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Grandma's garden of magical rocks is 'Where Wonder Grows'

Where Wonder Grows, written by Xelena González and illustrated by Adriana M. Garcia
Cinco Puntos Press / Lee & Low Books

Xelena González and Adriana Garcia have known each other since childhood — probably.

"Both of our parents are community organizers involved in community organizing here in in San Antonio," says González. "Specifically the west side of San Antonio, which is an economically impoverished neighborhood but culturally very, very rich and vibrant and beautiful and strong."

They've been placed at the same events when they were kids, even though they have no memory of meeting. They weren't destined to become friends until adulthood, when they met — for sure this time — when they were both working on a local arts project.

"We worked really well together," says González. "We started sort of meeting and dreaming together, and we've helped each other out a lot."

Most of their collaborating these days happens over tacos.

"We usually talk about our lives and we laugh a lot and sometimes we walk together," says González.

<em>Where Wonder Grows</em>
/ Cinco Puntos Press / Lee & Low Books
/
Cinco Puntos Press / Lee & Low Books
Where Wonder Grows

Xelena González and Adriana Garcia wrote and illustrated their first children's book together, All Around Us , in 2017. It was on a multi-state road trip tour for that book when they got the idea for a second one.

"Along the way, we kept finding these really cool rocks," says González. And people also kept wanting to show the duo their rock collections. One host told them they could meditate or do yoga on the back deck, and there were crystals all over the patio. On another stop, a kid wanted to show them all the rocks he found on a rock hunt. In yet another city, González and Garcia were invited to a rock party.

"It was kind of like a tea party, but it had rocks," says González. "And so there were just rocks instead of dolls."

"She had a basket of rocks. She dumped them on the floor and started talking about them," says Garcia.

So, they knew their next book had to be about rocks.

In Where Wonder Grows, a grandmother takes her three granddaughters to her special garden. They tell stories there about magical rocks, seashells, crystals and meteorites.

"In school we learn that rocks are things," González writes. "But grandma has taught us they are beings."

Where Wonder Grows, written by Xelena González and illustrated by Adriana M. Garcia
/ Cinco Puntos Press / Lee & Low Books
/
Cinco Puntos Press / Lee & Low Books

Adriana Garcia painted all the illustrations for Where Wonder Grows, using bright colors and cosmic swirls.

"I like using really bold colors like pinks and blues and greens and purples," says Garcia. "I really love using a lot of color. I remember when I was in school... being told that I use too much color, which I thought was perplexing. But I was like 'Ok, well, that's what you think.'"

Garcia also blends the realistic with the ethereal. On one page, the grandmother is holding a small volcanic rock; on the next page, the rock has morphed into an active volcano, spewing lava onto grandma's hands.

Garcia typically uses photographs of friends and family as a reference when painting. She'll print them, cut them up, and put them together again. Sometimes she'll make a grid. "But then after a while I just let it go," she says.

For their first book, All Around Us, Garcia used González's daughter and father as models. González has the paintings hanging up in her house, and says her family loves having the portraits so much that her nieces begged to be included in Where Wonder Grows.

"They asked Adriana, they said, 'Can we be in the next book? Will you put us in the next book?'" says González. "So her art covers our walls now."

Garcia, of course, said yes.

Where Wonder Grows, written by Xelena González and illustrated by Adriana M. Garcia
/ Cinco Puntos Press / Lee & Low Books
/
Cinco Puntos Press / Lee & Low Books

"I love my friends and family and I want to see them in the media that we consume," says Garcia.

Adriana Garcia and Xelena González are both Native American, and they also include cultural traditions in Where Wonder Grows. The volcanic rocks the grandmother shows her granddaughters are used to heat the temazcal, the sweat lodge.

"Grandma says that in the sweat lodge, they help send songs and prayers through the air, to our ancestors," González writes.

"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," says González. "And while I love traditional stories and historical perspectives, it's really important to show brown families as they are today."

González and Garcia hope that this book helps kids see themselves, and understand their connection to nature.

"I think it's important for them to see themselves so beautifully represented the way Adriana represents our brown children," says González. "To know that... there is this rootedness, this connectedness that our ancestors may know and maybe they don't know. But we can always access that because it's nature and... we're a part of it."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Where Wonder Grows, written by Xelena González and illustrated by Adriana M. Garcia
/ Cinco Puntos Press / Lee & Low Books
/
Cinco Puntos Press / Lee & Low Books

Samantha Balaban is a producer at Weekend Edition.