Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans
Tina Cho, Author
Keum Jin Song, Illustrator
Little Bee Books, Historical Fiction, Aug. 14, 2018
Suitable for Ages: 4-8
Themes: Korea, Hunger, Compassion, Kindness, Making a difference
Opening: Out in the countryside, across a bridge, to an island blanketed with rice fields, Appa and I ride. We reach a place where mountains become a wall. A wall so high, no one dares to climb. Beyond that wall and across the sea live children just like me, except they do not have enough food to eat.
Yoori and her father (Appa) travel to the border of South Korea to help with a secret mission to feed the children of North Korea. Appa grew up starving in North Korea before he escaped. They arrive and meet many other volunteers who are eager to help. They also are met by angry villagers who chant “Don’t feed the enemy.”
There is a lot of work to be done before nightfall. Rice is poured into smaller bags. Under the cover of darkness, large balloons are filled with helium and bags of rice are tied onto each tail. Appa and Yoori give their balloons a little push as they rise into the sky – Up! Up! Up!. It is a good night as 200 balloons are launched into the air and float over the mountains into North Korea. In the morning, hungry children and families will find rice from friends who care.
Why I like this book:
There is so much beauty in Tina Cho’s book. What a powerful fictionalized story based on true stories of South Koreans showing their kindness and compassion towards the starving children and families living under the heartless North Korean regime. Children hear about North Korea on TV, but don’t understand what is happening.
Cho’s language is lyrical with lovely imagery and a gentle rhythm — “I am a little grain of rice. How can I help?” and “The stars and moon hide under the rain clouds as two hundred balloons creep over the mountains like stealthy ninjas to fight hunger in the darkness of the night.” Keum Jin Song’s beautiful illustrations are hopeful and capture many touching moments. They are colorful and dramatic.
This is my favorite kind of story to share with children because it shows average kids doing something to make a difference for others less fortunate. It is a stark reminder that children can make a difference in their community and world. Rice from Heaven is the perfect medium to start a dialogue about a communist state. It belongs in every school library.
Resources: Encourage kids to write about a time they helped someone and how it made them feel. Look for projects at school or in the community where kids can make a difference. Make sure you read the Author’s Note about participating in a rice balloon project, sponsored by North Korean refugees who live in Seoul. There are interesting facts about Korea (food, customs, lucky numbers), information about the Politics of the Korean Peninsula and facts on North Korea.
Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.