d is for debra

local author combines art and vocabulary at the state fair and beyond

any people would call Debra Frasier a children’s book author and illustrator, or perhaps an artist. But she would disagree. “My real work is to spread the joys of literacy everywhere I go.”

An award-winning author and illustrator of On the Day You Were Born and six other books, Frasier is passionate about promoting literacy and helping children develop their vocabularies.

Frasier’s most recent book,
A Fabulous Fair Alphabet, was inspired by her frequent trips to the Minnesota State Fair. In 2001, as she was looking at her photos of the fair, she was taken by the beauty and individuality of the lettering of midway signs. She was so inspired that she began a serious project the following year, photographing signs throughout the fairgrounds. Five years later, Frasier’s editor persuaded her to use them in a book.

A collage artist, Frasier cuts and pastes paper together to form pictures. A Fabulous Fair Alphabet added a step to the process by using photographs. Frasier downloaded her photos to her computer and then digitally cut apart each image into individual letters. She printed the letters, storing them on trays to make it easier to pick out them out. To make the individual pictures, she cut additional paper to create a Ferris wheel, a giant slide and other sites from the fair, and then incorporated the letters throughout the illustration.

alphabet forest

When Frasier was finishing her book in 2009, she wanted to do more than publish it. The Minnesota State Fair Foundation was receptive to her idea of an activity center promoting literacy and vocabulary, so she started planning. Receiving the McKnight Artist Fellowship for Writers/Loft Award in Children’s Literature/Younger Children was a huge boost in helping her put her plans into action. But it was only with the sponsors, including the Metropolitan Library Service Agency (MELSA), Target Corporation, and the Minnesota State Fair Foundation that she could fulfill her dream for the fair attraction. “I wanted all the details to be just right,” says Frasier, “so I’m really grateful to Target for coming on board.”

On a small, centrally-located corner, Frasier launched the Alphabet Forest in 2010 with a variety of vocabulary and literacy activities for all ages. Playing the “Find Your Fabulous Fair Alphabet” game, fair-goers collected words such as “zucchini” and “Holstein” from throughout the fairgrounds. Nearly 3,000 blue ribbons were awarded to those who returned one word for each letter of the alphabet. The result was a list of 98,000 words drawn from the fair attractions. Visitors to the Alphabet Forest also used small letters to create mini-banners to wear. Using large Styrofoam swimming noodles sliced from end-to-end to hold letters, families spelled words or names and had their photos taken. As the State Fair Author-in-Residence, Frasier also did a two-hour book signing every day.

Frasier lived in a small trailer on the fairgrounds, spending 12 hours at the Alphabet Forest each day. “It was a huge volunteer project on my part,” she says. “[But] what stands out [in my mind] is the absolute beauty of these families sitting down in the chaos of the fair and making things,” says Frasier. “It was just beautiful.”

Friends, neighbors, retired teachers and library employees were recruited to fill more than 200 volunteer slots to make the Alphabet Forest successful.

The Alphabet Forest will once again be located in Baldwin Park, northeast of the Kidway, at the State Fair. This year, though, a different local children’s author will be featured each day. “We grow amazing authors in this state,” says Frasier. Each author will have a new activity and fair-goers can collect author’s autographs in a passport. “My hope is to keep this little corner of the fair dedicated to literacy activities for years to come.”

on the road

When Frasier isn’t working at the State Fair or in her St. Paul studio, she’s traveling to schools around the U.S. giving presentations to children on writing, illustrating, and editing books.

Frasier has photographed the process of collecting ideas, writing a story, cutting paper, arranging the pieces to make illustrations, and editing. Using these photographs in a slide show, Frasier demonstrates the act of creating art and writing to inspire children in their creativity and literacy. Throughout her presentation, Frasier encourages children to use motions such as typing and cutting to make their learning more kinetic. This keeps the kids alert during the presentation and helps them understand the process even more. “My job is to talk about writing and the process of it,” explains Frasier, “and model being a creative adult in the 21st century.”

When requested, Frasier also hosts Family Night. At these events parents and children try out Frasier’s collage method. After a brief lesson on how to break an image into parts, parents and children create an illustration of an animal using only paper, scissors, and glue. Pencils are not allowed. “You’re always building on what is good,” says Frasier, and cutting off what doesn’t work. Frasier’s rule is that everyone — children, parents, teachers, and school administrators — has to try it. “The kids are so proud of their parents,” says Frasier. They run up to her with their parents’ work, exclaiming, “Look what my dad did!”

For each of her books, Frasier has also developed curriculum and classroom activities for teachers to implement, such as a “vocabulary parade” from her book Miss Alaineus, A Vocabulary Disaster, or using facts about water to stage her The Incredible Water Show.

Frasier is currently working on a new book, Spike — Ugliest Dog in the Universe which has a theme about beauty. Like her other books, it will certainly be a launch pad for literacy and learning opportunities.

C.C. Strom writes and parents in South Minneapolis.

learn more

Visit debrafrasier.com to learn more about Frasier’s books and literacy projects to do at home, school, and the State Fair.

The Children’s Literature Network is the guest curator for the Alphabet Forest at the 2011 Minnesota State Fair. Stop by the Alphabet Forest to meet local children’s authors, including:
Mary Cassanova
Marsha Wilson Chall
David Geister and Patricia Anne Bauer
Jill Kalz
David LaRochelle
Lauren Stringer
Catherine Urdahl
Mike Wohnoutka
Debra Frasier

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