[review] Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans by Tina Cho and Keum Jin Song

Much of what we hear about North Korea on the news these days is dire and distressing.

While we may not be able to fully imagine daily life in this Communist dictatorship, we do know that more than half of the population lives in poverty without adequate nourishment.

Situations like these are especially difficult to explain to children, but the right stories, appealing to our common humanity, can have a positive impact. In Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans (little bee books, 2018), we learn how a group of refugees and church volunteers in South Korea clandestinely delivered packets of rice via helium balloons to hungry North Koreans.

Debut picture book author Tina Cho (who currently lives in South Korea) based her story on an actual mission she herself volunteered for. This fascinating account of courage and compassion shows how ordinary people created their own miracle of hope for their starving counterparts.

As the story opens, Yoori, a young girl who lives in South Korea, travels with her father (Appa) to the border between the two countries. She explains that “Beyond that wall and across the sea live children just like me, except they do not have enough food to eat.”

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[review + giveaway] Dreaming of You by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater and Aaron DeWitt

Put on your onesie and grab your favorite stuffie. You’re just in time to cuddle up with a sweet and soothing new bedtime picture book!

In lyrical rhyming verse, Dreaming of You by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater and Aaron DeWitt (Boyds Mills Press, 2018) helps us imagine what some of our favorite animals might dream about at night.

Tonight may you dream sweet animal dreams.
Tonight may your dreams all run free.

Tonight may you dream of what animals dream.
When they sleep, what do animals see?

While kittens dream of lapping fresh milk, chipmunks dream of digging deep burrows, fishes of tasting new plants, horses of wild, windy rides, and bunnies of napping in thickets.

VanDerwater includes ten different animals in all, featured in well crafted ballad quatrains with abcb end rhymes and the same repetitive word pattern in the first three lines — a perfect lullaby, calming and incantatory as it lulls the reader to slumberland:

Turtles are dreaming of cool, muddy beds.
Turtles are dreaming of learning to run.
Turtles are dreaming of basking with you
on a rock in a river in hot summer sun.

Kids will love all the charming details and activities, while observing the animals in their natural habitats. Best part is discovering that all their animal friends are ultimately dreaming about them!

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nine cool things on a tuesday

1. How about a pop of color and whimsy? Love the charming crochet assemblages created by Finnish textile artist and teacher Tuija Heikkinen.

A far cry from the kitschy crocheted doilies of yore, Tuija’s designs and illustrations consist of separate crocheted elements arranged in fun, pretty, cheerful ways. Nice to see how she’s reimagined the craft!

See more at her Instagram, where you can also check out her sewing and embroidery projects.

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2. Coming Soon! Look out for Margo Sorenson’s YA/crossover adult novel Secrets in Translation, to be released October 19, 2018 by Fitzroy Books.

In this celebration of Italian life and culture, seventeen-year-old Alessandra returns for the summer to Italy, where she grew up. Pressured by her parents into babysitting a rebellious twelve year old—ruining holiday plans with newfound American friends—Alessandra resigns herself to a tedious summer in Positano. Her babysitting gig, however, turns out to be anything but boring! Not only does Alessandra fall for the handsome son of the Bertolucci family, renowned for their limoncello production, but when a body mysteriously turns up on the beach, the influence of organized crime in Positano becomes frighteningly real. As Alessandra is drawn further into an elaborate conspiracy, she must risk everything to protect herself, her family, and those she loves, and in the process finds herself—and her Italian heart.

I read this one over summer break and loved it! It was the perfect escape from all the madness. I’m still sighing over Margo’s beautiful descriptions of Positano and enjoyed meeting the interesting and intriguing characters in her story. Happy to report that Margo will be doing a guest post here at Alphabet Soup during pub week. Limoncello, anyone? 🙂

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Macbeth, Adverbs, and an Extra Meatball: Edwin Romond’s “Dream Teaching”

“Teach them the quiet words of kindness, to live beyond themselves. Urge them toward excellence, drive them toward gentleness, pull them deep into yourself, pull them upward toward manhood, but softly like an angel arranging clouds. Let your spirit move through them softly.” ~ Pat Conroy (The Prince of Tides)

Another September, another school year. A time of new school supplies and textbooks, new teachers and classes, making new friends. 🙂

Are you familiar with Edwin Romond’s Dream Teaching (Grayson Books, 2004)?  This collection is truly a gem; the 34 funny, insightful, and poignant poems (written from the POVs of both student and teacher), were inspired by his 32 years as a public school English teacher in Wisconsin and New Jersey.

I’m happy to share the title poem from the book today — it brought back fond memories of my own English classes, particularly the years I taught high school English in London. You don’t have to be an educator or current student to enjoy Romond’s poems — we’re all lifelong learners, right?

