THE SUGAR PLUM BAKERS – Interview with Patricia Tanumihardja

Publisher’s book description:

With a pinch of hope and a dash of zing, we can do anything! The bakerinas are hard at work creating holiday goodies for kids around the world when a blizzard whips up trouble. Will the bakerinas deliver their treats in time?

With enchanting illustrations and charming text, The Sugar Plum Bakers introduces young readers to tasty treats from around the world—and even includes a recipe in the back so kids can make some magic of their own.

Andrea: Hi, Pat! Welcome to Picture Book Builders! I’m really excited to talk to you about THE SUGAR PLUM BAKERS: A TALE OF 12 HOLIDAY TREATS, because baked goods are some of my favorite foods. They deserve to be celebrated all year long! Can you tell us a little bit about the book and what inspired you to write about the sweet treats we often associate with the holidays?

Pat: You and me both, Andrea! Who doesn’t love baked goods, right? 

In THE SUGAR PLUM BAKERS, the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Gingerbread Man, and a team of baking fairies called bakerinas are busy creating delicious multicultural goodies for kids around the world. They’re down to their last 12—including Mexican buñuelos, Filipino ensaymadas, and Japanese mochi—when an imminent blizzard threatens their delivery. They must finish making all the treats before it strikes. While working hard in the kitchen to meet their deadline, they discover that the real magic is teamwork.

This project is actually an IP (intellectual property) project by Melissa de la Cruz Studio, a new imprint under Disney Publishing Worldwide. When I was asked to “audition” for it, I jumped at the chance! I’m a food writer and cookbook author too, so anything to do with food and cooking is totally within my wheelhouse. Plus, having grown up on Enid Blyton books, I adore fairies!

Above all, I was also very excited to introduce young readers to the variety of holiday treats beyond sugar cookies at Christmas.

Writing an IP is a totally different experience from writing my own story.

I was given a premise: “The Sugar Plum Fairy and the Gingerbread Man own a bakery. Every year, a group of baking fairies gather at their bakery during the holidays to make seasonal baked goods and treats from all over the world;” and was told to run with it. And so I did. The editorial team liked my outline and I was hired!

Andrea: Thanks for sharing a behind-the-scenes peek at how IP projects work. Even though you were given a premise, you made the story your own! While the baked treats are kind of the star of the show, they’re wrapped in a narrative about the fairies who make them, whom you call the “bakerinas.” The bakerinas are such adorable characters! What is the significance of their names (Rosevine, Kai, Peablossom, Moonrider, and Echo), and what is their story?

Pat: I decided to give each of the baking fairies a special magical power that could help in the kitchen, a distinct personality, and a fun name. There isn’t a real significance to their names. I just mixed and matched words and nouns that I find magical.

I wanted to create fun characters with agency and of course, they had to complement each other in the story that I wanted to write. I imagined them coming from fairylands all over the world and from different environments like the woods or a hidden house in someone’s garden. 

Andrea: I love how you came up with their names and envisioned their origins. Your childhood love of fairy stories shows. 🙂 Was it difficult to narrow down the featured treats to only twelve? After all, everyone has a different favorite holiday cookie! How did you decide what made the cut? 

Pat: Boy was it hard! I wanted to include as many different cultures as possible so I extended the holiday season to span from December all the way to the Lunar New Year. My original list had about 20. I wanted to include so many fun treats! 

Together with my editor, we whittled it down to 12. We wanted a good balance of multicultural goodies from different parts of the world and they had to be fun to make. From there, I developed scenes around the making of each recipe, as well as brainstormed all the things that could go wrong! The Brazilian fudge balls had to be included because I knew I wanted to include the recipe. 

Andrea: Along with the multicultural treats, you also included multicultural end-of-the-year type of holidays such as Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and Lunar New Year, instead of focusing solely on Christmas. Lunar New Year is actually coming up soon, on February 10th. Tell us about kue nastar, the Indonesian pineapple tarts shown in the book. Do you have any memories about making or eating them?

Pat: Yes, the addition of other holidays beyond Christmas was very intentional! 

Indonesia has a robust baking tradition thanks to 300 years of Dutch colonization. Kue nastar, which literally means “cake pineapple,” is one of my favorite “cookies.” Singapore and Malaysia have a similar confection called pineapple tarts. It’s basically little orbs of pineapple filling wrapped in melt-in-your-mouth short crust pastry. In Indonesia, kue nastar is popular not just at Imlek (Lunar New Year) but also during other holidays like Natal (Christmas) and Hari Raya (Eid). 

