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

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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

Children’s Nature Book Review: Over and Under the Pond

 

Over and Under the Pond

Over and Under the Pond, by Kate Messner

Topics – ponds, spring, tadpoles

Summary

What better sign of spring is there than the appearance of new life in a pond? In Over and Under the Pond, Kate Messner and Silas Neal capture this magic. This is another in the terrific series, including Over and Under the Snow and Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt, about what you see and what you don’t. Messner’s simple and lyrical text is full of questions between a mother and child exploring a pond. There is so much imagination here – watching the shadows under water and the reflections on its surface. She uses a series of interwoven images over the pond and then under the pond, following the animals as they surface and then disappear. The text is peppered with great sounds as well, like, “gurgle, gurgle, sploosh,” which help the reader to think of him or herself as the observer. Silas Neal’s illustrations are colorful and bold and help us to see the connection between above and below as the main characters float along the surface. The progression from day to night as the mother and child return home to listen to the pond sounds as they fall asleep make it a lulling bedtime book. Having left the scientific facts out of the main text of the story, Messner puts additional material at the end about pond ecosystems and each of the pond animals she includes. There is also a helpful list of additional books and websites on ponds. I loved ponding with my girls and coming home to read this one and learn more about the animals we had seen.

Suggested Ages – This book is written for ages 5-8, but older readers and parents will appreciate the extra material at the end with more information on the animals in the story.

Book Review by: Susan Olcott

Children’s Nature Book Review: On the Move: Mass Migrations

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Book Review by: Susan Olcott

On the Move: Mass Migrations, by Scotti Cohn

Topics – migration, seasons

Summary:  This is yet another great educational book by Arbordale Publishing (formerly Sylvan Dell) that is a treasure trove of information both in the text, afterwards in the “For Creative Minds” section, and in the additional online resources. In On the Move, Scotti Cohn, gives wonderful descriptions of the migration patterns of a variety of animals. From seaside horseshoe crabs to arctic caribou, she covers many types of habitats and even includes seasonal interactions of animals in such as the salmon and the eagle. The details she adds like, “a mother caribou snorts and shakes her head. She is telling her calf to stay close to her,” help the reader to imagine being that animal. Susan Detwiler’s illustrations in this book as well as Scotti Cohn’s other stories, One Wolf Howls, and Big Cat, Little Kitty, are both eye-catching and realistic. These are all terrific books that I would highly recommend to classroom teachers as well as to parents.

Suggested Ages – This book is suggested for ages 4-8, but would be a wonderful text for slightly older readers as well. They can delve into the details and extra information at the end of the story. The illustrations will appeal to younger readers along with the sweet details of each animal’s life.

Children’s Nature Book Review:Tracks in the Snow, by Wong Hebert Yee

Book Review by: Susan Olcott

Tracks in the Snow, by Wong Hebert Yee

Topics – tracks, winter, snow

Summary:

After we had exhausted ourselves skiing, sledding, and fort building, my girls and I spent the remainder of the first snow day looking at who else had been out playing atop the freshly fallen snow. In Tracks in the Snow, Wong Herbert Yee leads the reader out of a cozy house into the fields to discover who has left a set of mysterious tracks. With an inviting series of questions, Yee piques his readers’ curiosity. The little girl on the story makes both wonderful scientific observations about what animals would be there at that time of year and some wacky ones like, “maybe it’s a hippopotamus”, both of which make her seem real. As she follows the tracks through her field, she unknowingly encounters a series of animals tucked away in nests and burrows for the winter. It is as if they are watching her instead of the other way around. And, indeed, in the end, she discovers that it is her own tracks she has been following. The story has a lovely sense of completeness as Yee ends with her sitting at a table at home with her mom drinking tea. The fuzzy pencil illustrations add to both its frosty and cozy qualities. The repetition and rhyme throughout also heighten the sense as a reader of walking along in the snow. Along with the others in his seasonal series, “Who Likes Rain, Summer Days and Nights and My Autumn Book, Tracks in the Snow captures a child’s enchantment with the signs of the seasons.


Suggested Ages – This story is great for early readers who can find repeated, simple words and will enjoy the short phrases. Younger children will like the rhyme and can imagine making their own tracks along with the narrator of the story.

