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Celebrate #MerMay with Tina Cho!

Happy #MerMay, everyone! #SeaonsOfKidLit is pleased to feature another mer-mazing book this week. Tina Cho is here with us today talking about her book, The Ocean Calls - A Haenyeo Mermaid Story (illustrated by Jess X Snow). In The Ocean Calls, a young girl watches her grandmother as she joins other haenyeo on dives off the coast of Jeju Island. The haenyeo are as graceful as mermaids in her sight, as they pluck treasures from the sea. This sweet story is filled with tradition and STEM elements, too. Want to know more about Tina, her heartwarming picture book, PLUS want a chance to win a picture book critique from her? Read on...

Q: Welcome to #SeasonsOfKidLit, Tina! We’re thrilled you can join us and share your beautiful book with us, The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story! First, for those who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting you, can you share a little bit about yourself and how you started your writing career?

A: I’m first a kindergarten teacher by day, and a writer by weekends. I fell in love with picture books through my teaching, so I thought it would be neat to try and write one. So in 2008 I joined a local critique group and SCBWI, took three online picture book writing classes, and am in three online critique groups. My family moved to South Korea from 2010-2020, and so that has influenced the topics of my books.

Q: Your book explores *real* Mermaids of Korean culture, the Haenyeo of Jeju Island. What inspired you to write about this topic? Please share a little bit about the research process.

A: I saw a tweet on Twitter about the haenyeo, googled them, and discovered they were in Korea like I was. I read many articles about them and watched You Tube videos of their dives. I was fascinated with their strength, courage, and bravery. I wrote many drafts of the story & sent it to my critique groups. When my husband told me it was just a 30-minute, cheap plane ride to Jeju Island, we decided to go on our spring break. And after visiting the island, I was able to add sensory details that really made the story come alive.

Q: What was your process or what helped you decide on a way to convey the story of these aged mermaids. I ask this because many aspiring writers struggle to find a clear way to make a story that features an adult person or activity kid-friendly. Was this a struggle for you, or did the idea come to you in this way?

A: It came naturally because in my first draft, I had a granddaughter wanting to be a haenyeo like her grandma. I think it helped that I had a child main character alongside the adult person.

Q: What message or inspiration do you hope young readers take away from this topic, your book and your writing journey?

A: I want children to realize that the elderly can do many things, and that they can learn a tradition or something special, might not be diving in the ocean, from them.

Q: Since we LOVE celebrations over here at #SeasonsofKidLit, please share a little bit about your book on Korean Celebrations!

A: While living in Korea, it seemed like they had a holiday every month. So, I wrote this nonfiction book about holidays and celebrations about popular and less-known special days. There are recipes, crafts, and activities families can try.

Q: Thanks for sharing your books and all that fun insight with us, Tina. We must ask, what can we look forward to seeing from you in the near future?

A: I have a lyrical graphic novel, The Other Side of Tomorrow, coming in 2024 from Harper Alley about two North Korean refugee children who escape along the Asian Underground Railroad. Illustrated by Deb JJ Lee.

God’s Little Astronomer, a picture book, is coming from Penguin Random’s Christian Imprint, Waterbrook Multnomah in 2024 with the next book in the series in 2025, God’s Little Oceanographer.

Q: Very cool! We can't wait to check these out. Thanks again for joining us, Tina!

Tina's Mer-Mazing #MerMay Giveaway!

Hi, readers! Tina's offering a fantastic treat - a picture book critique for one lucky winner! To enter to win, comment below and thank her for stopping by. Let her know why you can't wait to check out her books, too. One lucky winner will be chosen on or about 6/1/2023.

Reminder: Comment on each #MerMay post in May and be entered into a drawing to win one of three manuscript critiques or 20-minute ask-me-anything zoom meetings from Heather and Lynne Marie!

About Tina Cho:

Tina Cho is the author of Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans  (Little Bee Books 2018), Korean Celebrations  (Tuttle 2019), My Breakfast with Jesus: Worshipping God around the World (Harvest House 2020), The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story (Kokila/Penguin Random House 2020), and God’s Little Astronomer (Waterbrook Multnomah 2024) & God’s Little Oceanographer 2025.Her lyrical middle grade graphic novel, The Other Side of Tomorrow, debuts from Harper Alley in 2024. After living in South Korea for ten years, Tina, her husband, and two kids reside in Iowa where Tina also teaches kindergarten.

For more about Tina, visit the following links:

Twitter: @TinaMCho

Instagram: @tinamcho

To purchase Tina's books on Amazon, or to leave a review for them, click here.



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May 31, 2023

Who would have thought that writing what you know from where you know would bring us the mermaid story? I love this heartfelt story that only you could write. Thank you for sharing.


Karen Kovach
Karen Kovach
May 31, 2023

This is a great book to have on hand when working with children from different cultures. My daughter teaches kindergarten and I know she would love it.


May 16, 2023

I love the cultural connections to your picture books! Continued luck with your success. And BLESS YOU for teaching Kindergarteners!


May 15, 2023

I love the layers in your haenyeo story. Thank you for sharing your process.


Looking forward to reading your new book, Tina. It sounds so interesting! Congratulations and good for you for visiting Jeju Island for more authentic details. By the way, this is Della. When I signed up, it pulled my name as 'dellrf.' :)

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