The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Patricia Tanumihardja
Born in Jakarta, Patricia Tanumihardja was raised on turmeric fried chicken, crispy shrimp crackers, and savory noodles on the tropical island of Singapore.
Her Indonesian Chinese parents encouraged her appetites for both delicious food and good books. As an immigrant twice-over, she’s brimming with stories to tell, and hopes that children of every color and creed will see themselves reflected in books, whether hers or other authors. Today, Pat writes both children’s books and cookbooks from her home in Northern Virginia where she lives with her husband and son. Don’t be shy to hit her up for some favorite recipes!
She’s the author of Ramen for Everyone, illustrated by Shiho Pate (2023) Amazing Mountains Around the World (2019), and Amazing Islands Around the World (2019), in addition to the cookbooks Asian Pickles at Home (2020) and Instant Pot Asian Pressure Cooker Meals (2020), Farm to Table Asian Secrets--Vegan and Vegetarian Full-Flavored Recipes for Every Season (2017), and The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook--Home Cooking from Asian American Kitchens (2009).
Her newest picture book, Jimmy’s Shoes: The Story of Jimmy Choo, Shoemaker to a Princess, released on August 8th.
Patricia, thank you so much for stopping by to talk about your newest picture book and writing.
Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write?)
I’ve been writing professionally since I graduated from college, first as a public relations and marketing professional then as a freelance journalist. I still write food stories for publications and also have 4 cookbooks under my belt. I first started writing children’s stories 20 years ago! Yes, it’s been that long.
I currently write at my standing desk next to my kitchen—it’s convenient when developing recipes! But I am moving into a room upstairs. I like to move around the house depending on my mood though. And I sometimes go to my local library or to a coffee shop to write too.
I love coming up with ideas for picture books but they’re definitely not the easiest to write. But when a story comes together, I’m deliriously happy!
They might be tougher, but Ramen for Everyone and Jimmy's Shoes are terrific books! Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book as a child?
Enid Blyton - The Magic Faraway Tree and The Adventures of the Wishing Chair.
I read a number of hers, but I didn't know of these two. Thanks for the introduction to these books! What was the inspiration or spark of interest for Jimmy’s Shoes: The Story of Jimmy Choo, Shoemaker to a Princess?
I was born in Indonesia and grew up in Singapore and I wanted to write a picture book biography about someone from my part of the world. I knew it had to be a public figure well-known enough in the West for a U.S.-based publisher to want to publish and I found Jimmy Choo! At the time, the only thing I knew about Jimmy Choo was that celebrities loved his shoes but I was amazed to learn about his life story. He worked hard and didn’t give up on his dream, and became a very successful shoe designer, a profession not always looked upon favorably by Asian parents.
As an immigrant myself, I could identify with his experiences, and the familial bonds he had. Plus, I was excited for the possibilities for gorgeous illustrations! I hope this opens the door to other Southeast Asians whose stories deserve to be told.
It is so cool to learn about the man behind the shoes! And I hope it opens up the doors for other stories, too. What is a (or the most) fun or unusual place where you’ve written a manuscript?
On the beach!
Sounds heavenly. How long did it take from the first draft to publication for Jimmy’s Shoes?
I had to go into my files to look this up! I wrote the first draft in December 2018, it sold in summer of 2020, and launched in August 2023. So about 5 years.
Thanks for looking. What's something you want your readers to know about Jimmy’s Shoes?
Jimmy’s Shoes is not just a story about a famous shoe designer. It’s also a story about the challenges of the immigration experience, strong family ties, and not forgetting where you came from.
I think you do a wonderful job exploring these other elements of the story. Did anything surprise or amaze you when you first saw Derek Desierto’s illustrations? What is your favorite spread?
Text © Patricia Tanumihardja, 2023. Image © Derek Desierto, 2023.
I kinda knew what to expect because I had seen Derek’s portfolio but when I saw the illustrations for Jimmy’s Shoes, I was blown away! His brilliant use of color, collage, textures, movement, etc. is just amazing.
My favorite spreads are the one of Jimmy working in his studio with inspiration swirling around him and the one of him putting a shoe on the late Princess Diana’s foot (Diana’s dress is gorgeous!).
This is such a fun and imaginative illustration. What was the hardest, or most challenging, part of writing Jimmy’s Shoes?
Finding information about my subject! Jimmy Choo, the man behind the brand, hasn’t been featured in the press very much. So there weren’t many resources to fall back on. I was really hoping to interview him personally and tried very hard to get connected with him but to no avail. I think he’s a very private person and I respect that.
I'm glad you ultimately found enough resources. Are there any new projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I have another picture book launching on 9/5 titled The Sugar Plum Fairies—A Tale of 12 Holiday Treats. I’m also working on a few chapter books and am researching a middle grade novel based on my dad’s experiences during the Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) during WWII.
That one looks like a lot of fun! Good luck with your other projects. What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten - whether it’s regarding writing/ illustrating or not?
“Your time will come.” I truly believe in this, whether for writing or in life. I waited 20 years for my moment as a children’s book writer and the timing was perfect!
A very important, if hard at times, thing to remember. Thank you. Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?
There are so many but I have to say Yosemite because I just visited this past summer! We rented a camper van and stayed in a campground for 4 days. It was so much fun! Yosemite is absolutely gorgeous but my hike up Vernal Falls was magical. I’ll never forget it.
Thank you Pat for stopping back by to share with us your newest picture book.
Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Jimmy’s Shoes: The Story of Jimmy Choo, Shoemaker to a Princess.
To find out more about Patricia Tanumihardja, or to contact her: