May 21, 2024

Newton native pens children’s books highlighting other cultures

As an elementary teacher, Tina Cho has an affinity for children’s books, picture books. In 2008, she decided to try her hand at writing a children’s book of her own.

After a little research on the internet, Cho found the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) and was connected with a writing group. She has published four children’s books since then, “Rice From Heaven,” “Korean Celebrations,” “My Breakfast with Jesus” and “The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story.”

“Since my books seem to highlight other cultures, I hope readers see there are others around the world who are similar yet also different. That there are situations in the world in which children need care and prayers. That we can make a difference in the lives of children,” Cho said.

“Rice from Heaven” was illustrated by Keum Jin Song and was based on a true event in which Cho participated in 2016 in South Korea. North Korean refugees have a church in Seoul, and they would send containers of rice over the border using huge hydrogen balloons, Cho explained.

“I had never heard of North Korean refugees until I moved to the Seoul area. I was intrigued. So I asked my friend if I could help. In May 2016, waiting for just the right rainy weather, we sent over 200 balloons over the border, hoping hungry families would find the rice. Currently and sadly, the government of South Korea is prohibiting any balloons sent to North Korea,” she said.

Her second book “Korean Celebrations” was illustrated by Farida Zaman and is a nonfiction book for kids about Korean holidays and celebrations. The third book, “My Breakfast with Jesus,” was illustrated by Guy Wolek and was inspired by events in John 21 of the Bible.

The fourth book, “The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story,” was illustrated by Jess X. Snow and was based on a group of elderly women divers on Jeju Island off the coast of South Korea. The women dive without breathing apparatus and sell their catch for a career.

“They’ve been doing this for hundreds of years, and I wanted to showcase the strength, sisterhood and athleticism of these elderly women,” Cho said. “They are fascinating! My family and I flew to Jeju to see them firsthand.”

“The Ocean Calls” has earned four-starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist and School Library Journal. It’s a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection and on the Fall 2020 Kids’ Indie Next List by the American Booksellers Association. The audio version of the book is due out in January of 2021.

About The Author

Cho, who’s maiden name is Wheatcraft, grew up in Newton. She feels that she and her sister were probably some of the only Asian kids in the town at that time.

“I didn’t mind because I think I considered myself all white. I had a great circle of friends and attended Lincoln Elementary. Newton was a small community, and we got together with other families from church and our neighborhood,” she said.

She attended Iowa State University where she met her husband, Jaekeun Cho. Together they have a daughter Anna, who is a freshman in college, and a son, Isaac in 10th grade. Previously, Cho had spent the past 10 years living in Korea with her husband’s family helping with their business.

She has been an elementary teacher for 17 years, with part of that time was spent overseas at an international Christian school for five years. She was also able to continue her writing during her time in Korea.

Her family has since returned to Iowa, after her daughter graduated high school. She teaches school in the Des Moines area and continues to work on future projects.

Cho is grateful for the support she has received on this journey, and she hopes to show that anyone can follow their dreams.

“I’m thankful for my parents, sister, brother, husband, children, all my teachers and friends who have impacted my life and shaped me into the person I am now. I’m thankful to God who has allowed me to write and given me ideas. I hope all children will see that they can become anything, no matter if they are from a small town, no matter where in the world life takes them. As one of my educator friends says, ‘Everyone has a story to tell!’” Cho said.

Her children’s books are available wherever books are sold with some titles being sold at Mattinglys Music and Book Store and Choices Christian Bookstore.

Cho has a lyrical middle grade graphic novel slated to be released in 2020 from Harper Alley, an imprint of Harper Collins. It’s titled “The Other Side of Tomorrow” and tells the story of two North Korean children who escape their country using the Asian Underground Railroad. She is also working on two stories set in South Korea, with one taking place in a rice paddy and the other at a firefly festival.

For more information about Cho’s current and upcoming projects, visit her website at

Contact Pam Pratt at 641-792-3121 ext. 6530 or