This month I’m collaborating with fellow children’s book authors and featuring a series called “Why Representation Matters in Children’s Literature.” Each week, I’ll be sharing a guest essay by one of my favorite children’s book authors on this topic culminating with a book giveaway. Today I’m excited to welcome my new friend Tina to the blog. Her children’s books illuminate a whole new world for kids. I especially love how she celebrates and incorporates her Korean heritage in her stories. Help me welcome Tina to my table today!
By Tina M. Cho
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.
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.
In case you missed it, check out the articles in this blog series here:
-“Representation gives readers a glimpse of heaven” by Xochitl Dixon
-“Mosaic voices: Why representation matters in children’s literature” by Dorina Lazo Gilmore-Young
-“The Impact of Representation” by Dorena Williamson
*Stay tuned for a special giveaway of this book along with 3 others by children’s writers of color! Follow us on Instagram so you don’t miss the giveaway. You can enter starting August 29, 2021.