Now, at last, we know what English teachers really dream about. 🙂

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DREAM TEACHING
by Edwin Romond

I am first in line for coffee
and the copier is not broken yet.
This is how dreams begin in teaching high school.

First period the boy who usually carves skulls
into his desk raises his hand instead
to ask about Macbeth and, for the first time,
I see his eyes are blue as melting ice.
Then, those girls in the back
stop passing notes and start taking them
and I want to marvel at tiny miracles
but still another hand goes up
and Butch the drag racer says he found the meaning
in that Act III soliloquy. Then more hands join the air
that is now rich with wondering and they moan
at the bell that ends our class and I ask myself,
“How could I have thought of calling in sick today?”

I open my eyes for the next class and no one’s late,
not even Ernie who owns his own time zone
and they’ve all done their homework
that they wave in the air
because everyone wants to go to the board
to underline nouns and each time I turn around
they’re looking at me as if I know something
they want and, steady as sunrise, they do everything right.

At lunch the grouchy food lady discovers smiling
and sneaks me an extra meatball. In the teachers’ room
we eat like family and for twenty-two minutes
not one of us bitches about anything.
Then the afternoon continues the happiness of hands
wiggling with answers and I feel such a spark
when spike-haired Cindy in the satanic tee shirt
picks the right pronoun and glows like a saint.

And me, I’m up and down the room now, cheering,
cajoling, heating them up like a revival crowd.
I’m living only in exclamatory sentences. They want it all
and I’m thinking, “What drug are we on here?”
Just as Crusher Granorski screams, “Predicate nominatives
are awesome!” the principal walks in
with my check and I say, “That’s okay,
you can keep it.” When the bell sounds
they stand, raise lighted matches
and chant, “Adverbs! Adverbs!”
I drive home petting my plan book.

At night I check the weather without wishing for a blizzard,
then sleep in the sweet maze of dreams
where I see every student from 32 years of school days:
boys and girls, sons and daughters who’re almost mine,
thousands of them stretching like dominoes into the night
and I call the roll and they sing, “We’re all here, Mr. Romond!”
When I pick up my chalk they open their books,
look up and, with eager eyes, ask me to teach them.

~ from Dream Teaching: Poems by Edwin Romond (Grayson Books, 2004)

“The Teacher’s Coming!” by Emanuel Spitzer (1887)

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Nice bit of serendipity:  About a year ago I featured a donut poem by Seattle-based poet Martha Silano. Just so happens Mr. Romond was Martha’s ninth grade English teacher. She wrote a lovely post about it at her blog Blue Positive. It wasn’t until she took his class that she became aware of “all the possibilities of a life devoted to literature.” Four years ago, they read their poems together at the Barrons Art Center in Woodbridge, New Jersey.

Mr. Romond has also written a wonderful donut poem, which I’ll share here soon. Poets and donuts, a nice way to come full circle, isn’t it? There’s something deliciously inspiring about that. 🙂

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Edwin Romond is a poet, playwright, and composer. His work has appeared in numerous literary journals, college text books and anthologies, and has twice been featured on National Public Radio.

He has written eight books of poetry, two musical plays, and was a public school teacher for 32 years in Wisconsin and New Jersey. Romond now works part-time in the poetry program of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and is also on staff at the Ruggiero Funeral Home, Pen Argyl, PA. His most recent poetry collection is Alone with Love Songs (Grayson Books, 2011).

A native of Woodbridge, NJ,  he lives in Wind Gap, PA with his wife, Mary, and their son, Liam.

More at his official website.

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The lovely Carol Varsalona is hosting the Roundup at Beyond Literacy Link. She’s featuring a sneak peek of her upcoming summer gallery of artistic expressions. Click over to check it out along with the full menu of poetic goodness being shared around the blogosphere this week.

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HAPPY SCHOOL YEAR, ALL!

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” ~ William Arthur Ward


Copyright © 2018 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

by the number: musings and milestones (+ a giveaway!)

Hello, my pretties, We’re back!

Hope you had a terrific summer. You’re still adorable, I see. Did you have some work done, or is that just your inner radiance shining through? 🙂

Let’s play the numbers game.

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🍸40 🎉

Forty years ago our families traveled to London from Hawai’i and New Hampshire for our wedding. An Elizabethan banquet with syllabub and boar’s head paté, “Greensleeves” on the lute, a cake with royal icing impossible to cut.

