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

“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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Remembering Why…

Essay by Kyle Koyle

todd biking girlsSometimes I need to remember why I do things. I’m talking about the basics here: eating, breathing, sleeping. Now this isn’t going to be a reminiscent article about the struggles of life. This is an article about its depth. For example, think about the WHY of eating. We all perform this action because at some point during the day we become hungry. Our bodies require food to live. In short, we eat to stay alive. But why? Now this is where my opinion comes in, heavily. I say we eat to enable us the opportunity of what comes next. To keep us going for other less obvious necessities of life: laughter, work, wonder, friendship. From the standpoint of a parent, reasoning the WHY into any situation is parallel with the amount of effort required to make that situation successful.

Recently, my husband and I endeavored to take our three children on the scenic bike path that follows I-70 from Dotserro to Glenn Wood Springs [Colorado]. It’s about 16 miles right along the river and quite literally underneath I-70. This part of the interstate is highly scenic with narrow canyons, white water rapids and towering mountain tops. Now, let me preface the trip with the fact that my eldest child is 8 and a decent bike rider but hasn’t mastered the art of stopping your bike before getting off first, my 2nd child is terrified of riding a bike, and my 3rd child loves doing “tricks” on the back of our bike tag-along trailer — which may or may not involve adding a significant amount of instability to both parent and tag-alonger. In the weeks leading up to our esteemed weekend trip, I estimated 8 skinned knees, 4 skinned elbows, at least 20 random shin bruises, 12 complete melt downs, 3 out of control bike accidents that ended with at least one child in a ditch, about a bazillion inhaled gnats, 1 run in with a group of horses, and last but not least, hearing the phrase “I’m not getting back on!” 15 times. Needless to say, I asked myself more than once, WHY?

My husband and I have nothing to prove to any other family. We don’t seek out painful, impractical situations to put our children through. We thought this bike trip sounded, wait for it……..fun. Now playing video games is fun, having a picnic is fun, swimming is fun, reading is fun, the list can go on and on. Why did we pick biking 16 miles down a winding somewhat precarious bike path? It was not one of life’s basic necessities. Here is the humdinger. How could we get to the other necessities of life without it? Laughter, work, wonder, friendship. Eating doesn’t create the next moment anymore than breathing ensures you’ll get a chance to meet up with an old friend or laugh at joke. If we hadn’t created, with our own blood, sweat and tears, a chance to live, countless moments of living would have been lost.

girls river  char on bog bridge

We live in a society of fear. So many fears. If we only take care of our basic necessities, which I realize is a definite first-world privilege, will we eventually forget to ask the other “why”? Why push yourself, why pull others along, why explore, why learn, why try?

John Muir, the Scottish naturalist, father of the Sierra Club and world renown environmentalist put it very well, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul alike.”

Now is your moment to remember why…

char climbing

 

A Walk in the Winter Woods

An Essay by: Karen Rent

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My day did not start out that great. I woke up feeling tired and unmotivated, definitely not on the right side of the bed. I had various plans, a trip to the library or the rec center, maybe swimming at the YMCA, but none of these things worked out and my kids were driving me batty. So we bundled up for our daily walk a bit earlier than usual. As soon as we stepped outside, I noticed a change in everyone. The cold, fresh air was blowing the frustration away.

We recently moved to Keene, NH. We live in a subdivision at the edge of town and are lucky enough to have woods nearby. With each walk we’ve been venturing further and discovering more about our woods. This walk was particularly memorable.

My kids, my dogs, and I entered the woods via our usual path. We made our way across the frozen pond, cleared of snow by some neighborhood kids for hockey. A birch tree stands in the middle of the pond. Molly and Eli like to duck under its branches and hang out in their “clubhouse”. We hung out there for a while and “made some soup” out of bark and twigs. Molly loves to make soup in the woods. Eli loves to do whatever Molly does. I love to watch and taste their delicious creation.

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Often we stop at the pond but today decided to venture further. As we headed back into the forest, Molly noticed that not just the ground was covered in ice, but the trees too. Everything seemed to shine with a thin layer of ice. My “Frozen” loving daughter was excited. We celebrated by stopping at a frozen puddle to “make some more soup”. As we were stirring up the soup with some sticks, I noticed something through the trees. We walked closer and found the coolest shelter I have ever seen. Holy cow! The shelter was spectacular! Built in the branches of a fallen hemlock and hidden off the trail, I couldn’t help but feel like we were trespassing in someone’s special place. I think Molly and Eli may have felt the same way too because instead of climbing into the enormous shelter, they chose to make their own shelter in another nearby tree, or perhaps they just prefer their birch clubhouse back at the pond. I was so excited! The shelter was really cool, but what made me more excited was the fact that there are others in the neighborhood that love the woods as much as we do.

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Lately I have been worrying a bit about my kids growing up. I want my children to grow up outdoors, and I know we will continue to spend lots of time outside, but what happens when they start spending more time with other kids in the neighborhood? I worry that they will be playing video games at the neighbor’s house instead of roaming the woods, but today’s walk gave me hope. I love the hockey pond. I love the mystery shelter builder. I love knowing that there are others in our neighborhood spending time in our woods. Most of all, I love watching my children learn and grow with each walk that we take together in our woods.