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Author Xelena Gonzalez and illustrator Adriana Garcia on their new children's book


In the picture book "Where Wonder Grows," a woman takes her grandchildren to a special garden, where they discover crystals, seashells, meteorites and magical rocks. The book is by two friends, the author Xelena Gonzalez and the illustrator Adriana Garcia.

XELENA GONZALEZ: It's a funny thing because any time anyone in the industry has asked us what this book is about, we say it's about rocks and children's connection to nature and to their grandparents. And I think we feel a little pressed to explain more because we know there's this, like, elevator speech that's required that we should perfect. But any time we've told kids when kids ask us what's your next book about and we say it's about rocks, they say, yes. And they'll close their eyes, and they're so excited. Like, they just get it.

ADRIANA GARCIA: 'Cause they're so cool (laughter). I remember as a kid, like, picking up rocks and sand and roly-polies. And there's, like, a whole world in the things that we find in nature. And so I think that's why.

SIMON: The grandmother and the children spread out a purple blanket on the ground. The words read, this is the place where wonder grows and stories blossom, where we gather our magic rocks and relics from nature. It is the second book by Xelena Gonzalez and Adriana Garcia, which makes them a great team for our children's book series, Picture This. Here's how they work together.

GARCIA: Well, it starts with tacos (laughter). It starts with food.

GONZALEZ: Oh, yeah, yeah. We get together over tacos, and we usually talk about our lives. And we laugh a lot, and sometimes we walk together. Yeah, I think in the beginning when we started, we would set up a meeting, and we would try to get down to business.

GARCIA: And it just didn't happen (laughter).

GONZALEZ: Yeah, I'd be like, what? You're - you know, you're dating this person? Or, you know, you're moving? You know, those kind of - these...

GARCIA: Life events and everything - yeah.

GONZALEZ: So now we know. Just get all of that out of the way.

GARCIA: Get it out first.

SIMON: Xelena Gonzalez says the idea for "Where Wonder Grows" started while she and Adriana Garcia were on tour for their first book, "All Around Us."

GONZALEZ: We went on a six-week, multistate road trip...


GONZALEZ: ...Promoting our book. And along the way, we kept finding these really cool rocks, just finding them in nature, seeing them on the landscape. We stayed with different people - right? - at different people's houses. And so we had one where this kid said, do you want to come to this rock party? And it was kind of like a tea party.

GARCIA: She had a basket of rocks. (Laughter) And she, like, dumped them on the floor, and she just started talking about them.

GONZALEZ: And so there was just rocks instead of dolls. We kept meeting with mostly young kids, mostly young readers, but also adults who had this fascination with rocks and some sort of really cool activity happening with rocks that we were being invited to observe and participate in. And so we both kind of said, like, OK, I think our next book has to be about rocks. But Adriana really had these visuals, these gorgeous visuals. We just said, OK, well, let's roll with it. Let's let the illustration lead the way this time.

GARCIA: They're very colorful. I am a muralist, and I liked using really bold colors like pinks and blues and greens and purples and - but I really love using a lot of color. I remember when I was in school being told that I used too much color, which I thought was perplexing (laughter). But I was like, OK, well, that's what you think. And so it's messy, colorful, beautiful pictures of family and rocks - a lot of rocks (laughter).

GONZALEZ: I think she also does a really exquisite job of combining these very real things. Like, you can see this is a rock. This is a garden. These people look like the people in real life. But then, there's something really magical that happens. There's this fantasy world that changes from page to page. Like, in the beginning, when we're looking at the volcanic rocks that are put into the sweat lodge, the grandmother is holding the rock and says, you know - she asks us to wonder why this one has so many holes like secret rooms. And you turn the page, and essentially, the grandmother is holding what looks like a mini volcano, right? And so the rock doesn't actually do that, but they - we're seeing the children wonder and fantasize and imagine.

GARCIA: My process is I like to take photographs of people - family members, friends. And then, I will print them all out in a contact sheet, and then, I will look at the ones that I like. And sometimes I will cut them up and put them together. And then, from that, I use that as a reference when I'm painting. So with this book, I took photographs of Xelena's family.

GONZALEZ: (Laughter) So I want to add, that was another way that the readers sort of guided this. My daughter is featured in "All Around Us" with my dad, and it's become such a treasure in our family. So my nieces have always lived next door to us here on the West Side of San Antonio. We're very, very close. We have a big compound here. So they asked Adriana - they said, can we be in the next book? Will you put us in the next book (laughter)? And so Adriana said, sure.

GARCIA: I like to take photographs of friends and family members, one, because I love my friends and family. To me, everybody is so beautiful, and I want them to see what I see and how beautiful they are. And I really want to show them reflected - the people that I know, people who look like me - reflected in our - in children's books and our media.

GONZALEZ: I think when it comes to Native American heritage, quite often in children's literature, we see Native Americans represented as these, like, relics from centuries ago and, you know, something that doesn't exist. It's really important to show brown families as they are today, these slice-of-life stories, families still enduring and still living and still holding true these very simple questions, right? Like, OK, well, we learn in school that a rock is not a living thing. Is that the case? Right? Is there something deeper here?

I remember studying about the hundreds of languages that existed in what we now call, you know, the Americas and how of the vast majority of them, more than 70% of them did not have a distinct word for human being versus a plant being or an animal being. That alone - like, the power of words and linguistics - like, is amazing, how that can affect the way one views the world.

And I think - I don't know that anyone would argue with the fact that we have an unhealthy relationship with our environment right now. And so we can re-imagine something else, a different relationship with nature and seeing ourselves as a part of it. And you don't have to be a brown child or a Native American child to see that. Anyone can see that at any age.

SIMON: Xelena Gonzalez and Adriana Garcia talking about their book for children, "Where Wonder Grows." Our series Picture This is produced by Samantha Balaban.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEO KOTTKE'S "SNORKEL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.