Mosaic Voices: Why representation matters in children’s literature and beyond, Guest Post by Dorina Lazo Gilmore-Young
This month I'm hosting a series on my blog on why representation matters in picture books. Today's guest post is by a wonderful author and speaker that I met online last year. Please welcome, Dorina!
I was a voracious reader when I was young. Part of this was instigated by my mother, who was a teacher, and read books aloud to my brother and me. She invited us to venture through the wardrobe into another world with Lucy, Edmund, Susan, and Peter. She made the poetry of Robert Frost come alive as we imagined those two roads that diverged in a yellow wood.
My favorite picture book when I was a child was Nine Days to Christmas by Hall Ets, a Caldecott Winner. In the early ‘80s, it was one of the few books I could find that featured a girl with brown skin and included rich cultural details.
Although our family did not have Mexican roots, I was mesmerized by this book. It transported me to another place that somehow felt like home. My mom had lived in Mexico and she affirmed the storyline of this book, where a girl named Ceci is eagerly awaiting Las Posadas - the traditional nine-day series of Christmas celebrations in her village.
I examined the illustrations and poured over the pages of that book again and again. I felt like I was going to the market with Ceci and her mother to select the biggest piñata we could find.
I dreamed of becoming a children’s book author one day and writing books like this one.
I ended up pursuing a career in newspaper reporting and teaching, but one summer I found out about a class on writing children’s books. I knew it was time to pursue my dream of writing for kids. I eventually enrolled in the MFA in Children’s Literature program at Hollins University.
Through my graduate work, I had permission to spend hours in the library reading children’s literature and writing stories. In those years, I had my first baby girl with two more to come. I longed to write books for my own multiracial daughters and others that centered characters of color.
During that season, I wrote Cora Cooks Pancit about a Filipino-American girl learning to cook a traditional noodle dish with her mama. The book was a compilation of my own experiences growing up in the kitchen with my mama, grandmas and aunties as well as the stories I had gathered of other Filipino-American families in California’s Central Valley.
I tried for several years to get that book published, but continued to receive nice rejection letters. Editors and agents told me they liked the story or the writing was good, but the book was too niche to sell. In other words, stories about a specific cultural group like this one would be hard to market.
One day, I received a phone call from an editor named Renee Ting. She just read my manuscript and wanted to publish it.
I almost dropped the phone.
When I got home and consulted my notes, I discovered I had submitted to Shen’s Books two years earlier. In a few months, I signed a contract with Shen’s Books (today an imprint of Lee & Low Books). I didn’t have an agent, but Renee ushered me through the publishing process. My book baby, Cora Cooks Pancit, was born in June 2009 with illustrations by Kristi Valiant.
Our book was awarded the Picture Book of the Year by the Asian American Librarian’s Association. We were invited to Washington, D.C. to receive the award and give speeches. The most magical part was meeting my illustrator Kristi in person and hearing more about her process in creating the beautiful illustrations.
Over the next decade, I read Cora Cooks Pancit aloud and spoke at schools up and down the state of California. My greatest joy was seeing the faces of Filipino-American students light up when they recognized the signature dish that represented their culture - pancit.
On several occasions, I cooked pancit for classes. Students from all different cultures tasted it for the first time. This was an open door to celebrate diversity and culture and to pivot away from the colorblind rhetoric that so often finds its way into education settings.
Today, my Cora book is 11 years old and in her ninth printing. I like to think of her as a middle schooler in a new season for publishing. My heart is encouraged as I see a mounting desire among publishers, schools, and readers for books about and for children of color.
My youngest daughter, who is 9 now, enjoys books like Colorfull by Dorena Williamson, Different Like Me by Xochitl Dixon, My Breakfast with Jesus by Tina Cho, The Mindy Kim series by Lyla Lee, and Any Day with You by Mae Respicio featuring kids that look like her. These books are not considered “too niche,” but regarded as an invitation to readers to learn from and about kids from multicultural backgrounds.
