
Well, I'm also a kindergarten teacher, so first things first, I SLEEP IN & relax & read. I've been checking out lots of new books at my library and reviewing them on my Instagram @Tinamcho. Follow me there to see what I've been reading.
But if you want the nitty gritty, here's the rest of the list.
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.
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?
Tina M. Cho, children's author
I'm a children's author and freelance writer for the educational market. Welcome!