Wednesday, August 1, 2018

RICE and HAY: Two New Picture Books! ~ by Tina Cho and Christy Mihaly

Hi Friends!
Tina Cho
Christy Mihaly
We (Tina Cho and Christy Mihaly) have known each other through GROG for about four years. We’re also both members of Epic Eighteen, a group of authors and illustrators who have debut picture books coming out in 2018. 

Though we’ve never met in person, and in fact live on different continents, we’re friends with lots of things in common … so it’s a happy coincidence that our debut picture books will be published on the same date, August 14, 2018We decided to interview one another for the occasion.

Tina’s forthcoming book is Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans. It’s illustrated by Keum Jin Song and published by little bee books. It tells the story of a secret delivery of rice from South Korea over the mountainous border to hungry people in North Korea via helium balloons. This book was informed by Tina’s own experience participating in an aid project that sent rice-laden balloons to North Korea. The book includes informative back matter about the history and politics of North and South Korea.

Christy’s rhyming picture book, Hey, Hey, HAY! (A Tale of Bales and the Machines That Make Themwas inspired by the beauty of the author’s hayfield and the fascinating process of haymaking. Illustrated by Pura Belpre honor winner Joe Cepeda, the book provides a kid-friendly introduction to farming, specifically making hay – “storing summer in a bale” – and to the machines that help in the work. It’s published by Holiday House and includes a glossary of haymaking terms (like “baler” and “tedder”) and a recipe for switchel, the traditional haymakers’ drink.

For this post, each of us asked the other three things that we were curious about. First, here’s Christy, interviewing Tina.

CM: Tina, though this is your first trade picture book, I know you’re an experienced writer. What other books have you written, and how did they prepare you for Rice from Heaven? 
TC: I’ve written many products and books for the educational market such as The Girls' Guide to Manners. Working with editors and deadlines has prepared me in being a very disciplined writer. I’m used to dedicating my evenings and Saturdays to full-time writing.

CM: Yes, discipline and persistence are a big part of writing for publication. I’m glad it has paid off for you so well. 
Although you grew up in Iowa, you now live and work in South Korea – how has this created challenges and advantages for your writing career?

TC: Living in South Korea has both challenges and advantages.

It’s been challenging in that I feel like a “lone” writer, meaning, I don’t have English-speaking face-to-face critique groups or writing conferences that I can attend. Being on the other side of the world means I sometimes stay up very late or awake early to take part in “live” webinars or training for work-for-hire meetings. I don’t have an English library to check out books or read the latest picture books. I’m also not able to be in the states for my debut book’s birthday and for book signings when it comes out.

 RICE FROM HEAVEN spread, showing the two Koreas
Some advantages:
Because I don’t go out a lot (language barrier), I stay inside and write. This allows me to do a lot of work-for-hire and my own writing.
rice field in Korea
I’ve gleaned many book ideas from living in another culture. Two of my picture books sold are based on Korea.
I’ve made many online kidlit friends, and it’s a joy to be a part of many Facebook kidlit groups.

CM: You also teach school, Tina – how long have you done that and how has your teaching helped in your writing?

drawing by Isaac
TC: I’m starting my 15th year of formal teaching this August, my 20th if you count five years of homeschooling here in Korea. Being around elementary kids all day for most of the year helps me understand kids and what they are interested in. I write down ideas from funny things they say or do. I also understand curriculum and standards, so when I read a picture book, I’m able to think of lesson plan ideas or how that book can be incorporated into schools. I also wrote the teacher’s guide for kindergarten – 3rd grade for my book Rice from Heaven. Also, when I read manuscripts, I can sort of tell the grade level and if a word or topic will be too difficult for a certain age group. It’s just something natural that pops into my head. I guess I can’t turn off my teacher brain.

CM: Thanks, Tina. Congratulations again! I’m really looking forward to meeting you in person sometime soon.
And here are Tina’s questions and Christy’s answers:

TC: Christy, how did you land the sale for Hey, Hey, Hay?

YMCA camp where Falling Leaves meets in autumn
CM: In November 2014, at a point when I had published in magazines but hadn’t yet signed for any books, I attended a small writing conference. It was Falling Leaves, which meets on Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York (and which I highly recommend!). There I met Grace Maccarone, executive editor at Holiday House. Grace was not my assigned one-on-one critique editor, but I was able to chat with her during the conference, and based on what she said she was looking for, I thought one of my manuscripts--the one about making hay--could be a good fit for her. 