With each passing year we grow more into our essential selves: a practical, handy, scruffy-round-the-edges people-person engineer and a book-bear-truth-loving tea fanatic hopeless dreamer and writer. It was fate — two people from opposite ends of the country meeting and marrying in England. What are the chances? Once restless wanderers adrift, we found a true home in each other. Ruby: symbol of romance, friendship, deep and profound love. A good anniversary for Len and me (of course I was a child bride). 🙂

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  🥄 🍲 25 🥢

My first published picture book, Dumpling Soup, winner of Little, Brown’s New Voices, New World Multicultural Fiction Contest, celebrates its 25th year in print this month. For a writer, there is only one first book, and it will always be special.

Long before the current diversity movement, there was a brief window of time when publishers sought “multicultural stories” for the children’s market. Though that got my foot in the door, it proved to be a passing fad, and writers of color like me largely remained at the bottom of the totem pole. Fast forward a couple of decades: today, “diversity” is the new buzz word in publishing — it encompasses not only ethnicity, but religious and cultural diversity, sexual orientation, gender identity, and physical disabilities. It’s taking some time, but progress is being made. Every child should be able to see him or herself in a book. All children should be given the opportunity to widen their perspectives, which will in turn help them understand how people everywhere are basically more alike than different.

 

Do you see the green potted plant to the right of the blue door?

 

Some Dumpling Soup trivia: During the revision stage, not one, but three editors provided written feedback on the manuscript; all the characters in the book are based on real people, some of whom have died since the book came out (Aunty Elsie, Aunty Ruth, Uncle Myung Ho, my mother); I named the main character after my cousin Marisa, who is now a mom with 2 kids; I was once contacted by an indie filmmaker about a possible DS movie (sadly, it didn’t pan out).

 

Here is dumpling me standing on the real front step where the plant is in the illustration.

 

A heartfelt thank you to all the teachers, librarians, parents, booksellers and readers who’ve helped keep the book in print all this time.

Happy 25th Anniversary to Dumpling Soup!

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 🥣 11 🥣

Thanks for the cool kitchen towel, Sylvia Vardell!

 

Eleven random bits and bobs for Alphabet Soup’s 11th birthday:

1. I almost named the blog “A Word in Edgewise,” but decided on “Alphabet Soup” because at the time I was writing a chapter book about an alphabet collector, and because FOOD.

2. The part I like best about doing a post is inserting the images after I’ve finished writing the text (still hardest for me). I usually don’t begin writing until I have all the pictures lined up.

3. I’m happy to report that last year’s Photobucket fiasco is finally behind me. It took me 4 solid months, working every single day, to recover most of the linked images. This involved saving every image from 1800+ posts one by one to my computer, re-uploading them to my WordPress Media Library, then re-inserting them into their respective posts. Thousands of images. Extremely tedious. The good part was discovering old posts I completely forgot about, deleting deadwood, and fixing the screwy formatting on some old Livejournal posts.

4. The post that got the most hits this past year is the one featuring UK-based ceramicist Katrin Moye. In fact, it’s the most popular post of all time. Hooray for Pinterest users! The most popular interview is still the one I did with Little House actor Sidney Greenbush back in 2009 (she and her twin sister played Carrie on the TV series). Most popular recipe: Hawaiian Sweet Bread Pudding.

5. The most frustrating thing about doing this blog is when an interview falls through. I approach an author or artist about an interview, they agree, I invest considerable time researching or reading their work, send them questions, and then they blow me off.

Please, if you’re an author or artist and 1) don’t have time to do an interview, 2) don’t want to do an interview, or 3) something comes up and you can’t follow through after you’ve received my questions, PLEASE say no up front, or have the courtesy to tell me you’ve changed your mind for any reason (I’m an understanding and patient person, but cannot abide rudeness).

Fortunately this is a rare occurrence, mostly with indie artists rather than children’s book authors, but still. There is a picture book author who did this to me a few years ago after I sent two polite reminders (which I hate to do), and I will NEVER feature her books here ever.

6. This goes without saying, but I will say it anyway: I have the BEST blog readers on the planet — smart, literate, polite, generous, funny, candid, loyal. You’re not bad looking, either. The thing is, if I let myself think, even for a minute, about how much more you probably know about the subjects I’m writing about than I do — I would totally freeze up and not be able to write a single word. So thanks for letting me pretend. 🙂

7. I haven’t been doing Soup of the Day posts recently because all of the alphabet pastas I formerly used are no longer available. The ones out there now are either too thin and delicate or too small. Sigh.

8. Secret husband Colin Firth seems to have reconciled with his wife Livia after a rough patch (they were separated for awhile and Livia had an affair with an Italian journalist who then stalked her). We wish Colin an extra Happy 58th Birthday on September 10. My, but he ages well . . .

