Local author/illustrator celebrates release of her second book

Author Pam Fong
Author Pam Fong
(Jody Pinchin)

Diesel books is hosting a launch party for Pam Fong’s ‘Once Upon a Forest’


Carmel Valley resident Pam Fong enjoys hiking in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

While she was trekking a while back with her son in Kings Canyon National Park, he forged ahead and left mom behind.

Weary, she sat down to rest and despaired of catching up with her energetic son.

Then, a tiny creature materialized before her — a marmot. Curious, she arose and drew closer to the animal. Rather than being frightened away, the marmot scurried up the trail and stopped, as if waiting for her to follow, Fong said.

Inspired by the marmot, Fong caught up with her son. She also had a new idea for a children’s book.

The cover of “Once Upon a Forest” by Pam Fong.
The cover of “Once Upon a Forest” by Pam Fong.

“Once Upon a Forest” was released Tuesday, Feb. 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. Saturday, Feb. 19. The store is located in Del Mar Highlands Town Center, 12843 El Camino Real, Suite 104, in Carmel Valley.

In keeping with the book’s “forest fire” theme, Fong said she will provide up to 30 signed copies to the families of firefighters. Also, she said representatives of the San Diego Fire Rescue Foundation plan to be present and hand out goodies to children.

In addition to book signings, Fong expects to deliver a short talk: “The Unique Challenges of Creating Wordless Picture Books.” Those interested in a signed book can let her know in advance by emailing her at pamfongbooks@gmail.com.

She said to have a book launch at Diesel is a dream come true.

“When they opened that bookstore, I walked in there and I thought, ‘Man, if I could do a book signing here, I could get hit by a truck tomorrow,” said Fong, who was born in Taiwan and immigrated to the U.S. with her parents when she was a young child.

Of the upcoming event, Fong said, “I’m super, super thrilled, this is going to be happening.”

In contrast to her first book “Rou and the Great Race,” released last year by Reycraft Books, “Once Upon a Forest” relates its story without the use of words. The narrative unfolds completely through Fong’s drawings.

“I was very lucky that it was picked up by the editor Lee Wade (with Penguin Random House),” Fong said. “She is kind of a rock star of wordless picture books. When she was interested in picking this up, I couldn’t have been more excited.”

The book tells the story of how a marmot and her friend, a little bird, embark on the daunting task of replanting a forest destroyed by fire.

“I couldn’t think of any words that would really add value to the story,” said Fong. “I really thought that adding words would change it to not what I originally intended.

“The forest is a quiet place. No one’s talking. So the words to me almost seemed intrusive,” she said.

Fong’s images are mostly drawn in black and gray, while making ample use of “white space.”

“I love this white space,“ she said pointing to page significant for the absence of ink. “With this (book), I really wanted to respect the white space and respect the quietness of the forest, and not add any words.

“Kids can look at this and come up with a story. They don’t need to be led word by word. ... But it’s a difficult sell. It’s a harder sell for publishing houses to pick up a wordless book.”

By working without words, Fong had to weave together the narrative panel by panel.

“If it takes 20 extra panels, it takes 20 extra panels because you can’t leave a hole in the story,” Fong said.

On two pages facing each other, Fong features a series of images of the marmot and bird working together on tasks needed to clean up the debris left by the fire.

“This is what they call a vignette, when you have all these little spot illustrations on one page,” she said. “You could see that anyone of those could have been on a spread all by itself.

“Instead, they’re all crammed on this one spread, which means this one spread took me 10 times longer to do. ... Kids love pages like this because there’s so much to dig into.”

At the suggestion of a friend, she decided to use color, albeit sparingly, on such details as plants, flowers, water and a sunset, illustrating the rebirth of the forest, thanks to the two protagonists.

Like her first book and in contrast to most children’s books, “Once Upon a Forest” deals with difficult aspects of life. Against the wish of her editor, Fong insisted the book’s last illustration show a wisp of smoke, hinting that the regrown forest will once again be faced with the threat of fire.

“I wanted readers to be aware that it’s not a quick fix; We need to be careful with the forest, and it can easily happen again,” Fong said. “I’m a very realistic storyteller. I’m hoping I’m leaving people thinking — kids and adults — of the consequences of their own actions.

“I feel this is kind of an introduction to the problem here. We’re not going to solve all of the problems with just a 40-page story.”

After a career working as an art museum administrator, Fong is now committed to her new role as a children’s book author and illustrator. More projects are in the works while she revels in the release of her second publication.

A third book is scheduled for publication by the end of this year by Greenwillow Books of HarperCollins Publishers.

More information about her is available at pamfong.com. Her books are available at Diesel as well as online.