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

“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


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


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


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


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



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

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


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!

Children’s Nature Book Review: Flashlight

Review by: Linda Spence


Flashlight (2014)–written and illustrated by Lizi Boyd

In this wordless picture book, a young boy leaves his tent and begins to explore. The beam of his flashlight illuminates the inhabitants of the forest including owls, raccoons, deer, and mice. The tables are turned when he drops the flashlight and the animals turn the light on him. Throughout the book, the colors revealed by the flashlight’s beam are in bright contrast to the grays and blacks of the surrounding night. This book would be a great starting point for talking about what happens in the forest at night and can be fun for ALL ages even your youngest learners!

Find this book at your local library or link to it here on Amazon!  Flashlight


Children’s Nature Book Review: Call Me Tree: Llámame árbol


Review by: Linda Spence

Call Me Tree: Llámame árbol (2014)

Written and illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez

Written in both English and Spanish, the child in this book grows as tall and strong as a tree. Deliberately gender neutral, the brief text captures the sense of belonging that all children desire. Like humans, each tree is unique, yet “All trees have roots. All trees belong.” A beautiful ode to the joy and connectedness found in nature.

You can try to find this book at your local library or click here to link to this book on Amazon.  Call Me Tree

Children’s Nature Book Review: Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt


Book Review: Susan Olcott

A great new book just came out…Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, by Kate Messner with art by Christopher Silas Neal.  If you have not seen this book yet we highly recommend it!

Topics – Gardening, spring, seasons, insects

Summary – Following on the theme of Over and Under the Snow, one of my favorite winter books, the same illustrator/author pair have written a lovely book about the secret happenings under the dirt as spring emerges.  I love the idea of what you see and what you don’t see and encouraging kids to use their imagination to think of the busy world that exists underground filled with bugs and worms that all make the vibrance above possible.  Reading this after planting our spring garden was perfect in encouraging patience in waiting for seeds to sprout and wondering what is happening to make them grow.  Spring continues into the fall when things become quiet and dormant again and the natural world prepares for winter’s rest, which gives the book a nice seasonal progression.  At the end, there is a great section at the end of the book that gives extra information on the animals that are part of the story.

As a little girl and her nana plant, tend, and harvest their vegetable garden, they discover that the world in the dirt is just as busy as the world above. While they water the garden, eat fresh green beans, and read under the sunflowers, down beneath the leaves, pill bugs chew, a tomato hornworm rests, and skunks work the night shift gobbling cutworms. This nonfiction title ends with information about the various animals found in gardens.

Complimentary Outdoor Activities: 

-Plant a garden and watch and wait for seedlings to emerge.

-Have a sprouting race by planting the same seeds indoors and out and seeing which ones emerge first – you might be surprised!

-Dig in the dirt outside and see what bugs you find.

For more activities related to this book check out this blog…Chronicle books blog

Suggested Ages:  This is a wonderful book for all ages due to the great illustrations-it has very few words per page so a great book to use with preschoolers on up!

Nature Families rates this book 5 out of 5 Acorns!  Check it out of your local library or add it to your own library–click here to purchase from Amazon-Up in the Garden Down in the Dirt!

lucy garden

Children’s Nature Book Reviews: “Nest” by Jorey Hurley

nestNature Book Review by Susan Olcott

Nest is a lovely picture book about the life cycle of a family of robins.  The book begins with the mother and father taking care of the egg and ends with the fledged baby meeting its own mate and taking care of a new egg.  She follows the seasons beautifully and simply with just a few words, which leaves children to their observation skills to look at what changes over time – the leaves, the spots on the young robin’s breast, the food they are searching for, for example.  Hurley includes the story of how she wrote the book for her daughters after observing a family of robins herself, which is fun to share with kids.  She also includes additional facts about robins, all of which is great information that isn’t too complicated. We recommend you try to check this out from your local library but here is a link to Amazon as well….NEST.

Optional Supplemental Activities – After reading this book consider looking at a real bird’s nest if you have one or go for a walk in the woods looking for old nests!

susan nest

Looking at real birds nest while reading the book can be very fun!

Another fun idea that we tried was we went outside and looked for nesting materials and then made nests out of paper bowls that we lined with yarn, sticks, and leaves using glue sticks.  This was EASY and A LOT of fun!

maya nest

Collecting Nest Building Materials

nest 2

Building the Nest!

nest craft molly nest

I also gave my kiddos plastic eggs with a candy peep inside to take care of for a week and then we had a hatching party.

Nature Families Rating:  5 out of 5 Acorns for simplicity and amazing illustrations!

Appropriate for All Ages but recommended for: Ages 3-7

Topics Related to This Book: Seasons, Life cycle, Nests, Birds

Let us know if you like this book and share your ideas with us on how you paired it with fun activities as well!