All Around Us, written by Xelena Gonzalez and illustrated by Adriana M. Garcia, is a meditation. Garcia’s images are digitally generated and seem to straddle the line between spiritual and material, curving into a circle under the weight of Gonzalez’s poetic prose. This is fitting since the text explores time as neither linear nor marked by the progression of an individual, but instead cyclical and communal.
The cover image depicts the tawny-skinned face of a young girl, dark hair pulled back, eyes closed. Blue-green markings, like an aura, or graffiti, enhance her eyes, nose, and throat. The book’s title and its creators’ names gently arc above her head. But, this is not the story of a girl, it is the story of relationship, or more specifically, multiple relationships.
The art is whimsical and earthy, impressionistic and realistic; a strange combination I want to surround myself with – mostly it is peaceful and wise.
It begins: “Grandpa says circles are all around us. We just have to look for them.” The girl’s grandfather shows her the world as he sees it, and she looks. He is teaching her to perceive connections and apprehend, even if only vaguely, the unseen conditions that enable the seeable – the ancestors that precede you as well as the progeny that reach beyond you.
Lessons of connection continue in the family garden, where grandfather and granddaughter grow “crunchy lettuce, sweet carrots and spicy chiles.” They eat what they grow and return what they do not back to the earth, another cycle without clear beginning or end.
It’s a beautifully intimate story about so much more than two people. After they have searched and found many circles, grandfather and granddaughter sit under a tree in their yard. The grandfather is translucent, the curve of the tree tracing the curve of his back, the branches, part of him. The granddaughter, looking up at her grandfather with a smile, has pale white buds emanating from her head. This is a book that would not be the same with a different illustrator, images and text tease each other cleverly.
Sitting under the tree, where they bury their ancestors, the grandfather appears sad. They both hold their hands to the earth, part of something beyond themselves.
They leave the tree in the back yard and walk to a young apple tree that the grandfather planted for his granddaughter when she was born. She is the future, she is “new life.”
The text closes with a close-up of the girl, like the cover. This time her eyes are open. She is able to see what her grandfather has shown her.
This is a gorgeous book. I opened by saying it is a meditation and I’ll close on that sentiment. The message of connection, regardless of time, space, or matter, is beautiful. In an end note, the author, Xelena Gonzalex, of Native American and Spanish descent, writes that the text is specific to her culture, but also recognizes “more people are seeing themselves as part of a greater circle.” This is certainly the case, depending on where you look, if you are looking in the right places.
The book is a beautiful prompt to personal reflection about perception, connection, and time. It is also a wonderful conversation starter with young children about how to perceive their relationships to the world and other people. Author and illustrator create a beautifully choreographed text that tells a story with no beginning or end, but so much meaning.