Children’s Nature Book Review: Feathers: Not Just for Flying

 

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Feathers: Not Just for Flying, by Melissa Stewart

Book Review by Susan Olcott

Topics – feathers, birds

Summary – Did you know that feathers could be eyelashes or that baby sand grouse can drink from their papa’s feathers? In Feathers: Not Just for Flying, Melissa Stewart uncovers the myriad ways birds use their feathers. She provides an overarching simple storyline and tucks rich natural history into what look like handwritten field notes taped to each page. Sarah Brannen illustrates these notes with portraits of each bird along with lovely details of their feathers. Stewart’s comparisons of feathers’ functions to everyday objects like a backhoe or a life jacket are perfect to help readers understand how each feather works differently. I pull this book out every spring and draw new tidbits from it each time. Having recently met Melissa Stewart at a writing conference, this year I was particularly interested in her Author’s Note at the end about the process of writing the book. She is truly a master of writing clever books about the outdoor world in ways that reach a variety of readers. I highly recommend them all!

Suggested Ages – This book is suitable for pre-K readers who will love the illustrations and simple story, as well as grade school students who can glean more information from her natural history notes.

You can find this book at your local library or link to it here on Amazon…Feathers: Not Just For Flying

“I Noticed Nature Subtly Dictating My Brush Strokes…”

An Essay by Janimarie Lester DeRose

Art in Nature Specialist for Nature Families

I am a clay artist working in Cache Valley, Utah, a beautiful home of farms and marsh land, tucked in the Rocky Mountains.  Recently, I was surprised at how starkly cold the decorated surface of my pottery was. Black and grey silhouettes of birds and tree skeletons graced my forms. It was February and a cold and lingering winter in Utah. I was working daily in the studio, and it was not till I looked back at the photographs from the year that I noticed the extremely strong connection between the seasons and the way I decorated my work. It was as if nature was subtly dictating my brush strokes.

In the spring, my art echoed the marshes that grace Cache Valley. Light blues and chartreuse circles with brush work of birds and reeds, brought a serene quality, full of new life to the pots.

Later, as summer sat heavily upon us, reds and oranges emerged with Red-winged Blackbirds and Poppy’s smothering the surfaces.

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Summer

And as autumn seeped into the mountains, I was drawn to a simplistic branch and berry design, leaving expanses of open space.

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Fall

This new awareness of how deeply my creativity is connected to the natural world’s cycles, has brought me a sense of settled balance and belonging to my home.

Making art in all seasons with our children, or even by ourselves, connects us more deeply to the places we live and the natural cycle of the seasons.  Whether you are an experienced artist or simply playing with art with your children-I hope you enjoy this connection as much as I do.

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Children’s Nature Book Review: Water is Water

Book Review by: Susan Olcott

A Book About the Water Cycle: Water is Water, by Miranda Paul, Illustrations by Jason Chin

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Topics – water, water cycle, poetry

Summary – “Drip. Sip. Pour me a cup. Water is Water.” Thus begins Water is Water, as author Miranda Paul invites us to patter, slide, and seep us through the water cycle. Her simple, lyrical phrases help us to experience water in its many forms. Early readers will identify with the crisp sounds and poetic format of the writing. Jason Chin’s illustrations perfectly complement the text by showing what fun water can provide. The additional information at the back of the book is presented as a glossary of terms with illustrations that is both readable and informative. This is followed by another section of illustrated quick fun facts about the importance of water to our bodies and to the earth.

Suggested Ages – This non-fiction book is appropriate for pre-K children as well as early readers, as there are different levels of information tailored to each level of comprehension.

You can find this awesome book at your local library or here on Amazon!

Invitation to Nature-Based Play: Snow Kitchen

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The Snow Kitchen was an instant success and provided my boys with endless scenarios of imaginative play”

Towards the end of summer, we posted an invitation that described how you might make an outdoor Mud Kitchen for messy, but fulfilling, nature based play. Recently I was giving some thought to repurposing this mud kitchen into a Snow Kitchen. The homemade cooktop, all of the pots, pans and utensils, the various dishes and muffin tins could be reused. The water and mud would be replaced with endless amounts of snow. To sweeten this kitchen experience, and to add a couple of new touches, I gave my sons spray bottles filled with colored water and a few more ice gems (see previous post: Snow Gems).