We have tasted progress, but we have not yet arrived. Representation still matters. As an author, an educator, and a mother of three brave girls, I want to be part of carrying the torch.
Our family recently started a membership program called Global Glory Chasers. Each month we focus on a specific country and curate a list of books, movies, music, and recipes so families can delve deeper into learning about different cultures together. I believe that reading and listening to diverse stories can help shape all of us.
Stories have the power to educate, instruct, and heal.
As a Christian, I look to Jesus as the best model for using stories to heal. Jesus was a storyteller. He brought the Good News. He chose to share stories that represented and challenged the people who listened. He invited the marginalized to tell their stories. He didn’t elevate the story of a tax collector over an abused woman, or a Jew over a Gentile. Instead, he treated each narrative as precious and part of the whole story being written by God Himself. His stories resounded with love and forgiveness.
Psalm 107 says: “Let the redeemed of the LORD tell their story— those he redeemed from the hand of the foe, those he gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south.” (Psalm 107:2-3, NIV)
These words, penned hundreds of years before Jesus’ ministry and before us, are an invitation to tell our stories. The Israelites continued to tell the story of how God restored them from captivity. Jesus told stories that would shape our understanding of His Father’s Kingdom. And we are called to tell our stories today. When we have fuller representation of stories by God’s image bearers, we experience a more dynamic narrative of who God is and the work He is doing in our world.
Cora loves being in the kitchen, but she always gets stuck doing the kid jobs like licking the spoon. One day, however, when her older sisters and brother head out, Cora finally gets the chance to be Mama's assistant chef. Cora and Mama work together to cook up pancit for the family in this celebration of Filipino heritage and foods.
Dorina is an award-winning author, speaker, Bible teacher, and podcaster. She helps people chase God's glory down unexpected trails and flourish in their God-given callings. She and her husband Shawn are raising three brave daughters in Central California, who love to travel and learn about different cultures. Connect with her at www.DorinaGilmore.com.
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.
School is almost over for me, and I am looking forward to summer! I'm offering 10 free 15 minute author visits either virtually or in-person (Des Moines, IA area). This is perfect for preschools, daycares, homeschool co-ops, VBS, libraries, and more. Offer good through July 31, 2021, or until spots fill up.
If you are interested, please contact me here. You can choose one of my four picture books for me to read, and we can tailor the time to fit your needs.
REQUEST: The visit is free, but I respectfully request that you purchase a copy the book for your class/church library and let families know that they can purchase copies as well. I do not sell my own books, but they are available through the major online vendors as well as your favorite local indie bookstores. To help spread word to families, I can provide an order form for schools/groups to collect and order as a group from the vendor of your choosing. Or you can simply let families know that they can purchase books on their own by providing a link to the local or online vendor of your choice.
If you want a longer author visit, you can contact me me for pricing.
I look forward to celebrating summer with a love of reading!
1. You might land a movie deal or an animated special like me! It all started with a tweet!
2. Your book might get noticed by a famous store like Pottery Barn Kids who wants to sell it!
Click here to see! I found out when Penguin Kids tagged me on Instagram! And this weekend I have to make a video for them!
3. Librarians and book reviewers want to tag you as they showcase your book. This happens to me mostly on Instagram.
4. You meet incredible people--writers, readers, bloggers, agents, editors, etc...
5. You find your tribe. (See #4) Those with common interests and passions will follow each other! For example, author Linda Sue Park put together Kibooka (Kids' Books by Korean Americans & Korean Diaspora) in which we knew of each other via social media.
6. You find ideas for books. The Ocean Calls started with a tweet. I love Twitter!
7. You might find your agent. (Again, like I said in #6, it all started with a tweet. I found my agent via Twitter.)
8. Your publisher wants to promote & tag you.
9. You can inspire others, and they will inspire you.
10. People care. As I've gone through the past few months having breast cancer surgery & radiation, many have reached out via social media offering encouragement, prayers, and thoughts.
So there you have it. My 10 reasons why writers should be on social media. And during the pandemic and when I lived overseas, being online with others has really helped with that missing social piece!
