Frasier, Debra 1953-

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Frasier, Debra 1953-


Born April 3, 1953, in Vero Beach, FL; daughter of George (stepfather; in marine sales) and Mildred (an artist) Bunnell; married James V. Henkel (an artist/photographer), March 17, 1984; children: Calla Virginia

Frasier-Henkel. Education: Florida State University, B.S., 1976; attended Penland School of Crafts, 1976-81, and Humphrey Institute, University of Minnesota, 1988-89.


Home—Minneapolis, MN. Agent—Virginia Knowlton, Curtis Brown, Ltd., 10 Astor Pl., New York, NY 10003. E-mail—[email protected].


Author and illustrator. Project CAST, Tallahassee, FL, director of visual-arts department, 1974-75; artist-in-education program participant, beginning 1976; artist-in-residence at Penland School, 1981-83, and Department of Community Services, City of St. Paul, MN, 1989; sculptor-in-residence at American Cultural Center and Cité des Arts, Paris, France, 1986-87. National spokesperson, Read with a Child Campaign, 1997. Lecturer at conferences and workshops and at schools and universities. Exhibitions: Works exhibited in solo and group shows throughout North America and in Switzerland. Sculpture projects incorporated in cities throughout the United States, 1981-86.


Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

Awards, Honors

National Endowment for the Arts project grant, 1980; Parents' Choice Illustrators Gold Award, Hungry Mind Review Book of Distinction honor, NSTA-CBC Outstanding Science Trade Book for Children designation, Notable Children's Trade Book in Language Arts designation, and Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, all 1991, all for On the Day You Were Born; American Booksellers Association (ABA) Booksellers Association Pick of the List designation, and American Graphics Society honor list citation, both 1992, both for The Animal That Drank up Sound; ABA Pick of the Lists designation, 1994, for We Got Here Together; Carnegie Medal for Best Children's Video, American Library Association, 1997, for On the Day You Were Born; ABA Pick of the Lists designation, National Parenting Publication honor, Minnesota Book Award, and Southeast Booksellers Association Children's Book Gold Award, all 1999, all for Out of the Ocean; International Reading Association Children's Choice and Teacher's Choice honors, both 2000, both for Miss Alaineus.



On the Day You Were Born, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1991, published with musical CD, 2005, board-book edition, Red Wagon Books (New York, NY), 2006.

Out of the Ocean, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1997.

Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster, Harcourt (New York, NY), 2000.

The Incredible Water Show, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2004.

A Birthday Cake Is No Ordinary Cake, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2006.

Adaptor, with others, of stage version of On the Day You Were Born, produced 1992, and Braille edition in which visual illustrations are paired with tactile counterparts.

Author's work has been translated into Spanish, Japanese, and Portuguese.


William Stafford, The Animal That Drank up Sound, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1992.

Kim R. Stafford, We Got Here Together, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1994.

Richard Lewis, In the Space of the Sky, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2002.


On the Day You Were Born was adapted as a symphony with a score composed by Steve Heitzeg, an animated video featuring the symphony as soundtrack, and an audiobook.


Debra Frasier is an artist and animator as well as the author and illustrator of unique award-winning picture books for children. Each of her self-illustrated books, which include On the Day You Were Born, Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster, and The Incredible Water Show, features Frasier's characteristic cut-paper collage art and creative approach to an illuminating subject. In addition to her own books, Frasier has also created art for texts by other writers. In reviewing her brightly colored contribution to Richard Lewis's picture book In the Space of the Sky, a Kirkus Reviews writer exclaimed that Frasier's "collages of cut paper … are dazzling," and Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper concluded that the "abstract beauty" of her "intricate cutpaper" images successfully brings to life Lewis's rhyming ode to the vast universe.

Frasier was born and raised in Vero Beach, Florida, where her family has lived since her great grandfather helped to lay out the streets in 1911. "Vero Beach faces the Atlantic Ocean," Frasier once told SATA, "and I grew up looking out at the great curved line made where the ocean meets the sky. Summers were my favorite time and often my brother and I would crawl into bed with our bathing suits hidden under our pajamas so we did not have to waste time changing for the beach the following morning! Swimming and walking the beaches were our daytime pastimes, along with collecting shells, drawing with mangrove seeds, and building sand castles

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and forts out of driftwood. Around fourth grade I discovered books, and began reading with a passion. I remember keeping a flashlight under my pillow so I could creep into the bathroom to read at night."

"I loved art from the beginning," Frasier also recalled. "My mother is an artist and she was always collecting shells and bits of surf-worn glass to glue into collaged pictures. She also painted on driftwood and taught me how to paint canvas when I was about twelve." Frasier nurtured her love of art and studied textiles in college. "I studied batik, an ancient wax resist process, with the idea of designing for interiors," she explained. "But, upon graduation, I gave a final party that changed my life—I staged a giant puppet show in my backyard, drafting all of my neighbors into an improvised version of the story of Persephone. I loved making the characters and figuring out the staging, and that led to years of building large, outdoor puppet pageants." Her outdoor pageants have integrated fabrics, words, and even wind; her sixty-foot puppets have danced on a North Carolina mountaintop, and an exhibit called "Windwalk" led viewers through an outdoor trail lined with thousands of strips of cloth blowing in the breeze, interspersed with quotes about the wind.

Frasier has devoted a great deal of time to introducing art to children in the classroom through artist-in-the-schools programs in Minneapolis and elsewhere. One of her programs, titled "Walk around the World," integrates art, storytelling, and academic material into a unified curriculum "where art plays a major part in the learning process rather than its usual minor role," as she told SATA. Students are asked to use factual information and their imagination to understand how people in other countries live. The experience is "aimed at tolerance," Frasier told Mike Steele for the Twin Cities, Minnesota Star Tribune. "The geography, architecture, [and] languages [we study] are different from [the children's] experience. Instead of being afraid of that, they learn to enjoy the differences."

