Pam Fong’s family immigrated to the United States from Taiwan when she was 2 years old.
From an early age, Fong spent many hours in libraries. She immersed herself in the brightly colored, large print books with easy-to-read stories aimed at young children.
Five decades later, the Carmel Valley resident is reveling in the recent publication of her first children’s book, “Rou and the Great Race,” which she wrote and illustrated.
“Our sanctuary was the library,” she said of her childhood. “It was the only place where no one could talk. Everyone was equal. No one knew we didn’t know the language.
“The only people talking there are the books. I discovered picture books there. I know for a fact that I always wanted to be a picture book writer.
After moving to Youngstown, Ohio from Taiwan, Fong’s family eventually moved to Southern California.
She received her bachelor’s degree from UC San Diego. She attended Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where she obtained a degree in arts management. This led to a career in museum administration, including a stint as an associate curator at the San Diego Museum of Art.
During his off-peak hours, Fong made many “mannequins”, that is, drafts of children’s books.
It wasn’t until she showed her work at a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference last year that she made her breakthrough.
Fong’s sketches caught the attention of an editorial director at the New York-based publisher of Reycraft Books.
“It turned out that he was focusing on this character of Rou, that I didn’t have the full story of,” Fong said. “I only had one character study of her in the portfolio.”
The director asked Fong to meet him the next day and inquired about his story.
“I really had to catch it off the top of my head, because I hadn’t written it yet,” she said. “It had stuck in my head, but I just didn’t have time to write it down.
“But you fake it until you get it right. I told him the story and he said, ‘Sounds awesome. Can you send me a dummy?’
Fong said she stayed up for two days to create a full-fledged mannequin to meet the publisher’s deadline before an acquisition meeting.
When she received an email with a subject line stating that her proposal had been accepted, she was too excited to open the message.
“I started to scream; I lost my mind, “she said.” I had to ask my son to open the email and read it. I didn’t even hear what he said. I didn’t know the details I didn’t know the amount I was so over the moon.
“Rou and the Great Race” is an anomaly in the world of children’s books. Fong describes it as a “dystopia”. It takes place in a world ruled by a repressive regime.
Rou lives with his grandmother and his boyfriend is a robot. Rou and her comrades have a grueling experience under the circumstances, but she manages to convert it into a positive outcome.
“I wanted to write the story that tells the kids, ‘Okay, you’re not going to win, but then what are you going to do about it?'” Said Fong. “I kept thinking that kids don’t always have happy endings. Adults don’t always have a happy ending.
“And what are we supposed to do with it?” So this story is about what to do when we are faced with the ultimate disappointment. “
While the art in most children’s books consists of bright primary colors, Fong’s book is a contrast of red details and skin tones with a predominantly monochrome background in various shades of gray.
Fong pays homage to his cultural roots by describing Rou and his grandmother as generically Asian.
One scene shows the grandmother running a store with Rou in the back doing her homework while the robot watches.
“My immigrant story shows up there as well,” Fong said. “(Rou) is raised by her grandparents. … So many Asian children who come here and their parents open shops, so they are raised in the back of the shop. They do their homework there.
Also, Fong said, there is an environmental aspect to his book’s narrative.
“All picture book stories are meant to help kids navigate their lives,” she said. “This is no small responsibility.
The publication of “Rou et la Grande Course” opened up other opportunities with major publishers. Fong is now working on a wordless picture book which she says will be released by Penguin Random House in February.
“This book is also about the environment. … I rely on nature to recharge my batteries. It is therefore very painful to see what is happening. Many of my stories tend to highlight the environment, which children instinctively understand. “
Another project is planned for next year by Harper-Collins. This book, Fong says, focuses on mental illness.
She also plans to do a book in chapters, which, unlike the typical 300-word children’s book, would be around 3,000 words long.
In the publishing world, acceptance of Fong by major New York publishers is rare. Yet rather than obsessing over marketing and selling books, she sees her success as an opportunity to keep creating. She remains focused on her goal as an artist and her commitment to communicating with children.
“This is my only chance to get it right for these little minds,” Fong said. “It’s extremely important.
“If I’m wrong or if I’m a little wrong, it doesn’t work. You want to do it right because we rely on these little minds to solve so many problems. We have to equip them properly.
More information on Pam Fong and Reycraft can be found at pamfong.com and reycraftbooks.com.