Author Spotlight: Helen H. Wu
Nov. 4, 2022
We are excited to feature author Helen H. Wu and her debut picture book TOFU TAKES TIME, illustrated by Julie Jarema (Beaming Books 2022), and her book LONG GOES TO DRAGON SCHOOL, illustrated by Mae Besom (Yeehoo Press), coming out on Feb. 23, 2023. Enter to win signed copies of both her books!
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write picture books.
I’ve been passionate about writing and drawing since I was a kid; however, I never thought it would be a career option when I grew up in China. My parents were very supportive, but we didn’t have typical picture books when I grew up. We had black and white comic books and only in the last two decades, picture books were introduced into China. The Chinese children’s book market started much later than other markets around the world. I illustrated for a self-published picture book in 2012 and that was how I got started in children’s book publishing.
I came to graduate school in the U.S. at age twenty. As a first-generation immigrant, I’ve felt impostor syndrome ever since—including throughout my journey as an author. Although I’m now a publisher - Yeehoo publishes many award-winning and bestselling books in the US and China, I sometimes still worry whether a lady with an accent—whose English is the second language and who hadn’t read English picture books until age twenty—can successfully progress this publishing company. But here’s the good news: while I don’t think these thoughts will ever go away completely, I’ve learned to control them. In fact, I’ve learned to let them motivate me to think outside the box and find my own unique path in publishing.
|from Tofu Takes Time
Congrats on both your debut picture book, Tofu Takes Time, and your forthcoming book, Long Goes to Dragon School! Tell us about these books and what inspired you.
The inspiration for Tofu Takes Time 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 U.S. 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. 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.
My upcoming book, Long Goes to Dragon School, was inspired by my own experience as a minority immigrant student. It 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. In this story, Long’s name is based on the Chinese word for dragon, “龙(lóng).” Like in Western culture, dragons are intricately intertwined with Chinese culture. However, Chinese dragons do not typically breathe fire. Instead, they are known as water spirits. I have always been fascinated by the differences and similarities between cultures. And living in America, I’ve realized that everyone is different and that learning from others helps you discover your own talents, while still allowing you to find your own path.
You are also a publisher at Yeehoo Press. How has your experience at Yeehoo Press affected your work as an author?
|from Tofu Takes Time
|from Long Goes to Dragon School
What projects are you working on now?
Besides books, I’m forming a new product department in Yeehoo Press to develop book related products and merchandise. We’re developing plushies, craft kits, coloring bookmarks, giant coloring posters for classes. These merchandise provide various vehicles for children, parents and educators to use in everyday life. Merchandise brings the book and its characters to a broader audience and market, and the book gives the merchandise a meaningful message and makes them unique. We aim to create a dynamic and multidimensional learning experience for our readers and customers, and make our books, stories, and characters more memorable for a broader audience, and ultimately bring success to our fabulous authors and illustrators.
|from Long Goes to Dragon School
Each person’s publishing journey is different. Behind every success story is years of hard work and perseverance. My advice is to read as many books as you can in the genre you intend to write. Take picture book writing classes. Find a critique group and get feedback on your stories. Revise, revise, revise. Keep writing, keep submitting, and keep going. And most importantly, have fun!
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I’m very into cute kawaii-style goodies. For Long Goes to Dragon School, besides plushies, I’m making pins, stickers, animated gif emojis and stickers to use on social media. I hope this adorable Chinese dragon character can fly beyond book, to be companions of more children, teens, and adults in everyday life.
Aree you acquiring books for your press? If so, what are you looking for, and what is the submission process?
For the acquisition process, our editors go through stacks of submissions, consider what we think may work for our program, create a memo to share with the team that includes a positioning statement about the topic of the book and why someone would want to buy it, a brief description of the story, an author bio, and comp titles. As the submission needs to go through two teams, the acquisition process may take several months.
Where can people find you online?
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 LongGoes To Dragon School, illustrated by Mae Besom (Yeehoo Press, 2023). Helen is thepublisher of Yeehoo Press, an independent children’s book publisher. Beingfascinated by the differences and similarities between cultures, Helen loves to share storiesthat can empower children to understand the world and our connections. Currently, Helen lives in San Diego, California, with her family and two kids.
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