Behind the Scenes: “Building Layers from Life” by Helen Wu

This week’s guest blogger, Helen H. Wu, shares how she found the layers in TOFU TAKES TIME. When you write from a personal experience, paying attention to emotions and details can contribute to the creation of a multi-layered story.

Helen has a special giveaway, too—a signed bookplate and a limited edition art print! Just leave a comment below for a chance to win! 

Congratulations to Lisa Connors, the winner of a book of choice from Elisa Boxer!

Tofu Takes Time_Cover_s

Building the Layers from Life by Helen H. Wu

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.

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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 complaint 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.

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.

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I’m always drawn into picture books because picture books have the potential to pass on the joy from generation to generation, and it’s one of the channels that children can learn about the world when they snuggle on the laps of parents and grandparents. As a first-generation immigrant, my kids—growing up as minority immigrants—face a very different challenge than me when I was a kid—how to balance the cultural differences. As an adult, I in fact am still learning how to balance the cultural differences as I look to stay true to myself while finding a sense of belonging in the new community. This is one of the many reasons why I decided to write children’s books grounded in my own personal immigrant experience with cultural heritage and universal messages. I hope I could unearth some possible solutions for young readers who are facing similar challenges.

Don’t forget to leave a comment below for a change to win the limited art print and signed book plate! (Winner announced 5/20/22.)

Learn more about Helen at

helenhwu.com and follow her on Twitter at @HelenHWu , Instagram at @HelenHWu and TikTok at @helenhwu

HelenHWu_profile_sBIO: 

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.


8 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes: “Building Layers from Life” by Helen Wu

  1. I love hearing about how writers get inspiration for their books and look forward to reading Tofu Takes Time and discovering the layers in your story.. Stories about food and relationships with grandparents are universal. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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