November 04, 2021 • By Eliana Chow
This fall, Cindy Tong MBA ’10, will break into the self-published indie author scene with her debut children’s book, The Mystery of the Missing Dump Truck. The fully illustrated story stars Tong’s two young sons, Connor and Owen, who must work together to discover the mysterious fate of their favorite yellow dump truck. “Writing a children’s book has always been a dream of mine, but other responsibilities took up most of my time as an adult,” Tong shares. “The pandemic slowed life down just enough to help me take that leap of faith and give it a shot.”
As a parent, Tong often relies on stories and art to teach her sons valuable life lessons such as compassion and critical thinking. But whenever she visited the bookstore, she was struck by the lack of Asian characters represented, especially in picture books and other children’s literature.
When she did come across stories that featured Asian characters, she noticed that they featured cultural staples like chopsticks, dumplings and kung fu moves. “Those types of stories are important because they show children the beauty of different Asian cultures,” says Tong, “but I think Asian kids also want to see themselves as the heroes of everyday stories and cool adventures. I want my boys and other minority kids to know that they are an integral part of the wider society.”
When Tong first embarked on the journey to self-publish her book, the amount of work ahead felt daunting. Fortunately, she was able to tap into the skills she gleaned while attending The UCI Paul Merage School of Business more than ten years ago. “Being an indie author is like running a small business,” she says. “From accounting and marketing strategy to decisions about font and paper type, I get to wear many hats. It’s rewarding to apply my previous experiences to a new project I’m deeply passionate about.”
The benefits Tong reaped from the Merage School didn’t end with developing a foundation of theoretical knowledge for her professional career. “Before business school, I was insecure about my capabilities and what I could contribute,” she remembers. “But the moment I stepped onto campus, I was surrounded by a warm community of students who genuinely cared about helping each other succeed. They cracked open my shell and helped me find and apply the unique gifts I bring to the table.”
Those friends have stuck with her through the years, she says, and though many no longer live in the Bay Area, they’re cheering her on from around the world. Tong also expresses gratitude for her husband, who spent late nights editing her work over the past year and often took their sons out for the day so she could focus on writing and business planning. “When you choose to self-publish, you go down a rabbit hole,” she says. “It’s essential to have a supportive network of people who can encourage you when things seem bleak and offer their honest insights and creative ideas along the way.”
Grateful for a supportive community, Tong is always on the lookout for ways to support the wider neighborhood through her work. As part of her publishing campaign, she teamed up with the Children’s Book Project, a nonprofit organization that provides books to under-resourced children across the San Francisco Bay Area. Buyers can donate a book at a discounted rate on Tong’s website. To date, more than 100 books have been pre-ordered for donation.
As the book’s projected publishing season approaches, Tong reflects on her new role as a children’s book author. “At the end of the day, I’m honored to participate in making new kinds of stories accessible for generations of young readers,” she says.Merage alumni, staff and current students can get free shipping when they order the book by using the code MERAGE at checkout.