 

Colin and Livia (Venice, 2017)

 

9. One of the perils (actually most fun part) of doing this blog is acquiring more books, bears, china and other miscellaneous props. A few things I now own thanks to blogging: three miniature violins, several 19th century pink luster teacups and saucers (thanks to Tasha Tudor), magnetic Shakespeare play set, loads of finger puppets, Beatrix Potter figurines, green army men, mini soccer balls, a teensy wheel of Camembear cheese, a custom knitted scarf and winter hat for Mr Cornelius, Wonder Woman and Hillary Clinton action figures. Ebay is my second home. I am now poor. But all this is so educational. 🙂

 

from the Props Department

 

10. One of the funniest things to happen while taking a picture was having the pink exercise bear’s arms go flying across the room. She’s ceramic, and her arms are spring loaded. I tried to position her arms a little and something snapped. BOING. Luckily Len is handy. It was a bear to fix. 😀

11. I’ve been lucky at not having had many recipe disasters — they’re more like disappointment at some things not turning out as photogenic as I had hoped. I did have to make Prince Harry’s favorite Peanut Butter and Jelly Muffins twice, though. First time I added too much peanut butter, which didn’t sink to the middle of the muffins as the recipe promised. They were a mess but the squirrels liked them.

Happy Blog Birthday, Alphabet Soup!

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 🐻 30 🐻

Guess how old Mr Cornelius is? At heart, he will always be about six years old, just like Paddington. But he actually turned 30 in August. Did you know “Cornelius” is his screen name? He’s a handmade artist bear I purchased back in 1988 at a teddy bear show in Timonium, Maryland. The artist is still making and selling bears, and I must say, she does exceptional work; Cornelius has held up so well despite being tossed in suitcases and traveling hither and yon and made to pose in countless photos for the blog.

When I first started blogging here at WordPress in 2011, I contacted the artist about an interview, explaining that one of her “Bitsy Bears” was my blog mascot. I thought it would be a nice way to find out more about how she created Cornelius and plug her cottage business at the same time. She agreed without hesitation, I sent her some questions, then waited 2 years for her to get back to me.

Finally, I sent a polite follow-up email, mentioning that I knew she was probably very busy, but I’d still be interested in receiving her answers. Nothing. I do think the ease of using the delete button allows some to forget there’s a REAL PERSON with good intentions waiting on the other end. I don’t get angry, but I’m an elephant. I don’t forget.

 

I haven’t told Cornelius about any of this. He would be very disappointed. Anyway, since it’s his 30th birthday, I will reveal his given name: TUCKER. Shhh! Don’t tell anyone. You heard it here first. 🙂

 

Among his many talents, Cornelius is a master of 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles.

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 💼 60 🥪

Sixty years ago this October, Michael Bond published the very first book about the beloved bear from darkest Peru, A Bear Called Paddington. Paddington’s easily my favorite literary bear (can you tell?), and my favorite children’s book character of all time.

I didn’t read any of the Paddington books growing up; I was introduced to him by one of my 9th grade students in London. She gave me a Paddington ruler, which made me anxious to read all the stories. Seems Paddington was more a UK thing than an American thing (Pooh is more well known here because of Disney). Thanks to two crackerjack movies, Paddington’s popularity has recently widened in America.

I guess I like and appreciate Paddington because he is a bear for the times — an immigrant/stowaway who maintains a positive attitude no matter what. He’s accepting of others and has a way of bringing out the best in people. He’s also unfailingly kind and polite — traits we could certainly use more of these days.

Paddington was very “real” to Michael Bond, like a member of the family. So much more than a character in a book. We live with 70+ Paddingtons, and I feel the same. He’s a constant source of comfort, solace and amusement; we don’t mind the sticky marmalade pawprints one bit.

Very happy to tell you that Paddington illustrator R.W. Alley will be visiting Alphabet Soup next month. He will be talking about the last Paddington picture book he illustrated, Paddington at St Paul’s (released in June), as well as sharing general thoughts about drawing Paddington since 1997. Can’t wait!

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 🎉 1 + 50 DUMPLING SOUP GIVEAWAY! 📒

To celebrate Dumpling Soup’s 25th Anniversary, we’re giving away a signed  hardcover of the book + a $50 Amazon gift card. The hardcover is the original trade edition published by Little, Brown, a copy from my personal stash (only the paperback is still in print). This is different from the Library Edition being published by Perfection Learning (don’t like how they reproduced the cover).

For a chance to win, please leave a comment at this post no later than midnight (EDT) Tuesday, September 18, 2018. You may also enter by sending an email with DUMPLINGS in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to residents of the U.S. and Canada only, please. Good Luck!

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Looking forward to a great Fall (my favorite season). Thanks for your continued support!

HAPPY READING

HAPPY WRITING

HAPPY EATING

RESIST

PERSIST

THINK BLUE


Copyright © 2018 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.