Thursday, June 15, 2023



Conveying the Deeper Stories Through Art

by Maya Gonzalez

We know that art can heal.  But how do we get there? 

More than just illustrating text, how do we use art to tell the unspoken stories beneath the words? The stories of belonging, of pride, of freedom to be… How do we as creators reach in and express out in a way that kids can feel these deeper messages when they look at our books...

...even if no words are spoken.

In-process art from The Gender and Infinity Book for Kids
In-process art from The Gender and Infinity Book for Kids

I lost my voice once. It was gone for years. If I did write something, I would hide it away. It was back when much writing was still done by hand or on a typewriter. I would take the pages of an accidental poem or story and fold it up and slip it between random books on one of my shelves. I couldn’t handle what I was writing then, but I trusted that one day it would be there when I needed it or maybe understood it better.
During that time of mostly silence, I invested in my visual vocabulary. I poured my heart into my drawings and honed the language of the nonverbal. My art began as a place to heal and find my own reflection, but the stronger and more embodied I became, the more my art came in service to my community. On the journey, I let go of my own image and focused on conveying my growing experience of belonging. This is what I healed into and this is what I wanted to pass on, especially to LGBTQI+ and BIPOC kids.
In my picture book illustrations I use all the things that healed me in real life. One of the most important things is somatic awareness - or awareness of the body. Holding hands, laying in the grass, looking up into the sky…I use physical experience and sensation as a touchstone to show that my characters are in their bodies, connected to others and in their environment. They are present and they belong.


Creating Safe Space on the page - art from I Can Be...Me!

In I Can Be...Me! written by Lesléa Newman and illustrated by me, the kids have the freedom to freely explore who they are without stereotypical gender expectations or pressure to conform. To this end of full and free embodiment, the kids have their own space, take up space, make space, create space, and feel their safe space--to be and do everything they want to. More than clothes and activities, their freedom and presence is visible in their body postures, and their spatial relation to the page. Up front, in your face, full circle, all around…

Creating their magical, mythical safe space was probably my favorite part. I still imagine myself there.

Exploring perspective and experience to convey belonging
In-process art from The Gender and Infinity Book for Kids

In my upcoming Gender and Infinity Book for Kids, the kids are a part of nature’s massive flow of infinite diversity all around them. I play a lot with perspective and experience. Kids are looking up into the trees, swimming underwater, gazing into the night, dancing amidst all the different elements of the earth. They are in their bodies amidst the lush and colorful flow of nature. Later in the book the imagery goes stark with pink and blue gender boxes on white backgrounds conveying the pressure on kids to conform in comparison to the lushness of nature’s diversity from the opening spreads.
I want to create illustrations that plumb the mystery of our being and celebrate our infinite diversity in a way that kids can feel in their hearts beyond words. People say nice things about my work, but I can’t know for sure if I’m catching infinity or conveying real inner freedom and belonging. I’m still working on it. Sometimes the only thing to do is to go nonverbal and play. 

Grab some color pencils and color some Pride with me!
INFINITE PRIDE! Happy pride! 

Download your Infinite Pride coloring page on the Gender Wheel website. 

Learn more about the Infinite Diversity of Nature:

Maya Gonzalez is an award-winning children’s book artist, author, activist and progressive educator. Maya's work addresses systemic inequity in relation to race/ethnicity, sexism and cissexism using children’s books as radical agents of change and healing, both personally and culturally. Maya co-founded Reflection Press, a POC, queer and trans owned independent publishing house that uses holistic, nature-based, and anti-oppression frameworks in their books and materials for kids and grown-ups. Maya is also the creator of the Gender Wheel, a tool to express the dynamic, infinite and inclusive reality of gender, and provides lectures and workshops to educators, parents and caregivers. 

Instagram: @mzmayagonzalez and @genderwheel

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