Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story

Cindy: The nature artist Gwen Frostic (1906-2001) is a Michigan treasure, so when Lynn found her new picture-book biography, Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story, (2018) at the public library, I was delighted. Frostic was born in the thumb of Michigan’s mitten-shaped lower peninsula but eventually settled on the other side of the state, in the woods of Benzonia. There, she opened her stationery print shop (which remains open today). Frostic’s journey wasn’t always easy; she grew up with physical disabilities, and during WWII, her dedication to designing military aircraft disrupted her art. The story is well told; throughout, McDivitt infuses the text with nature metaphors that would’ve pleased outdoors-loving Frostic. When Frostic signs up for mechanical drawing classes, for example, McDivitt writes: “the men squawked like angry blue jays” and ” . . . Gwen gathered up knowledge like a bird builds a nest.”

I have visited the Gwen Frostic Prints shop numerous times. I even drink daily from a cup printed with her friendly raccoon design, often while sending notes on her stationery and cards. Gwen’s Heidelberg printing presses are something to see and the shop itself is both a step back in time and a peek into a fairy-like realm. While her artwork and mission to protect our natural environment are known internationally, there are still those, even in Michigan, who have not heard of her. I’m grateful to this story for helping to spread the word and to encourage young children to notice nature closely; appreciate it and protect it; and perhaps, find a way to make a vocation of that awareness.

Lynn: Lindsay McDivitt opens this biography with a quotation from Frostic that truly exemplifies her life and spirit: “I never knew I couldn’t do something.” Doing something—often while breaking new ground for women—is just how Frostic spent her life. I love how McDivitt captures this quality, recounting Frostic’s unusual achievements as a small business owner, a WWII-era airplane-factory tool designer, and a determined seeker of education and training . . . at a time when women were often forbidden from both.

Eileen Ryan Ewen’s charming watercolor illustrations extend the story, incorporating wonderful small details on each page. Most scenes reflect Frostic’s love of nature, from her early childhood to her later years in her western Michigan workshop. Each page turn reveals a new warm and intricate scene to linger over. This book is a joy to spend time with.

Excellent back matter includes photographs of Frostic and her workshop, additional information about her, and directions for creating your own nature print.

 

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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