There are gifts given to us every single day. Sometimes they are more spectacular than others but they are free if we only reach out to take them. They are the sudden appearance of a gigantic rainbow arching from one compass point to another, the happy, musical chirping of birds feasting on wild berries, baby bunnies nibbling on grass, two spotted fawns moving through your woods with adult deer and sunset-light shows seen through clouds and tree branches. Mother Nature's generosity is humbling.
People have and continue to walk among us who honor those gifts with their life's work. One of those people spent her entire life in the state of Michigan. Nature's Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story (Sleeping Bear Press, July 15, 2018) written by Lindsey McDivitt with illustrations by Eileen Ryan Ewen pays tribute to a remarkable woman.
Gwen followed her brothers and sisters everywhere, like a small fawn follows its herd. They roamed the woods and fields near Croswell---their tiny town tucked into the thumb of Michigan.
For Gwen this was not easy to do. She was disabled from a sickness at a very early age. Her hands were not strong. It was difficult for her to talk, slurring her words. Her one foot dragged as she walked. But . . .
Her mother inspired her to do whatever she wanted to do. She stood behind Gwen sending her to school with the other children. Gwen learned quickly but remember her hands were not strong. Her teachers thought she would never write. Her mother gave her all the supplies she needed to practice using her hands to make words and pictures. It worked.
When you are a child with disabilities, making friends is hard but nature did not judge Gwen. She found solace there. After a move to the outskirts of Detroit, Gwen, now in high school, sought new avenues of skill. She worked on painting, mechanical drawing and learned to use a band saw. This was brave of Gwen considering the time period.
During art school she mastered the art of carving linoleum and making prints. Striving to earn a living she began to work in metals even garnering the notice of Henry Ford's wife, Clara. World War II ended her career in metal but that did not stop Gwen. She went to work at the Ford Motor Company helping to build bomber planes on the assembly line.
After a day at the factory, Gwen went home to pursue her passion for linoleum print making. She also longed to be close to nature again. Gwen and her beloved dog Teddy finally settled in northern Michigan, first in Frankfort and then on a large tract of land along the Betsie River near Benzonia. Her business, Presscraft Papers, the note cards, calendars and books she wrote, allowed others to view nature as Gwen did. Her respect and love for the out-of-doors continues through her art.
Whether you grew up in Michigan hearing about Gwen Frostic or have met her for the first time in this book, author Lindsey McDivitt through her skillful blend of information and lyrical writing style breathes life into the spirit of this inspiring woman. It's not only a careful chronicle of her accomplishments but Lindsey builds on those milestones allowing us to see why Gwen was who she was. Throughout the book are quotes by Gwen, a high school classmate, and a lyric from the "Rosie The Riveter" song. Here are two passages.
Gwen loved learning, but trying to make friends could leave
her feeling as prickly as a porcupine. Nature felt like a friend,
pulling her out to play. With so much to discover, Gwen
didn't have time to feel lonely.
Swaying grasses whispered in fields thick with Queen
Tiny ferns unfurled at her feet.
Frogs lapped up bugs with long, quick tongues.
Gwen breathed it all in. She listened to their messages.
A feeling of peace settles over readers when they look at the matching dust jacket and book case of this title. For those fortunate enough to live close to nature, the depiction of Gwen sitting cross-legged in the woods sketching with her dog is one we can easily understand. It draws the attention of those living outside of nature how much can be gained by being in its presence. The design and layout of this first scene is pure serenity, simply beautiful.
To the left, on the back, extending the purple seen on the front and using it as a canvas, a smaller image of an older Gwen and her dog is featured. They are standing on the edge of a stream near a meadow. The sky and clouds are golden with a sunrise or sunset. Pristine white covers the opening and closing endpapers. A little girl Gwen, picking flowers and seated, is beneath the text on the title page.
The illustrations rendered by Eileen Ryan Ewen span a single page and a page plus when crossing the gutter. These larger images supply a column for text. Many times opposite the pictures a small visual will portray something notable from the text; a bird building a nest, a small mouse in a forgotten shoe as Gwen sits soaking up nature, mechanical drawing tools or Gwen's dog, Teddy.
Eileen Ryan Ewen's color choices, fine lines, attention to details and historical accuracy ask us to pause. Her illustrations further acquaint us with this woman, who like the nature she loved, left her mark on Michigan and throughout the world. Each scene reminds us of the work and research illustrators do for each image.
One of my many favorite illustrations is a reflection of the perspective shifts Eileen makes in this title. It spans a single page. Spread out and layered are works of Gwen's art carved on linoleum and printed on paper. We see some of the most popular works created by Gwen Frostic. On top of these in the middle is a piece of linoleum. Gwen's left hand holds the left side as her right hand carves a woodland scene. There is something very moving about this picture.
Having visited the business, studio and printing presses of Gwen Frostic for many years during our family summer and fall vacations on Crystal Lake and later on Little Platte Lake and Platte River, this book, Nature's Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story written by Lindsey McDivitt with illustrations by Eileen Ryan Ewen, is a marvelous representation. It serves as a testament to following your heart's desire regardless of difficulties. I highly recommend it for your professional and personal collections, especially for my Michigan friends and colleagues. Lindsey McDivitt includes an author's note at the end with an activity. You might want to pair this title with In Mary's Garden (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, March 17, 2015) written and illustrated by Tina and Carson Kugler
To learn more about Lindsey McDivitt and Eileen Ryan Ewen and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites. Lindsey McDivitt maintains a blog and account on Twitter. Eileen Ryan Ewen has an account on Instagram. At the publisher's website there are a couple of activity pages to download.
The website for Gwen Frostic is here. Here is the page dedicated to Gwen after her induction into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame. Here is a PBS Destination Michigan episode devoted to Gwen Frostic. This is the 2018 9 & 10 News article about Gwen Frostic Day celebrated each year. Gwen Frostic gave a sizeable donation to Western Michigan University. Their art school is now named in her honor. The Michigan Reading Association has an annual award, Gwen Frostic Award, showcasing those Michigan authors and illustrators who have greatly influenced literacy in Michigan.
Remember to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the titles selected this week by other participants in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.