Once Upon a Forest, by Pam Fong, (Feb. 2022, Random House Studio), $17.99, ISBN: 9780593380147
A marmot tends to her garden one day and notices smoke from a distance. She and her friend, a small bird, arrive on the scene to see that a fire has devastated part of the forest, but she’s a determined friend of nature: accompanied by the bird, Marmot gets to work tending the land and replanting trees, With water, care, and patience, the forest, and the animals that live there, return. Once she’s satisfied that the nature can handle itself on its own again, the marmot returns home to discover how own garden has flourished. The wordless story centers on Marmot’s guardianship of her forest home. Drawn as a fluffy, cartoony character, her facial expressions help readers understand what she’s feeling and understand what they’re seeing. When she spies the smoke, we see her body language: back to the reader, her arms rise in surprise; she sees a helicopter fly by and dump water on the area, and turns to the reader, unsure. When she arrives at the fire site, she and the bird stand silently, eyes cast downward, shoulders slumped. She grabs her gardening tools and walks determinedly to the area, set on caring for the area. Bird flies nearby, helping where she can. Illustrated primarily in shades of gray, black and white, soft nature colors are added for emphasis: light blue for the water; green, yellow, and shades of pink and purple for flowers. The front endpapers set the stage of the story, with a smoldering campfire smoking near a fallen log; the back endpapers show the same area with new, green trees. Nature will heal, but it’s up to all of us to act, like Marmot, as keepers of the world and to live mindfully within nature. Booklist gave Once Upon a Forest a starred review and praises this story of “environmental stewardship”. Display and booktalk for Earth Day.
Visit Pam Fong’s webpage for more of her illustration.