Jonathan Frost was in junior high when he made up his mind to be an artist. It wasn't until over two decades later, however, that he turned his hand to children's books, with the publication of Gowanus Dogs (FSG/Foster).

Born in Ohio, Frost had some early training at the College of Art and Design in Columbus, but when it came time to choose a college he picked liberal arts over fine arts, earning a degree in philosophy at Dartmouth.

"I didn't fit in really well with the art department there," he recalls. "I liked to work figuratively and with the old masters, and everything there was design."

He found a mentor in Gary Milek, who taught drawing at evening community classes, and after graduation moved to nearby Cornish, N.H., where he tried to be a full-time artist--with less than spectacular results. "I had no idea what it took in terms of discipline," he says ruefully.

Art eventually took a back seat to carpentry when Frost (who is now divorced) got married and needed to support a wife and stepchild; it wasn't until he turned 40 that Frost decided it was now or never for his childhood dream.

Frost began looking for a graduate program, and decided on New York City's School of Visual Arts, and it was there that a classmate introduced him to Frances Foster at Farrar, Straus & Giroux. "Frances had seen some large etchings I'd done of these wild dogs on the banks of the Gowanus Canal"--a rather blighted waterway in Brooklyn--"and she invited me to come talk with her."

He pitched an idea for a book set in Chinatown; she countered with a request for a narrative about the dogs, which surprised Frost, as he'd never thought of his Gowanus work--black-and-white images of the canal's stark industrial setting--as appropriate material for children. "It's very bleak," he says.

Nonetheless, he was happy to give it a try. "The first storyboard I submitted was 72 pages long," he recalls with a chuckle. "Frances sent me a letter saying she hadn't asked for a novel!"

With Foster's "guidance and forbearance," Frost spent nine months working up an acceptable draft. "The story ended up much friendlier and happier than the dogs I actually did know on the Gowanus Canal, only one of which survived," he says.

Frost credits Foster and associate editor Elizabeth Mikesell for their patience in helping to shape Gowanus Dogs, and to art director Filomena Tuosto as well, whose design input "made it a much stronger book."

Now living in Camden, Maine, Frost continues to work as an artist, and to help make ends meet he also manages a small commercial art gallery and teaches oil painting and etching. He's finishing the large series of Gowanus etchings he interrupted to work on Gowanus Dogs, and is also at work on another picture book, this one about beavers in the North Woods. "It's in color and I'm using egg tempera this time," he says, noting that he enjoys variety.

Happy with the warm reception accorded Gowanus Dogs, Frost says he's particularly delighted with the feedback he's received from children, including an entire class of first-graders in Brooklyn. "I got a packet of 25 letters from them," he says. "They really liked the book!"