Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Helen H. Wu, author of the delightful picture book Tofu Takes Time (illustrated by Julie Jarema)!
Hello from one Helen to another! It’s a pleasure to have you on my blog. Your new picture book, Tofu Takes Time, is a delightful story about a young girl making tofu with her beloved NaiNai (grandmother). I feel like I learnt a lot from it myself about how to make tofu and about the importance of patience. Can you tell us what inspired you to write it? Does it contain autobiographical elements?
The inspiration for this story was born of my tofu-making experience with my treasured grandma. When I was a kid, I often sat nearby and watched as she cooked—a process that sometimes involved tofu. She would wash vegetables, chop meat, stir porridge, and cook all the meals for our entire family. It was during these times that she would share stories that transported me to faraway places and other eras. After I moved to the US and had my own family, my kids would ask many questions about the process and tools we used to make tofu together: serving as a warm reminder of the sweet time I spent with my grandma in the small kitchen across the ocean. Hence, a story began to take shape.
What lovely memories! Did the story, like tofu, take time to develop and require many revisions, or did it come to you fully formed?
I wrote the first draft in 2018 and continuously revised the draft till 2020. After I was confident with the “final” version, it took only about one month from submission to acquisition, which was lightning fast. I’m so grateful that my editor, Naomi Krueger and the amazing team from Beaming Books believed in me and the book. A great book calls for multiple layers with varied messages readers can take away from the story. Though the idea behind the book was grounded in the tofu-making process, I knew the story must involve a bigger concept that is more relevant to kids. When I cooked with my own kids, they would start imaginative play and occasionally complain about the time required to cook a proper meal: which inspired me to weave the topic of patience into the text. In examining the tofu-making process in a more imaginative way, I discovered an assortment of inherent elements that connect with nature and even the universe at large.
In some tofu-making steps, the use of onomatopoeia comes naturally: such as when blending beans with water and boiling soymilk. It was during the revision process that I realized using onomatopoeia would add a pattern to the structure, making it fun and predictable and more satisfying for young readers to read aloud while adding another layer to the storyline. It’s for this reason that I added sound cues to each tofu-making step as well as in preparing for meal time together.
I’m now very pleased to have found a sweet spot that includes food, culture, patience, nature, and intergenerational love all tied into one story.
Wow, it really was worth the time it took to let this beautiful story ‘cook’! What do you hope readers will take away from reading Tofu Takes Time?
I hope readers will enjoy this multi-generational tale that explores the magic of patience in making tofu, using sights, sounds, and lots of imagination. As an ode to patience and delayed gratification, this book supports the mindset that good things take time—a concept both children and families can apply in many areas of life.
That’s such an important message. Can you tell us about anything you’re working on at the moment, or any other books scheduled for release?
My next picture book, LONG GOES TO DRAGON SCHOOL, illustrated by Mae Besom, will be published by Yeehoo Press in February 2023. Inspired by my experience as a minority immigrant student, this picture book follows a Chinese dragon who struggles to breathe fire in his new Western dragon school, only to discover he must carve his own path to finding a sense of belonging. Wrapped in Eastern and Western dragon lore, this fantasy tale celebrates perseverance, self-acceptance, and cultural differences.
What a wonderful idea for a book; I can’t wait to read it! And finally, what’s your personal favourite tofu-based dish?
I love Mapo tofu with ground meat; but since my kids don’t like spicy food, I only occasionally eat tofu prepared in this manner.
Now I’m hungry :-). Thank you so much for taking the time to appear on my blog and answer these questions!
Learn more about Helen at helenhwu.com and follow her on Twitter at @HelenHWu , Instagram at @HelenHWu and TikTok at @helenhwu
Helen H. Wu is a children’s book author, illustrator, translator and publisher. She is the author of Tofu Takes Time, illustrated by Julie Jarema (Beaming Books, 2022) and Long Goes To Dragon School, illustrated by Mae Besom (Yeehoo Press, 2023). Helen is the Associate Publisher of Yeehoo Press, an independent children’s book publisher. Being fascinated by the differences and similarities between cultures, Helen loves to share stories that can empower children to understand the world and our connections. Currently, Helen lives in San Diego, California, with her family and two kids.