Renata Bowers' smile is contagious. Her abundance of joy and passion for life, her family and her work is palpable and is readily shared with others.
The self-published author of the award winning "Frieda B." children's picture book series grew up in Oconomowoc and is still closely connected to the community.
With illustrations by Michael Chesworth, best-known for his work on the Pippi Longstocking series, the fundamental message found throughout each of the four Frieda B. stories is that each and every child is free to be the unique story he/she carries inside.
After publishing her first book, Frieda B. Herself in 2010, Bowers began reaching out to children and educators through school visits and workshops to further share the book and its "free to be" philosophy.
"I believe that my personal story is about helping kids believe in their stories and Frieda B. helps me to do that," explains Bowers. "I ask kids to imagine what the world would look like if, like Frieda B., all children dreamed big and believed in their stories and the stories of others. Would it look different, better? Every child understands the significance of that question and its answer."
This is what inspired Bowers to team up with friend, Paula LaJoie to co-found Frieda B., LLC in 2012 to grow the series of books, as well as develop services and resources to encourage the story within. More than 10,000 Frieda B. books have been sold and the series was named Best Picture Book Series by the National Moonbeam Children's Book Awards in 2015.
No place like home
This last spring, Bowers came back to her hometown roots during her Wisconsin Book Tour that included visits to local schools, as well as a workshop and keynote address for a large family event for St. Jerome Parish's American Heritage Girls Troop.
And of course, she visited favorite childhood spots and spent time with her parents, David and Betty Reul. "Both of my parents are amazing role models. I love them with all my heart. My dad is the educator and dreamer and my mom is the mastermind doer. If my mom wants to get something done - she just does it," says Bowers, laughing.
During her visit, Bowers wrote on the Frieda B. Facebook page, "As I share Frieda B. in this place, it becomes so apparent: so much of who I was when I lived here, as a girl, shows up in the pages of these books. Maybe the books are, in part, my way to take this place with me always. It is good to be here. It is good to be home."
Anyone who knows Frieda B.'s imaginator, will recognize the care-free character's sense of freedom and adventurous spirit as she encourages young readers to dream big and be what their heart tells them they can be.
"The backdrop of many of Frieda B.'s adventures originates from my own experiences growing up in a small community where I had a lot of freedom and independence to explore everything around me. I always had the sense that I could be off on my own and I would be ok," Bowers explains. "I was surrounded by nature and quiet and there was a sense of wonder and awe - the perfect backdrop for my imagination."
Bowers lives in Somers, Connecticut with her husband David and sons, Hunter, 17, and Garreth, 15. She is busy working on the fifth Frieda B. book due out in October. Her books are available for purchase at Books & Company in Oconomowoc, as well as Amazon and via the Frieda B. website at www.friedab.com.