'When You Dream of Chocolate Cake’: One alumna's story of family and culture

ASU alumna Tianna Gawlak wrote a story to capture tender moments, her love of creativity and her appreciation of her Polish heritage

In her children's book "When You Dream of Chocolate Cake," ASU alumna Tianna Gawlak combined her love for her children with creativity and Polish culture.

Gawlak, who graduated from ASU in 2017 with a Master of Science in healthcare delivery, began the process of making a book in the summer of 2019.

"The first time both of my children were baking with me in the kitchen, I realized I wanted a way to remember that moment in time together and for me, that was through writing," Gawlak said. "We take tons of pictures and things like that but I wanted something to remember it a little deeper."

During her transition to motherhood, Gawlak turned to creative hobbies for comfort because she always enjoyed things like baking and writing before her pregnancy.

Motherhood sparked the process of creating this book, which combines writing, baking and her children, who are the biggest part of her life.

Gawlak said her book "When You Dream of Chocolate Cake" is a sweet tale of a mother's love expressed through baking by following a child's dream of chocolate cake until it turns into a reality.

The first edition is going to be published in both English and Polish because staying connected to her heritage is important to Gawlak. 

She began learning the language because her wedding was going to be in Poland and her fiance's family only spoke Polish. In doing so, Gawlak built a close academic and personal relationship with Miroslawa Oginska.

Oginska is a faculty associate teaching Polish in the School of International Letters and Cultures. She said Gawlak was always a prepared, driven student in her classes and even asked for extra assignments.

In 2013, Gawlak began ASU's Polish language program in 2013 with Oginska. In 2016, she was awarded ASU’s top Polish language student.

As Gawlak's writing process began, Oginska also became a resource for translations and grammar. Oginska said that translating the book into Polish is another way for her to stay connected with her culture. 

"It's gonna be fun to read here in the United States, especially when we have a lot of Polish and Polish-American families," Oginska said. "This is because it's a book full of love and how a mother loves her children and how she thinks about them." 

The illustration of the story was also an important component, so Gawlak searched for an illustrator in a Facebook group for children's publishing asking for someone to illustrate desserts. And as a lover of sweets, illustrator Natalie Lundeen took the offer and they began working together.

Lundeen began illustrating five years ago after her own daughter was born and worked with oil painting in fine art galleries for 10 years before illustrating.

Lundeen said she knows authors have a specific idea in mind and it can be hard for illustrators to work with their own creative vision. She and Gawlak tackled this problem the best way they knew how: extensive conversation. 

"Tianna really trusted me with doing my job as an illustrator and what I can bring to the table," Lundeen said. "We had a lot of discussions and then she just let me go so it's been really fun and she's been really happy with it too."

Gawlak said she hopes her story provides children and parents a way to connect, especially while people are being instructed to stay at home amid COVID-19 concerns.

"Things are changing as social distancing happens and families are spending more time together," Gawlak said. "So I feel like it's good to remind people that and while we're staying at home for who knows how long it's a good idea to take into consideration."


Reach the reporter at czuniga9@asu.edu and follow @celzuniga on Twitter.

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