I'm thankful to God for all of you and for His blessings so far this year!
I hope you had a wonderful Christmas with your family in spite of having to stay close to home this year. For us, it was our first time to have Christmas with my side of the family in over ten years.
This week I'm on Kim Chaffee's & Kirstie Call's podcast, The Picture Book Look with my wonderful editor, Joanna! It's only about 15 minutes long.
And I'm the featured author at Linda Sue Park's KiBooka's page, Kids' books by Korean Americans.
In other good news for THE OCEAN CALLS, it comes out as an audio book on January 19!
You can hear a sample here.
Lastly, Teaching Books emailed that my name is now part of their list of authors' names! You can hear me pronounce my name!
What have I been up to? I just finished scouring over sketches of my lyrical graphic novel coming out from Harper Alley in 2023. The title changed to The Other Side of Tomorrow. About North Korean refugee kids. Illustrator Deborah Lee is doing an awesome job bringing my text to life. It's been fun seeing them as she progresses through the manuscript.
I'm also enjoying my short winter break from school. I ordered some library books and did the curbside checkout for the first time. Some fabulous books I just read:
*When Stars Are Scattered, a graphic novel built on a true story, a necessary read for all upper elementary & teens. This book shows what life in a refugee camp is like.
*Fauja Singh Keeps Going, a picture book biography about the 108 year old Sikh who runs marathons!
*Playing from the Heart, a picture book in which a father never stops loving his son's piano playing.
Next on my list: Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park
What children's book do you recommend? Happy New Year!
I've been a part of a critique group called Pens & Brushes since 2008. Members have come and gone, but four of us inaugural members are still a part of this group. With the idea of Diane Hower, we met for the first time, hearing each others' voices along with seeing each other! If you haven't done a Zoom with your critique group, I highly recommend it, unless you can meet in person!
In October, author Kate Narita invited me onto her podcast, Chalk & Ink: The Podcast for Teachers Who Write & Writers Who Teach. Scroll down to October 9th to hear our conversation.
Being back in the states, I'm ecstatic to see all the Christmas decorations and Christmas candies! With that in mind, some of you have asked how to get autographed books.
If you want an autographed THE OCEAN CALLS, I recommend ordering from the website of The Learning Post & Toys. I can go into the store & personalize it if you want. Just let me and them know.
If you want an autographed MY BREAKFAST WITH JESUS, I recommend ordering from Choices Christian Bookstore. I can go in & personalize it if you want. Just let me and them know.
If you want an autographed RICE FROM HEAVEN, I recommend ordering from Barnes & Noble at Jordan Creek Mall in West Des Moines, Iowa, as I can go in & sign their books.
With so many children now at home, it's good to get books into their hands!
Well, moving during a book launch in a pandemic--I wouldn't recommend it. But I'm so thankful to all of you who have supported me, through watching my online activities or even buying and sharing about the book!
If you missed out, you can see me and the illustrator Jess at Little Shop of Stories on Facebook here or me reading the book at Warwick's Bookstore on Instagram here.
And good news--The Ocean Calls is on the Fall 2020 Kids' Indie Next List by the American Booksellers Association!
I'm in Iowa now. Big difference from the lightning fast Internet of Korea. That's the main thing we miss. In fact, it took over two weeks just to get service. Which means I had to go to a hotel to use their Internet to do my LIVE book launch online!
And now I'm back in the classroom with two hybrid groups of kindergartners teaching them how to walk in a line like zombies, arms out to measure social distancing.
What are some new things you're adjusting to? How's your writing?
You could win a picture book critique from me OR this swag which includes a Korean bag, haenyeo stuffed animal, a Jeju Mirror, a Korea magnet, and Korea bookmark. (US residences for the swag. Anyone for the critique.) To enter the contest, you must pre-order the book and then fill out the form below. I'll announce the winner on my blog & at my virtual launch. Details about that coming soon.
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.
Tina M. Cho, children's author
I'm a children's author and freelance writer for the educational market. Welcome!