Christy's hayfield
After the conference, I walked through my hayfield and revised and polished my HAY manuscript, and a few months later, I sent it to Grace and crossed my fingers. She liked it right away! A couple months after that, we had a contract. Now, three years after that, HAY is about to be published.

TC: You also write for the educational market. What was one of your favorite books to write and why?

CM: I enjoy writing on assignment for the educational market because I get to write about a broad range of topics – including many that I wouldn't have thought of myself. I particularly enjoyed writing California’s Redwood Forest, which is part of the series “Natural Wonders of the World.” I knew the basics about redwoods, but enjoyed learning more about these magnificent trees and the ecosystem that they inhabit. Plus that book has some great photos!

I'm also very excited about a new forthcoming YA nonfiction book which I co-wrote with another Grogger, Sue Heavenrich. It’s called Diet for a Changing Climate: Food for Thought, and it’s about how what we eat affects the health of the planet as well as our own health. Specifically, we invite readers to consider consuming more weeds, invasive species, and insects. These are foods that are local and fresh, and harvesting them can be good for the environment! The book will be published this fall by Twenty-First Century Books (Lerner).

TC: What have you learned so far this year on having a debut picture book?

Website image: some Epic 18 covers
CM: Having a picture book coming out has reinforced for me the importance of being part of the kidlit community. As you pointed out, Tina, we write alone, but it sure is nice to have the support of others. I was really happy that you connected me with Hannah Holt and the other wonderful folks who formed Epic Eighteen. It’s been so helpful to share resources, tips, questions, and nervous thoughts with others during our mutual debut year.
In addition, I learned more about connecting with readers. I hadn’t put much energy into school visits before this year. Recently, I've visited several classrooms to read to kids, and received great feedback about designing good kid-oriented presentations. I’m developing more interactive programs for youngsters, and I’ve started to schedule bookstore visits. Now that I have some hay-related crafts and activities figured out, I’m realizing that this could be really fun! 
More from Hey, Hey, Hay!
Back matter

Interestingly, although our two picture books address quite different topics, they also -- like us -- have a lot in common. We both enjoy writing nonfiction, and for our debut picture books each of us invented a fictional narrator to tell a true story. Plus, both books involve food.☺

Thanks for letting us share a few tidbits about our books and our writing. And special thanks to GROG and all our friends out there for supporting us on this journey. 

Interested in pre-ordering? 

Christy is running an online pre-order campaign for Hey, Hey, Hay! For more information about how to pre-order through the website of Bear Pond Books, her local bookseller, see instructions on her website, here
And Tina wants you to know that you can pre-order Rice From Heaven here. Thanks again.  


  1. Beautiful and informative interviews, Ladies, and congratulations to you both--Cheers for your forthcoming books and thank you for all you have done and continue to do for the kidlit community!

    1. Thank you, Anne. I had fun learning more about Tina and her book.

  2. Such an warm and informative post, gals. Excited for your "book birthings."

    1. Sherri, Thank you, thank you, thank you! It's fun for me to share this journey, with Tina, with you, with GROG!

  3. Congratulations Tina and Christy :) Looking forward to reading your books.

    1. Thanks, Charlotte! It's been fun to have another person to share the journey with.

  4. Thank you so much Tina and Christy. Congratulations and much success with your books. What fun to share book birthdays. Awesome post!

    1. Thanks, Janie. Yes, it's been fun to share a book birthday with Christy and see all the similarities between our books!

  5. Two fabulous people...two fabulous books! And one fabulous interview! Loved learning more about both of you!

  6. I LOVE seeing Tina's story become a book and shortly a published one. And Hey, thank you for telling me about Christy's book.

    1. Thank you, Mirka, for all your input on the book!

  7. Can't wait to read both of these books! Congrats to two lovely ladies and co-bloggers!

  8. Congratulations, you two! Double the fun with these great books!

  9. I can't wait to read Rice.... I've already seen Hay. What fun to have twins (books)! Congrats!

  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  11. I live in a farming area and love seeing the way the hay os rolled up .It is such a scenic picture on the day it is done. I love your title and the rhyme too. I hope you have success with this delightful book.