[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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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.

[review + recipe + giveaway] Can I Touch Your Hair? by Irene Latham and Charles Waters

Today we are doubly delighted to congratulate Poetry Friday friends Irene Latham and Charles Waters on their brand new poetry picture book, Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship (Carolrhoda, 2018), illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko.

 

Irene and Charles met in person for the first time at last November’s AASL Conference in Phoenix, AZ.

 

Officially released January 1st, this timely collection of 33 free verse poems explores the sensitive issues of race, racism, and identity with heart and candor.

Latham and Waters channel their fifth grade selves in alternating poems written by young “Irene,” who’s white, and young “Charles,” who’s black, two public school students working on a classroom Poetry Project together.

In the course of the narrative, we see how Irene and Charles, initially reluctant at being partners, gradually build mutual trust, sowing the seeds of a unique friendship as they discover things about each other, themselves, and the world beyond home and school.

They start out wary and hesitant; shy and quiet Irene describing Charles as “you-never-know-what-he’s-going-to-say Charles,” and gregarious Charles disappointed that he’s “stuck with Irene,” a girl who “hardly says anything . . . Plus she’s white.”

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Chatting with Author/Illustrator Aram Kim about No Kimchi for Me! (+ a recipe and a giveaway!)

Today I’m pleased and excited to welcome Aram Kim to Alphabet Soup. It’s official release day for her brand new picture book, No Kimchi for Me! (Holiday House)! This mouthwatering story follows on the heels of her heartwarming debut, Cat on the Bus (Holiday House), published in 2016.

I’ve been an Aram Kim fan ever since I first spotted one of her cat bakery illustrations online a couple of years ago. When I visited her website, I instantly fell in love with her pictures of multi-ethnic children and anthropomorphized animals. Her distinctive style exudes a refreshing child-like innocence — emotive, joyful, friendly, accessible, thoroughly charming. Best of all, she likes to draw all kinds of food! A kindred spirit for sure.

When we first connected via email awhile ago, we instantly bonded over our mutual love of food and children’s books, and I was excited to hear she was working on a picture book about kimchi pancakes. Fabulous idea! Since there are very few picture books featuring Korean food, Aram’s book is a rare treat.

In No Kimchi for Me!, Yoomi tries to find a way to eat her grandmother’s kimchi. She likes everything else Grandma makes (“dried seaweed, tiny anchovies, soft egg omelets”), but she draws the line at “stinky, spicy kimchi.”

To make matters worse, her two brothers call her a baby and refuse to play with her because she won’t eat kimchi. Yoomi’s determined to show them she’s definitely NOT a baby, and experiments with different ways of making kimchi more palatable. On a chocolate chip cookie or a slice of pizza? What about hiding it in some ice cream? Well, no.

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Chatting with Debbi Michiko Florence about Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen (+ a recipe)

Mochi? Did someone say ‘mochi’? Japanese sticky rice cakes have always been one of my favorite treats!

I’m so happy to welcome Debbi Michiko Florence back to Alphabet Soup today to talk about Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen (FSG, 2017), the first book in her brand new early chapter book series officially hitting shelves on July 11. It’s actually being released simultaneously with Jasmine Toguchi, Super Sleuth (Book 2). Double the goodness, double the fun!

I’d been keeping my fingers crossed ever since Debbi first mentioned working on Mochi Queen, hoping and hoping over the years that just the right editor would champion this heartwarming story about an 8-year-old Japanese American girl who wants to help her family make mochi for New Year’s. So, it was beyond thrilling to hear that flamingo-and-dessert-loving Jasmine, a spirited and determined royal mess maker, would not only have her own book, but her own series. And how much do I love that the first title in the series is about food? 🙂

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