SAN DIEGO – Tracy Badua was watching HGTV and the Food Network while on maternity leave when the idea for her next children’s book came to her – something that melded the Filipino-American experience and culture with villains loosely based on the Property Brothers.

Now, that book, called “The Takeout,” is set to hit the shelves next week.

The San Diego author, whose debut fantasy novel “Freddie vs. The Family Curse” was published just last year, fell into writing children’s books in 2017. 

She had just moved to San Diego from Washington D.C. with her family. Having more free time after her day job as an attorney working in federal policy, Badua decided to enroll in a UC San Diego extension class that allowed her to explore more imaginative writing.

Photo of Tracy Badua with her husband and child in a bookstore. Her husband and baby are wearing t-shirts with  the cover of Badua's second book, "This Is Not a Personal Statement." (Courtesy of the Badua Reddy Family)
Photo of Tracy Badua with her husband and child in a bookstore. Her husband and baby are wearing t-shirts with the cover of Badua’s second book, “This Is Not a Personal Statement.” (Courtesy of the Badua Reddy Family)

Two books later, “The Takeout,” Badua’s newest middle-grade novel which follows a young girl who faces off against celebrity chef twins after she finds out they’re stealing recipes from her family’s Filipino-Indian fusion food truck, is about to be released.

“The Takeout,” like all of Badua’s work, centers Filipino characters. Being Filipino herself, it was something that she said was important to her as an author, as she didn’t have access to stories about kids like her growing up.

“I wanted to make sure I show different experiences of them being kids, not even them just being like ‘I’m Filipino American and this defines me,’” Badua said to “It’s just them living their best lives … just the different experiences that these kids go through – just having fun being who they are.”

For Badua, that representation is more about the worlds these characters inhabit – all in California – that draw from her own experience being raised in a close-knit community of Filipino family and friends in West Covina, just east of Los Angeles. 

“There’s a certain sense of growing up as a Filipino American here,” she said, “it’s a sense that you’re not as much of an ‘other,’ because everyone kind of looks like you in some of the spheres that you run in.”

A big component of that is food, which is at the center of “The Takeout.”

“It’s a really great connector, especially in Filipino culture,” she said. “It’s a common experience that when we meet other Filipinos, or when you meet a Filipino, we immediately start talking about food … I wanted to make sure I feature that.”

In “The Takeout,” the main character’s family-run, Filipino-Indian food truck serves as a central backdrop for her journey and exploration of her heritage: when the truck is threatened by celebrity twin chefs, she starts dabbling in Filipino folk magic and healing traditions that she has shied away from her whole life.

Image of the cover of Tracy Badua's new middle-grade fantasy novel, "The Takeout." (Courtesy of HarperCollins Children's Books)
Image of the cover of Tracy Badua’s new middle-grade fantasy novel, “The Takeout.” (Courtesy of HarperCollins Children’s Books)

On the way, she also grapples with moving to a new, less diverse community – reconciling her Filipino-American identity with “cookie cutter sameness” to find a sense of belonging.

“My books are fun and more lighthearted, even though they do carry some of those themes,” Badua said. “(Young readers) get a lot of joy about seeing themselves in books, when people like them just kind of move about the world.”

The representation of Filipino-American characters in her work is something Badua says has inspired a lot of creativity among her audience, from drawing things from her novels to writing their own stories.

“It’s really heartwarming to see … kids getting inspired to do creative stuff,” Badua said. “I’ve had kids ask me, ‘Okay, how do I get published, because I write books too,’ and that is so cool.”

“The Takeout” has its official book launch next Tuesday, May 9 at Myserious Galaxy Bookstore. There is also a virtual option for families that do not want to brave the evening traffic on Rosecrans Street. More information can be found here.

Badua will also be at the Convoy Nights: AAPI Heritage Month event on Saturday, May 6 for an advance book signing alongside another local children’s author. 

Convoy Nights will be at Kilowatt Brewing Kearny Mesa from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.