Children's author brings magic of picture books to Cloquet Library

Author/illustrator Debra Frasier once lived in a fanciful world of enormous puppets and massive wind sculptures. And then, her life changed when she became a mom....

Author/illustrator Debra Frasier once lived in a fanciful world of enormous puppets and massive wind sculptures. And then, her life changed when she became a mom....

Frasier mesmerized children and adults alike this week as she wove her life's story during a special appearance at the Cloquet Public Library on Monday. Frasier's appearance served as the kickoff for the library's summer reading program, "Look What's Cookin' at Your Library." Frasier created the illustrations for the 2008 Minnesota Summer Reading Program and is spending part of the summer traveling around the state and telling young readers and their families how a picture book evolves - from concept to final illustration and production.

She began by explaining to audience members that she grew up in Florida, where she studied design at Florida State University. In the early days of her career, she created larger-than-lifesize puppets and wind sculptures for cities and museums in such far-flung places as New York City and Pittsburgh.

After she married her husband Jim, she moved to his home in Minneapolis and in 1987, she found she was expecting their first child. In the early stages of her pregnancy, she became very ill and unable to eat and she spent two and a half months in the hospital. In Frasier's weakened condition, there was no question of building puppets and wind sculptures any longer, and the thought of doing some writing began to drift around in her thoughts. One day, she asked the nurse for some blank sheets of paper, and she wrote down all of the natural elements of the earth that she could think of that were waiting to welcome her child to the earth on her first day here if that time should ever arrive. Then she stashed the sheets of paper away and soon forgot about them.

When Frasier's health at last began showing signs of improvement, she went home to await the birth of their child, Calla, who was delivered on June 1, 1988. Following her daughter's arrival, Frasier was pretty much confined to staying at home with the little girl, who spent most of the early weeks sleeping and crying. It was then Frasier remembered the thoughts she had recorded in the hospital, and she found the pieces of paper secreted away in the suitcase she had with her during her stay.


Out of those thoughts came Frasier's first picture book, "On the Day You Were Born." She both wrote and illustrated it herself, using scissors, paper and glue to create the designs. She described the process of writing the simple story as a long, drawn-out process of going back over the manuscript "over and over" for the period of an entire year. Though the finished product only had 80 lines, she said it was important to make them as perfect as possible.

"In the special world of picture books, words and pictures must be woven together," Frasier said.

She explained that unlike traditional books that have pages and pages of copy to get their story across, picture books must accomplish that same thing within an extremely limited space - usually around 34 pages.

"A picture book must be perfect - the beginning, middle and end of whatever you can fit into it," Frasier told the audience. "It's similar to trying to fit everything into a single, perfect teacup."

She said the photo on the front of a picture book must be compelling enough to draw readers into the book, and the illustrations inside its pages must live up to that draw.

"It has to be done so well that every time you open the book up it matters," said Frasier.

She encouraged aspiring authors to carry a notebook with them at all times and write down whatever ideas come their way.

"Book ideas are like butterflies coming through our lives all the time," said Frasier, "and we have to capture them."


She stressed that even the "end papers" at the start and finish of the book must be carefully designed to augment the story itself and attract the desired audience, along with the dedication page - "It must be from your heart," she said - and the design of the title page.

In addition to "On the Day You Were Born," Frasier has written and illustrated "Out of the Ocean," "Miss Alaineus, A Vocabulary Disaster," "The Incredible Water Show," and "A Birthday Cake Is No Ordinary Delight." She is also traveling around the country hoping to navigate 50 different rivers or streams by canoe with a friend who accepted the challenge on Frasier's 50th birthday. She hopes to someday write about that experience as well.

Monday's program was sponsored by Cloquet Public Library and the Arrowhead Library System.

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