Carmel Valley resident Pam Fong enjoys hiking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
A while ago, while she was hiking with her son in Kings Canyon National Park, he went ahead and left his mother behind.
Tired, she sat down to rest and despaired of catching up with her energetic son.
Then, a small creature materialized in front of her – a marmot. Curious, she got up and approached the animal. Rather than being frightened, the groundhog rushed down the trail and stopped, as if waiting for it to follow, Fong said.
Inspired by the groundhog, Fong caught up with her son. She also had a new idea for a children’s book.
“Once Upon a Forest” was published on Tuesday, February 8 by Random House Studio, an imprint of the Random House Children’s Books division of the prestigious Penguin Random House publishing empire.
To celebrate the release, Diesel Bookstore will host a launch party at 3 p.m. on Saturday, February 19. The store is located in downtown Del Mar Highlands, 12843 El Camino Real, Suite 104, Carmel Valley.
In keeping with the book’s “wildfire” theme, Fong said she would provide up to 30 signed copies to families of firefighters. In addition, she said representatives from the San Diego Fire Rescue Foundation plan to attend and hand out treats to the children.
Along with the book signings, Fong expects to deliver a short lecture: “The Unique Challenges of Creating Wordless Picture Books.” Those interested in a signed book can let him know in advance by emailing him at [email protected]
She said having a book launch at Diesel is a dream come true.
“When they opened this bookstore, I walked in and thought, ‘Man, if I could do a book signing here, I might get hit by a truck tomorrow,'” said Fong, who was born in Taiwan. and immigrated to the United States with her parents when she was little.
Of the upcoming event, Fong said, “I’m super, super excited this is going to happen.”
Unlike her debut book “Rou and the Great Race,” published last year by Reycraft Books, “Once Upon a Forest” tells her story without using words. The narrative unfolds completely through Fong’s drawings.
“I was very lucky that it got picked up by editor Lee Wade (with Penguin Random House),” Fong said. “She’s kind of a wordless picture book rock star. When she was interested in picking this up, I couldn’t have been more excited.
The book tells how a groundhog and his friend, a small bird, embark on the difficult task of replanting a forest destroyed by fire.
“I couldn’t think of any words that would really add value to the story,” Fong said. “I really thought adding words would change it to not be what I originally intended.
“The forest is a quiet place. No one is speaking. So the words felt almost intrusive to me,” she said.
Fong’s images are mostly drawn in black and gray, while making extensive use of “white space”.
“I love that white space,” she said, pointing to an important page for no ink. “With this (book), I really wanted to respect the white space and respect the quietness of the forest, and not add words.
“Kids can watch this and come up with a story. They don’t need to be guided word by word. …but it’s a hard sell. It’s harder for publishers to get a book without words.
Working without words, Fong had to weave the narrative panel by panel.
“If it takes 20 more panels, it takes 20 more panels because you can’t leave a hole in the story,” Fong said.
On two facing pages, Fong presents a series of images of the marmot and the bird working together on the tasks necessary to clean up the debris left by the fire.
“It’s what they call a thumbnail, when you have all these little one-off illustrations on one page,” she said. “You could see any of them could have been on a spread on their own.
“Instead, they’re all crammed onto this one page, which means this one took me 10 times longer to make. … Kids love pages like this because it there is so much to dig into.
On the suggestion of a friend, she decides to use color, but sparingly, on details such as plants, flowers, water and a sunset, illustrating the rebirth of the forest, thanks to the two protagonists.
Like her first book and unlike most children’s books, “Once Upon a Forest” deals with the difficult aspects of life. Against his publisher’s wishes, Fong insisted that the last illustration in the book shows a wisp of smoke, hinting that the reconstituted forest will once again face the threat of fire.
“I wanted readers to know that this is not a silver bullet; We have to be careful with the forest, and it can easily happen again,” Fong said. “I am a very realistic storyteller. I hope I let people – children and adults – think about the consequences of their own actions.
“I think it’s kind of an introduction to the problem here. We’re not going to solve all the problems with just a 40-page story.
After a career as an art museum administrator, Fong is now engaged in her new role as a children’s book author and illustrator. More projects are on the way as she revels in the release of her second publication.
A third book is expected to be published by the end of this year by Greenwillow Books of HarperCollins Publishers.
More information about it is available at pamfong.com. His books are available at Diesel as well as online.