[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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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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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.

nine cool things on a tuesday

1. Flower Box, Flower Box! Celebrate all things green and abloom this summer with these lovely postcards published by Princeton Architectural Press.

Sunflowers, roses, succulents, ferns, wildflowers— this rich bouquet of postcards features one hundred botanical postcards by ten celebrated artists from around the world: Sonia Cavallini, Nour Flayhan, Carolyn Gavin, Jen Hewett, Sam Kalda, Marc Martin, Angela McKay of Ohkii Studio, Clover Robin, Wies van der Velde of SowiesoWies, and Rose Wong. A booklet about the artists highlights their creative processes, influences, and favorite plants.

I love the idea of having lots of postcards on hand — you just never know when you might feel like sending a little natural beauty through the mail to a special someone. Wouldn’t it also be fun to select several of these and frame them?  🙂

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2. New Book Alert! Look what’s coming out a week from today: See You On a Starry Night by Lisa Schroeder (Scholastic Press, 2018)!!

Juliet has just moved to a beachside town with her newly separated mother and her moody older sister. When she meets their new neighbor, Emma, the girls form an instant bond. Emma’s big family takes Juliet in, and the girls have fun together — starting with the night they throw bottles with secret messages into the sea.

Then someone writes back to Juliet’s message. An email arrives, inviting her to join the Starry Beach Club. All she has to do is make someone else’s wish come true.

So Juliet and Emma set off to help as many other people as they can. It’s fun! But as Juliet spends more and more time away from home, enjoying her new town and Emma’s family more than her own mom and sister, she starts feeling lost. It’s been easy to find others to help. But maybe her star would shine a little brighter if she brought it closer to home.

Lisa is one of those rare, versatile authors who can write well in several different genres. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed her picture books, middle grade and YA novels. This new middle grade book sounds like the perfect summer read. Have you ever sent a secret message in a bottle?

Available for pre-order NOW!

Congratulations, Lisa!

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Chatting with Illustrator Christine Grove about Amanda Panda and the Bigger, Better Birthday

Guess what? The irrepressible Amanda Panda is back!

You may remember when we first met this plucky, school bus loving snappy dresser in Amanda Panda Quits Kindergarten (2017) and interviewed author Candice Ransom, who admitted that she’s actually Amanda.

We also learned that Candice was asked to write the story based on character sketches created by Georgia illustrator Christine Grove. This was the first time Candice had written a picture book in this way and with animal characters.

 

Christine’s early panda bear character sketches.

 

The second Amanda book, Amanda Panda and the Bigger, Better Birthday (Doubleday, 2018), was released just last week, and we’re happy to welcome Christine Grove to Alphabet Soup to get her side of the story.

This time, Amanda is excited about being the first in her class to have a birthday and turn six, because then she’ll be special and famous. She has a School Bus themed birthday party all planned for Saturday and can’t wait to give her best friend Bitsy the first invitation.

But true to form, pink poufy Bitsy has beat Amanda to the punch. Bitsy’s birthday is the day before Amanda’s and her Princess Kitten birthday party is planned for the same day. Talk about spoiling everything! Despite Bitsy’s attempts to be accommodating, Amanda declares she won’t attend Bitsy’s party, so the formerly inseparable duo stop speaking to each other. What to do?

Christine has pulled out all the stops with her charming pictures (school bus wallpaper! adorable pandas with spot-on facial expressions! delectable sundae buffet!), making this story of friendship, compromise, and problem solving a joy to read.

I know you’ll enjoy hearing about how Christine created her panda characters and what she particularly enjoyed about working on this new book.

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🐼 MEET ILLUSTRATOR CHRISTINE GROVE 🎂

Tell us about when you first sketched the Amanda Panda character. What did she tell you about herself?

Initially she was a younger version, I found her to be independent and a bit strong willed — wanting things her way.

 

Early sketches

 

How was the personality that Candice created for her in Amanda Panda Quits Kindergarten similar to and different from that?

As the idea for the books progressed while working with Frances Gilbert, the editor, Amanda Panda became older — school aged. But she still had that same personality and Candice captured it perfectly! I just love how Candice expresses Amanda Panda’s emotions — I mean, who hasn’t felt their tummy lower than their knees? Finding out you have to share your birthday can be pretty traumatic, when you had plans to be the star of the day. Candice has written a relatable and humorous story. She made me giggle out loud — books are definitely a group effort and it’s all the better when you have a great editor, designer and author!

What kind of six-year-old were you? Were you more like Amanda or Bitsy?

Definitely not Bitsy, I was the kid who wanted to go unnoticed. (I still like to be in the background.) I was super shy for a long time. Amanda is not shy but I can relate to her determination and how she thinks things should be a certain way.

Please share a favorite childhood birthday party memory.

I have to pick just one? I can’t — they were always special and I felt celebrated, plus there was cake!

