I was born on April 3, 1953, in Vero Beach, Florida, the very town where my great-grandfather had surveyed the original streets in the early 1920s. My grandmother was a schoolteacher in Vero. She rowed a boat to an island every Monday morning to teach in the one-room schoolhouse. She’d stay all week and then, each Friday, she would row back home. My mother was also born in Vero Beach, so my family has been walking the same stretch of shore for generations.
My brother, two stepsisters and I grew up in a remote house that overlooked the Atlantic Ocean, very near my grandmother’s old schoolhouse. The four of us spent our weekends and summers swimming in the ocean and collecting treasures on the beach. Even when I was quite young, I loved to create all kinds of artworks, often piecing together sculptures from bits of wood we’d found on our walks. My mother says I used miles and miles of Scotch tape to "make things," as I used to call it.
In 1976 I graduated with a degree in design from Florida State University. I went on to attend Penland School of Crafts, in North Carolina, where I made large "costume puppets." The largest one I constructed was sixty feet long, and eight people had to climb inside to make it move. Later I was commissioned by various cities to build wind sculptures. These were made of steel cables, with sailcloth shapes attached, and were designed to respond to wind.
In 1984 I married and moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Suddenly I found myself in the middle of the northern prairie, where it was colder than anything I had ever experienced. Can you imagine what my first winter was like? I had to learn about boots, snow shovels, hats, gloves, scarves, snow tires, icy roads – and heating bills! Now, many winters later, I also know what fat snowflakes look like falling across the glow of a streetlight, the comfort of a fire on a freezing cold night, and the exuberant feeling that comes with a tulip-bursting spring. I still miss the heat, the palm trees, and the intense rains of the tropics, so I often return to Florida. I keep my kayak there, and whenever I can I paddle out on the Indian River Lagoon, or go walking along the beach, finding things. I hope my books reflect how much I love the natural world around us.
I have always liked to write letters, and people often would say to me, "Why don’t you write books?" My first one, On the Day You Were Born, came unexpectedly as the result of a difficult pregnancy with our only child, Calla. Early in the pregnancy, when things were at their darkest, I asked a nurse at the hospital to bring me some paper so I could write down all the things on our earth that would welcome my daughter, if she would just get here. Later, after her safe arrival, I took this jumble of words and scribbled drawings and began to turn them into the book that became On the Day You Were Born.
Now I write and illustrate books full-time. My pictures are collages, so I am still putting bits of things together, just as I did as a young girl. I usually write the text first, and then create the pictures. But with Out of the Ocean, my story about growing up beside the sea, I wrote and made pictures at the same time, and each helped the other along.
I carry a small journal with me everywhere I go, and it acts as my "butterfly net," helping me to capture ideas that fly through my brain. The idea for Miss Alaineus, A Vocabulary Disaster came along after my daughter said one night, "Mom, today I figured out that miscellaneous is not a person." I chuckled for days, made a note in my journal, and slowly built the story around her wonderful mistake.
A sequel to that book grew differently—for seven years I collected a large picture journal of all things pertaining to water. Photographs, poems, writings, sculptures, copies of science text were all entered in this scrapbook. Slowly a series of facts began to shape themselves into what became the picture book, The Incredible Water Show. This is the wonder of making a picture book—sometimes a story begins with words, and sometimes the inspiration comes from a collection of pictures. Now I am trying a very different kind of journal where I take trips in my canoe and then share each river adventure on my website. Visit River Journal to see what it looks like. Maybe someday it will become a book!
I always write and illustrate my books so each are years in the making. They also include:
A Birthday Cake Is No Ordinary Cake follows our planet’s circle around the sun as we collect the “ingredients” to our birthday cakes: 365 sunrises and a robin’s song for starters! For A Fabulous Fair Alphabet I took photos of signs at the Minnesota State Fair and the Texas State Fair and collaged those letters into an eye-popping day of visiting the fair, A to Z.
SPIKE, Ugliest Dog in the Universe, brought me a bedraggled abandoned dog who wants to find home and love. He thinks changing himself is the only way and takes lessons from—a cat! The book is collaged from worn blue jeans to match Spike’s character. (Fall, 2013)
All of my books have grown far beyond the covers … Watch the Miss Alaineus Vocabulary Parade slide show to see the costumes students have created around the USA, and visit the Alphabet Fair slide show where all the visitors win words. Each of my books has a Book Event to help weave it into your community. This has become my real work question: How do we grow our stories from the lift of a cover into events in our lives? I am constantly learning ways to help us gather words, respond creatively, and build community. If you try any of these Book Event project, be in touch with me. I’d love to hear how the story unfolded.
Debra Frasier writes and illustrates picture books and her efforts have won numerous awards. Her first book, On the Day You Were Born, has had a worldwide reception, and the accompanying video won the American Library Association's highest honor for a children's film, the Andrew Carnegie Medal. Miss Alaineus, A Vocabulary Disaster, won the IRA's Children and Teacher's Choice Awards and has inspired Vocabulary Parades from coast to coast. A Birthday Cake Is No Ordinary Cake once again combines science and lyric language, telling the story of our planet moving in a great spinning circle around the sun, all while collecting ingredients for a birthday cake. A Fabulous Fair Alphabet began as a picture book that follows the arc of a day at the State Fair and has now grown into an alphabet fair booth and classroom project serving thousands of participants at the Minnesota State Fair and beyond.
Well known for weaving together academic material and heartfelt stories, Debra supports all her books with extensive curriculum for teachers, much of which can be found on her website. Her unique Book Events build vocabulary, creativity and community and her efforts have been recognized with the Loft McKnight Award in Children’s Literature.
Bibliography: Written and Illustrated
SPIKE, Ugliest Dog in the Universe, Beach Lane 2013
A Fabulous Fair Alphabet, Beach Lane 2010
Photos of Debra Frasier are provided here for use in promoting professional and educational events. Click on your choice of download using the buttons below each photo. The selected image will then open in a new window where you can use the menu, Ctrl-S, or the download button to copy the image to your computer or device. You can optionally view the complete directory of portraits here.
Images of Debra Frasier's book covers are copyrighted by the publishers and provided here for use in promoting professional and educational events. Click on your choice of download using the buttons below each photo. The selected image will then open in a new window where you can use the menu, Ctrl-S, or the download button to copy the image to your computer or device. You can optionally view the complete directory of book cover images here.