The Snow Kitchen, just like the mud kitchen, was an instant success and provided my boys with endless scenarios of imaginative play, rich vocabulary, and (fleeting but appreciated) moments of cooperative play.

They made a dozen snow muffins, a variety of snow cakes (formed by compacting snow in a potato ricer), bowls of snow ice cream (using an ice cream scoop), trays of snow cubes, and mugs of snow cocoa, all decorated with the red and blue water sprayed on top.

This time the boys realized that the space below the cooktop could be used as an oven to bake the snow creations.

IMG_1390Once all of their goodies were made, they opened a Snow Café and served their Dad snow drinks and snow snacks.

IMG_1429This was so much fun that we all forgot how cold is was outside (at least, for a little while). Happy Nature-Based Snow Playing!

Invitation by: Laura Grunze-Franz

Invitation to Nature-Based Play: Snow Gems

Invitation by: Laura Grunze-Franz

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There are days when getting the boys out into the snow and cold is very difficult. The difficulty does not lie in the fact that it is cold and snowy, but in their desire to stay in the cozy, warm house. However, they can be easily coaxed out. Ice Gems are one way to coax them out…

All you need are ice cube trays, food coloring, and water. If you want to add a teachable science moment, use only primary (red, yellow and blue) colors and show your kids how to mix them to make other colors. My young boys think color mixing is rather magical.

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Just mix the food color into the water, pour the colors into the different ice cube molds, and freeze. Make as many different colored ice cubes as you want. We made two trays full. I set the ice trays outside to freeze the water, just to avoid any color spill “mishaps” in my freezer. Once they are frozen, let the kids take them to the snow and play with them as they see fit.

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We did an ice gem search in the snow. My youngest boy made a little cave for his gems and stored them in there. We let ours sit out for days until they melted and turn the snow many pretty colors. This is just a little invitation to add even more fun to nature’s wonderful playground of snow.  Happy ice gem hunting!

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Top 10 Tips for Celebrating Winter Solstice With Your Family…

We at Nature Families think it is really fun to create Nature-Based Family Traditions with your families and friends that reoccur with the seasons every year.  These traditions are something that keep childhood exciting and magical.  Winter Solstice is a perfect opportunity to create an alternative to the Christmas obsessions with items and materialism.  Consider reconnecting with you family on the solstice by spending time together instead of rushing around buying things for each other!  Here our our top ten ideas for fun activities to celebrate the solstice.  If you have other ideas you have tried with your family please share!  Lets keep this list growing and add to our traditions from year to year!  Happy Solstice!

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1.  Wish Gardens, the child writes their goals/wishes for the coming year on a small pieces of paper. They then bury (plant) the wishes in soil and then decorate their garden with rocks, little bits of shell, glitter, anything found in nature. Place tea candles on the top of the wishes and light, have the child remember what their wishes were as they blow out the candles. As the smoke rises, so too do their wishes.

2.  Build Pine cones encrusted with peanut butter and bird seed, and orange slices hung in the trees for the Chickadee’s and Flickers.

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3.  Faceted Crystal hung to catch the sun and bring back the colors.

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4.  At sunset on Solstice toast in the “return of the Sun”, ring bells, and light candles and lanterns.

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5.  Cut a pomegranate to represent the seeds of coming spring.

6.  Hide a golden foiled chocolate orange to represent the Sun, break and share on Solstice.

7.  Prepare a Solstice Feast! The food can be shaped like the sun or the color of the sun. Talk about how all the food in the feast is connected to our Sun.

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8.  Read a solstice story:  Here are a few great choices…

Fireside Stories: Tales for a Winter’s Eve” by Caitlin Matthews and Helen Cann

My Mama Earth” by Susan B. Katz and Illustrated by Melissa Launay

The Winter Solstice” by Ellen Jackson and Jan Davey Ellis

9. Make a fire outside and roast marshmallows and sing songs…or consider making a fire inside with led tea lights and blocks…a real fire outside is better, but not when it’s 40 degrees and raining!

10.  Construct lanterns out of old milk jugs or soda jugs, glue thin pieces of crate paper on the outside for a stained glass effect.  Use a dowel or stick as a handle and connect it with a string.  Use a battery operated tea light inside.  After dark have a parade of lanterns around her yard or neighborhood!  Maybe your family solstice tradition can bring cheer to your community as well as your family!

Happy Winter Solstice From Nature Families!

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