Christine’s drawing table is actually an old, beloved kitchen table.

Describe your journey to becoming a published children’s book illustrator.

I’ve always loved to draw but didn’t seriously consider it as a possible career until well into adulthood. I was going through some big life changes and during that time did some serious thinking about + researching becoming a children’s book illustrator. I entered an MFA program and while I was finishing I got my first book contract. It was thrilling! Maybe a year or so later I signed with my agent — also thrilling! — Maggie Byer Sprinzeles. She gets me assignments and is a dream to work with!

Chalkboard inspiration outside Christine’s office.

Could you briefly explain how you made the pictures for this book?

I always start a sketch on loose copy paper. The sketching part is my favorite! Then I scan it into Photoshop where I can clean it up and move things around if I want. After sketches were approved I used my light table to transfer them in with a micron pen onto Arches watercolor paper. Then they’re scanned again and I can make small adjustments needed in Photoshop.

Do you have a favorite spread? What do you remember most about creating it?

I’d have to say the Birthday Party scene. I’ll always remember that it took a really long time to paint! But details are my favorite so it was so fun to do. I loved doing the little sprinkles, the curlies on the cupcakes, and princess hats the best!

Overall, what did you like best about working on this project? How was it different from working on the first Amanda book?

I’d have to say the sketching. I can get lost in it, it’s a great feeling. For this project I hope I know Amanda even better and have been able to make my drawings fit who she is. I’d hate to disappoint her!

Tools of the trade: Wacom tablet and light table, and paint tubes mounted and organized on a board.

I love how you’re able to convey such a wide range of character emotions through endearing facial expressions, gestures, and posturing. Do you ever use child models for reference?

Every once in a while I might google a reference for facial expression but I mostly use my own, even making the face myself as I try to figure out how to best draw an expression. I don’t usually use a mirror, rather I feel it. Is that weird? Maybe I should start using a mirror more…

I also love the way you dressed the pandas, and all the charming and humorous details you included in the illustrations (school bus wallpaper! colored sprinkles! polka dots!). Were there any particular reference materials you found especially helpful?

Thanks! I do google children’s clothes to try to get reference material. The editor and designer gave me direction on that one, clothing is a challenge for me and I don’t know why.

Honey is Christine’s studio muse.

Did you know you wanted to illustrate children’s books when you were little?

I’ve always loved books. My mom read to me constantly when I was little. When I was in elementary school I used to hide under the covers with Dr. Richard Scarry books, a flashlight, paper and pencil, trying to copy what I saw.

 

Who are some of your favorite artists?

Besides Richard Scarry, I love Gyo Fujikawa, Eloise Wilkins, Lynn Munsinger, Carter Goodrich, Janet Ahlberg, I could keep going.

Which ones do you think have had the most influence on your style?

There are so many great illustrators. I do really love Munsinger. Her ink and watercolors are amazing.

Tell us about your famous collection of Derwent 2H graphic pencils. Why are you especially enamored of them? 🙂

Oh, probably because I have an emotional attachment to them, they were the first I used when sketching. I keep a glass jar of the nubs, I want to see how full I can get it in a lifetime. Although, I did recently discover the pencil extender, cool invention! Does just what you would think, attaches to the pencil nub so you can use it even longer.

Christine’s Derwent pencil stubs are in the glass jar.

Is there anything else you’d like us to know about this book?

Just that I hope you enjoy reading and looking at it, as much as I enjoyed creating the illustrations. I hope every time you look at the pictures you never get bored and can find a new little something maybe you didn’t notice before.

What’s next for you?

Right now I am finishing up finals for another children’s book. And I start another book right after that with a different publisher, just turned in the cover for that one.

I love the yummy birthday party double page spread with the two birthday cakes and that wonderful sundae buffet. Do you have a favorite sweet treat recipe you can share with us?

How about Princess Cupcakes!? I do like to make things from scratch but for these cupcakes a box mix works just fine. And you can add an extra egg and use milk instead of water to make it even richer and more delicious. Then decorate them how you want, make them your own. Go crazy with it!

THANKS SO MUCH FOR VISITING, CHRISTINE!

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AMANDA PANDA AND THE BIGGER, BETTER BIRTHDAY
written by Candice Ransom
illustrated by Christine Grove
published by Doubleday BYR, 2018
Picture Book for ages 4-8, 32 pp.

♥️ Cool Extras: Click on the images below for larger, printable versions of the coloring page and princess cupcake toppers.

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🎉 CONGRATULATIONS ON THE NEW BOOK, CHRISTINE AND CANDICE! 🎈


*Interior spreads text copyright ©2018 Candice Ransom, illustrations © 2018 Christine Grove, published by Doubleday Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved.

**This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. When you purchase something using a link on this site, Jama’s Alphabet Soup receives a small referral fee. Thank you for your support!

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