April 3, 2019

Start to Finish Story Time: RICE FROM HEAVEN, by Tina Cho

One of the most popular features on my blog is the Start to Finish Story Time series, where I share lesson plans for story time programs related to my sign language books. I also have a series of lesson plans for alphabet-related story time programs, and I'm in the process of developing and gathering story time lesson plans related to pirates, cowgirls, and potty-humor to align with my forthcoming humorous picture books, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? and Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? (NOTE: I'm still seeking contributors for this series, so please reach out to me via email, social media or the contact form at the left if you are interested in participating as a contributor).

Rice from Heaven, by Tina Cho and Keum Jin Song
This week's post expands on the Start to Finish Story Time series, providing a story time lesson plan by guest author, Tina Cho, for her book, RICE FROM HEAVEN: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans (illustrated by Keum Jin Song, little bee books, 2018).

RICE FROM HEAVEN is a beautiful book about compassion and kindness. If you are a classroom teacher, youth librarian, after school activities coordinator, parent that home schools, or a parent or caregiver looking for opportunities to extend and enrich learning experiences through books, then this post is for you. This would be an ideal book to share in observance of "Good Deeds Day," which falls on April 7th this year.

Start to Finish Story Time: Rice From Heaven
by Tina Cho

Thank you, Dawn, for inviting me to your blog. You have some interesting series here.

My picture book Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans came out last August 2018 published by little bee books/Bonnier Publishing. Since then, I’ve been able to do some school visits and Skype/Google Hangout visits with classes around the world. My picture book is based on a true event which I helped with; however, I fictionalized the story to protect North Korean refugees involved and to adapt it more for kids. Rice from Heaven can be used with many age levels. One mom told me she read it to her two-year-old son who loved the unique balloons. Middle school teachers have told me they have read it to their classes. And of course, elementary aged children have read and interacted with the book. Throughout this post, I’ll share how you can differentiate the book and activities for different age groups.


-map of North and South Korea
-large clear plastic bags (NOT Ziploc)
-yarn precut, about 18 inches long for each child
-note cards with a hole punched in the corner for each child
-an item that weighs 6 pounds, preferably rice
-black construction paper, one for each child
-photo of a rice field


Before reading the book, it’s helpful to share the book’s back story plus information on North Korea. I like to begin by showing the kids a close-up photo of a rice field. You can google one. I’m lucky as we have rice fields right across the street from my school. Many kids don’t know what this rice plant is and will more likely say wheat. Then I tell them that in South Korea and other countries of Asia, the main crop or staple food is rice. Share the map of North and South Korea. Have them locate each. Depending on the age level, I briefly state that long ago there was a war that separated the two countries. North Korea is communist with a mean leader, and South Korea is a free country like the U.S. and has a president. Again, depending on the age group, you can go into more detail of some atrocities of North Korea. It might be suffice to say that people, children, in North Korea are starving because of famine, their poor living conditions, and a communist state of government. I show them the river that separates North Korea from China. I tell them some North Koreans hear about freedom in the rest of the world. They want food. They want freedom and cross the river into China and then on to safe places. If they are caught, they are returned to North Korea where they will be put into a prison camp/concentration camp.

In the city of Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is a church for North Korean refugees. The pastor is North Korean and escaped many years ago. These refugees still have family living in North Korea. They save money and buy rice to send up in huge hydrogen balloons. They wait for a rainy day because a stormy day brings winds to carry the balloons over the mountains to North Korea. They hope families will find the rice and eat it. If soldiers shoot the balloons down, they will most likely keep the rice for themselves.

On May 2, 2016, I participated in this rice balloon event. A week later I wrote the first draft of Rice from Heaven. Two years later, it was published.

Read the book Rice from Heaven:

Author, Tina Cho
At the end or throughout the book, you can take questions and answers from the kids.
I also like to demonstrate how heavy six pounds of rice feels. I tell them it’s equivalent to a six-pound bowling ball. I bring a six-pound bag of rice and let them feel it. If you have an Asian grocery store, you might be able to do the same or just find something that weighs six pounds.


The following craft was developed by my good friend Laura Baker Moon. Children can make a little model of the balloon and write their wish or prayer for North Korean children.

I pass out the bags, yarn, and paper to each child. Then I show them how to “swish” the bag in the air and close it tightly real fast to “catch the air.” We twist the end and tie it with the yarn. (I feel this is safer to do than having them blow into the bag.) Kindergartners through 5th graders have done this activity with me.

Next you can have them write a wish or prayer for North Korean children. After reading the book, children usually feel compassion as they learn some North Korean children eat once a day, have eaten grass and bark, or nothing at all. For those who can’t write, they can draw and color a picture of something they wish to send to North Korean children. I also give a prompt on the board like “I wish … or I pray…” Then using the same yarn, tie the card onto the balloon. If you want to be creative, you can prepare heart-shaped note cards or pretty stationery/cutouts.

Two schools I spoke at hung these balloons from the hallway ceiling. It’s an awesome reminder to think about North Korean children and others less fortunate.

Author, Tina Cho

If you don’t want to hang them from the ceiling, you can tape the balloons to a black piece of construction paper. Have the kids draw white clouds and rain to show the rainy night. At the bottom of the paper, they can write the title of the book, or you can print labels and attach. You can hang these up in the room or send them home to share with parents.


If you want a snack to go with the book, how about something made from rice? Rice Krispy bars, rice cakes, Korean kimbap (looks like sushi rolls but no fish), or simply steamed rice?


Students and parents have told me they loved my book and couldn’t stop talking about what they learned about North Korea. Teachers said it really opened their students’ eyes. I tell students that they, too, can write about their experiences of being kind and caring for others. If I can do it, so can they. I also have two different teacher guides on my website. If you’d like me to do a Google Hangout with your class, please email me. I show slides and a short clip of the real event and tell real stories from North Korean refugees I’ve met.

Thank you, Tina! This is a such a helpful resource for parents, teachers, librarians and other community educators who want to enrich the learning experience when they share your meaningful book with the children in their lives.

Readers, you can find more Start to Finish Story Time lesson plans at this link. 

Author, Tina Cho
Tina Cho is the author of four picture books-- Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans (little bee books/Bonnier Publishing August 2018), Korean Celebrations (forthcoming Tuttle August 2019), Breakfast with Jesus (forthcoming Harvest House 2020), and The Ocean Calls: A Mermaid Haenyeo Story (forthcoming from Kokila summer 2020). Although she grew up and taught in the United States, she currently lives in South Korea with her husband and two children while teaching at an international school.

Start to Finish Story Time and Start to Finish Story Time, Expanded are occasional features of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? (forthcoming, 2019), and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to Oregon Reads Aloud and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Contact Dawn using the form at the left, or learn more at

1 comment:

  1. I just read about Pennsylvania's decision to create an annual Day of Kindness in Mr. Rogers' honor. It will fall on May 23rd each year--the 143rd day of the year (143 was a special number for Mr. Rogers). Anyhow, I read this and immediately thought PA's Annual Day of Kindness would be another great day to read/spotlight Rice from Heaven.