Children’s Book Review and Author Interview: Lindsey McDivitt’s “Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story”

Gwen Frostic cover

Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story: by Lindsey McDivitt, Illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen

Key Topics— Nature, Strong Women, History, Environmental Movement, Biography, Equity

Summary:
“I work with nature because it treats me equally.” This quote from Gwen Frostic is interspersed along with many other quotes throughout the beautifully illustrated true story, Nature’s Friend: the Gwen Frostic Story. After a severe childhood illness, Gwen was doomed to live a life shut away from the world. Gwen’s mother refused to treat her daughter as though she were disabled and encouraged Gwen to believe in her own abilities. During her childhood and adult life nature became both a solace and an inspiration for Gwen.

Refusing to be limited in body or in mind, Gwen Frostic became an artist, successful business woman, and a champion of the modern environmental movement. Lindsey McDivitt’s writing and Eileen Ryan Ewen’s art merge in this beautiful story designed to inspire children with the idea that in nature any person can find purpose and lead a life of substance. McDivitt’s lyrical sentences and many nature-based metaphors lead the reader along Gwen Frostic’s inspiring life.

The vibrant illustrations of Gwen from child to old woman capture the imagination and invite readers to notice the many nature themed details scattered throughout the pages. The book ends with a short biography including Gwen’s many esteemed accomplishments. In true Gwen Frostic style, the book closes with an art project inviting the reader to spend a moment outside, truly appreciating the unnoticed.

This book makes one want to visit the Michigan woods where Gwen Frostic’s workshop still welcomes visitors. It makes one want to spend a sun-dappled afternoon walking with the memory of a woman that truly lived her life connected to the earth.

Book Review by: Elizabeth Lester Barnes

Suggested Ages – This book is written for ages 5-10, but people of all ages can find beauty and inspiration in the life of artist and environmentalist Gwen Frostic.

An Interview With Author Lindsey McDivitt

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By Elizabeth Lester Barnes MFA and writer for Nature Families

Lindsey McDivitt writes fiction and non-fiction for children, and her picture book Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story was published by Sleeping Bear Press (2018). A second picture book biography will debut in 2019-20. Lindsey is passionate about tackling ageism in books for children. She began writing children’s books after many years in health education when she co-edited a book of true stories of hope and healing by stroke survivors. To learn more follow Lindsey’s blog where she reviews picture books with accurate and diverse images of aging and older adults on her blog “A is for Aging.”(McDivitt)

Q: How long have you been a writer, and what inspired you to switch careers?
A: I was in health care for many years creating education programs for stroke survivors and their families. I was laid off, moving soon to Michigan, and it was January in Minnesota, so I started taking my lap top to coffee shops and writing. I did this for seven years—there was so much to learn!

Q: What inspired you to write Nature’s Friend?
A: In the 1970s when the environmental movement was new, my friends and I all dreamed of being great stewards of the land. We found these lovely greeting cards by Gwen Frostic and gave them to each other. I never realized she was from Michigan until I moved there and saw a brochure for her shop. I visited her shop a year later, and it looked so charming and interesting and fairy-like.  When I started researching her story, I realized Gwen had been a hard-working woman with a disability in an era when women were not encouraged to be anything but wives. In spite of all expectations she was successful. She made millions of dollars as an artist living in the remote wilderness.

Q: What did you think when you saw the finished book?
The publisher chose the illustrator, Eileen Ryan Ewen—lucky me! We had no communication during the process. The picture book is considered just as much the illustrator’s book as the author’s. They are given freedom to include a piece of themselves.  At first I saw sketches and I could see Gwen’s life coming to life. And then I saw Eileen’s use of color and it was enchanting. She makes kids look at nature in that fascinating wondering way.

Q: In Nature’s Friend you focus on Gwen and the relationship she had with nature rather than her many accolades. Was this choice intentional?
A: Children notice what they can observe and touch, much more than a list of why someone is famous. While she was really well-known, Gwen preferred to live in the woods. She wasn’t reclusive, and she created a bustling business, but she preferred to sit quietly and watch the animal and plants. I hoped in my book to convey that love. Even kids that live in cities can connect with trees, and leaves and squirrels.

Q: Clearly you have a strong connection to nature. What is your favorite nature memory from childhood?
A: I grew up in Southern Minnesota an hour from the Mississippi, and every weekend we would hang out on the Mississippi in our small boat. We would swim and be on the sand bars and amongst the trees. It was precious family time–building fairy houses out of the driftwood on the beach.

Q: What advice can you give parents interested in developing an appreciation of nature in their children?
A: My kids loved collecting stones and driftwood and playing on the beach. While going on hikes is important, people need to spend time in nature simply sitting, observing, and creating.

Q: In your book you spend very little of your time talking about Gwen’s disability. Was this a conscious choice and why?
A: Gwen hated to be called handicapped, and she resented that people noticed how she was different first rather than what she was capable of. My own experience with stroke survivors made me realize that their disability was a part of the person, but not the whole person. I worked in rehab centers, and it was drilled into me that often what was handicapping people was the environment, not the handicap.

Q: If you could give parents advice, what would it be?
A: I would recommend limiting time with electronics. Kids are in school and day care; their time is so structured they become walled off from the natural world. It is important to have time to be under the trees and walk surrounded by grass and flowers and woods. The Japanese call walking in the woods ‘forest bathing.’ There is research showing that the chemicals from trees actually rejuvenates us. I think nature is soothing and we don’t remember it enough. I live in the heart of the city, but I can still find nature in my neighborhood.

Q: In today’s conversation about equity and inclusion, how do you see Gwen Frostic’s story fitting?
A: There are wonderful conversations about what kids should be exposed to in children’s books, and that should include kids with any kind of challenge. My book shows what people can accomplish in the face of challenges.  I also think it is important to teach kids that there is happiness in every life stage and we should have expectations of happiness and plan for it. We all make decisions based on what we think is possible. Kids take in everything. They notice if you give your 40 year-old friend black balloons and joke about getting older. We are teaching them that it is not a gift to grow older. It is a sad, sad thing.
I’m 60 and in a new career, and I feel like I have years ahead of me. I am enjoying life. I’ve been so lucky with inspirational role models. Many of the stroke survivors I worked with created new lives for themselves.  So many people think, “I have always wanted to do this, but I am too old.” But if you know people have done it you think, “why not?” That is what Gwen Frostic did. She was close to 60 when she moved to rural Michigan and worked into her 90’s. She refused to take no for an answer, and whenever people thought that she was not capable of something she didn’t listen. This is a woman who defied expectations and lived a life of meaning. This is a story our children need to hear.

If you enjoyed this interview check out more of Lindsey McDivitt…
“A is for Aging” on Facebook
Lindsey on Twitter
Lindsey on Instagram
Lindsey’s Website
“A is for Aging” Blog
To purchase a copy of Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story visit the publisher:Sleeping Bear Press

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