A desire to explore the ways children understand the world gave Frasier the idea of writing a book, and her experiences during a difficult pregnancy provided the motivation. "I hoped my baby would be born safe and sound, and, while I was hospitalized, I began the notes for the book, On the Day You Were Born," she recalled. "I wanted to write about all the things that would welcome my child if she could just get here. I started making notes of things that defied boundaries, that were everywhere and could be counted on to welcome all children. After my daughter was born, I began writing those notes into a manuscript. All of the illustrations were made with cut paper. I was influenced by the work of Matisse and the clear, clean shapes in Japanese textiles."

On the Day You Were Born was praised by Steele as "exceptionally simple and marvelously deep," and "a welcome to the world and to each reader's place in it." The book's poetic text describes the welcome that the sun, the trees, the moon, and other natural forces extend to every newborn child. Frasier pairs her text with bold paper cutout illustrations that vividly portray this welcome and depict children of all colors dancing in the natural world. Michele Landsberg, writing in Entertainment Weekly, declared that the award-winning book "will make each child feel linked to planet Earth in a thrillingly personal way," and a Publishers Weekly reviewer deemed the work a "paean to nature and to birth."

Frasier's self-illustrated picture book Out of the Ocean celebrates her childhood experiences beachcombing with her mother. "As in On the Day You Were Born, the layout is inventive and effective, whether cradling the text or propelling readers on to the next page," remarked Liza Bliss in a review of the work for School Library Journal. In Out of the Ocean Frasier combines collages of photographs and cut-paper shapes with a poetic text emphasizing the wonder and joy of collecting the ocean's sights and sounds as well as more material delights such as sea glass and the proverbial message in a bottle. The book concludes with a journal offering factual details about some of the objects depicted in the story. "Frasier … has made a kind of mixed-media naturalist's diary of the beach in front of her house" that is "very low-tech and quite endearing," attested Penelope Green in a New York Times Book Review appraisal. Out of the Ocean was likewise recognized by other reviewers as a moving tribute to the spiritual solace to be gained from an awareness of the natural world. "The value of this treasure hunter's appreciation is in the notion that real ‘treasure’ is in the looking," observed a contributor to Kirkus Reviews.

In Miss Alaineus a fifth grader named Sage mis-hears and misunderstands one of her vocabulary words. Her error leads to a humbling catastrophe in front of the entire class. Described by School Library Journal contributor Steve Engelfried as a work "celebrating the fun and the tricky nature of words and their meanings,"

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Miss Alaineus grew out of Frasier's desire to make a story about a mistake carrying someone to a new place. As the author/illustrator once recalled, "My daughter confessed to me one night when she was nine years old that she had just figured out that miscellaneous was not a person … Miss Alaineus! I couldn't stop thinking about that marvelous mistake!" Praising the volume, Carolyn Phelan praised Frasier's "highly visual, first-person story," while School Library Journal reviewer Karen Land noted that Sage's "ability to … remake [her misunderstanding] … into a positive experience is a valuable lesson."

The passage of time is Frasier's focus in A Birthday Cake Is No Ordinary Cake, a picture book that features Frasier's characteristic brightly colored collage art. In the simple story, a baker assembles a cake over the period of a year, and ingredients include a dozen full moons, snowflakes, the shadows of migrating birds, and a years' worth of sunrises. Praising the book's unique and thought-provoking premise, Helen Foster James wrote in School Library Journal that A Birthday Cake Is No Ordinary Cake "blends a melodic, metaphorical look of nature with scientific topics" addressed in Frasier's informative text. Another scientific topic is the focus of The Incredible Water Show, which follows a fifth-grade class as they create a play that dramatizes Earth's water cycle and the effects of pollution on the planet. Lynda Ritterman praised the book, citing its "snappy text, jazzy picture, and upbeat tone" in her School Library Journal review.

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, April 15, 1998, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Out of the Ocean, p. 1451; September 15, 2000, Carolyn Phelan, review of Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster, p. 240; May 1, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of In the Space of the Sky, p. 1534.

Entertainment Weekly, April 5, 1991, Michele Landsberg, "Happy Birthdays," pp. 72-73.

Five Owls, March-April, 1991, review of On the Day You Were Born.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 1998, review of Out of the Ocean, p. 337; April 1, 2002, review of In the Space of Sky, p. 495; August 1, 2004, review of The Incredible Water Show, p. 741; August 14, 2006, review of A Birthday Cake Is No Ordinary Cake, p. 840.

New York Times Book Review, July 19, 1998, Penelope Green, review of Out of the Ocean, p. 24; March 11, 2001, review of Miss Alaineus, p. 26.

Publishers Weekly, February 15, 1991, review of On the Day You Were Born; March 22, 1991, review of On the Day You Were Born, p. 79; April 1, 2002, review of In the Space of the Sky, p. 81.

School Library Journal, June, 1991, Eve Larkin, review of On the Day You Were Born, p. 76; August, 1998, Liza Bliss, review of Out of the Ocean, p. 139; September, 2000, Karen Land, review of Miss Alaineus, p. 197; May, 2002, Wendy Lukehart, review of In the Space of the Sky, p. 120; June, 2004, Steven Engelfried, review of Miss Alaineus, p. 56; December, 2004, Lynda Ritterman, review of The Incredible Water Show, p. 106; October, 2006, Helen Foster James, review of A Birthday Cake Is No Ordinary Cake, p. 134.

Star Tribune (Twin Cities, MN), March 17, 1991, Mike Steele, "In Book and Play, Debra Frasier Celebrates Life," pp. F1, F7.


Debra Frasier Home Page, (June 10, 2007).