As a little girl growing up in Singapore, I adored kue nastar. And not just any pineapple tart would do. My mum specially ordered them from a friend in Indonesia who would mail containers of them to us. I would scarf down three or four in a row, several times a day. Obviously they didn’t last long. So it’s inevitable that I snuck my favorite Lunar New Year treat into the book! 

Now that I can’t buy them anymore, I have learned to make my own kue nastar! (Here’s my recipe if you’d like to try.)

Andrea: I’ve actually had kue nastar before, while visiting my in-laws in Indonesia. I can confirm that they are addictive and it’s impossible to just eat one! I know you got your start in publishing as a cookbook author and still continue to write cookbooks. What led you to start writing for kids, and picture books in particular? What do you enjoy about writing picture books? What do you find most challenging?

Pat: Not everyone knows this but I actually started writing children’s stories before I wrote about food! I wrote my first picture book back in 2003. However, after writing several manuscripts and not getting any traction, I changed gears and focused on freelance writing about various topics including food. Years later when my son was born, I realized that writing for children was my true passion. So I went back to it. It still took 9 years from first draft to publication for my first picture book “Ramen for Everyone” though! 

From the time I was a teenager, I’ve always loved being around young children. I’ve worked at camps, daycares, and preschools, and volunteered at children’s festivals and such. I knew I didn’t want to teach, so I thought, “why not write for kids?” Combined with my love for reading, becoming a children’s author seemed like the perfect job. Furthermore, writing for children, particularly picture books, allows me to express my silly self in all its glory and have fun while doing it. Honestly, I initially thought a picture book would be easier to write than a novel but I was so wrong!!

I love how words and illustrations play together in picture books and the sky really is the limit when writing a picture book story! Unfortunately, picture books are increasingly more difficult to sell. So my challenge now is to write a picture book that only I can write that editors and publishers want to buy!

Andrea: I’ve no doubt you will conquer that challenge, Pat! Thank you so much for sharing your sweet treat of a book with us. The illustrations by Bonnie Lui are a visual treat, too, and include details like the flags for the countries the treats are from and cultural holiday decorations. I’m excited to try the recipe for brigadeiros that you included in the back matter. Are you working on anything now – book-wise or food-wise – that you can tell us about?

Pat: Making brigadeiros is really easy, even little kids can be part of the action! Here’s the recipe.

I have an Indonesian cookbook “Mortar and Pestle” based on my family’s recipes coming out this summer. As for my children’s projects, I’m looking for a new agent while sending out manuscripts—picture books and chapter books–independently. Hopefully, I’ll have good news to share soon!

Andrea: I hope so, too. That would be a delicious way to start the new year! In the meantime, I’m putting Mortar and Pestle on my pre-order list. To learn more about Pat and her books, visit her website at and follow her on socials: @ediblewords on both IG and X/Twitter.

Born in Jakarta and raised in Singapore, Patricia (Pat) Tanumihardja writes fun, heartwarming stories that reflect her multicultural upbringing in Southeast Asia. Pat’s Chinese Indonesian parents encouraged her appetites for both delicious foods and good books, resulting in a writing career that spans both cookbooks and children’s books. Her debut picture book RAMEN FOR EVERYONE, an indie bookstore favorite and a JLG Gold Selection, was followed by JIMMY’S SHOES—THE STORY OF JIMMY CHOO, SHOEMAKER TO A PRINCESS, and THE SUGAR PLUM BAKERS—A TALE OF 12 HOLIDAY TREATS. Pat lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and son. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram: @ediblewords and online: Don’t be shy to hit her up for some favorite recipes, or share yours!

Andrea Wang

Andrea Wang is an acclaimed author of children’s books. Her book Watercress was awarded the Caldecott Medal, a Newbery Honor, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, and a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor. Her other books, The Many Meanings of Meilan, Magic Ramen, and The Nian Monster, have also received awards and starred reviews. Her work explores culture, creative thinking, and identity. Andrea holds an M.S. in Environmental Science and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing for Young People. She lives in Colorado with her family and pandemic pup, Tupelo.


  1. What a delicious and fun book for families to enjoy together! And what an interesting beginning this book had! Glad that you went for it, Andrea. Congratulations!

  2. Looks like a yummy new picture book! I look forward to reading it.

  3. Wow – I am so hungry! Love your clever bakerinas!

  4. I love food books! This looks extremely delightful and tasty! Congrats!

  5. Baked goods! YUM! Andrea Wang and Patricia Tanumihardja, thank you for the great questions and behind the scenes look!

  6. Looks delightful and delicious! Bakerinas … I love that!

  7. Pat and Andrea, thank you for a very fun interview–and Pat, I keep Christmas as long as I can so it was a delight to see your book. It’s a treat for sure! Congratulations!!!

  8. This book is full of movement and magic! Delightful!

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