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CHILDREN'S AUTHOR SHOT FOR THE MOON : ILLUSTRATED BOOKS ABOUT HUMAN QUESTS PROVE NAYSAYING PROFESSOR WRONG.

Byline: VICTORIA GIRAUD

Mary Ann Fraser is very visual and passionate about books. The combination works well for the author and illustrator of children's books, an occupation she's pursued since 1987.

Mary Ann has been drawing since childhood. So while taking a course in children's literature at UCLA, she asked the professor whether illustrating children's books was a worthwhile goal.

``He shook his head and told me to just forget it - the field was very competitive and I probably wouldn't be successful,'' said Mary Ann, who lives in Simi Valley. ``He said all of this without even looking at my artwork or knowing anything about me.''

She followed her teacher's advice for a while but eventually began illustrating other authors' books. And when she speaks to children at book fairs and school visits, she offers her own advice: ``Don't ever listen to anybody,'' she tells them. ``You can do anything you want.''

Mary Ann wanted to write and illustrate her own books and got the idea for her first story during a trip she and her husband took to India and Nepal. ``On Top of the World,'' the story of Sir Edmund Hillary's conquest of Mount Everest, was published in 1989.

Ideas for books, once elusive, now come ``like hail in a hailstorm,'' she said. ``In Search of the Grand Canyon'' was inspired by a public television broadcast on the landmark. She is working on ``La Purisima,'' the story of the Spanish mission in Lompoc, with publication scheduled for 1998.

Most of her books, which are targeted toward 8- to 12-year-olds, focus on history, a subject she hated in school.

``I thought it was really boring - dry text and memorizing dates and names,'' Mary Ann said. But upon researching her books, she found that ``history is filled with great adventure stories.''

Research starts in the children's section. ``Adult material is highly suspect and often highly biased. I try to avoid that with children. I have a greater responsibility.'' She added that it's easy to criticize actions in the past from our present perspective, but she feels we shouldn't judge history.

Mary Ann then prepares a detailed outline and obtains approval from her publisher, Henry Holt and Co. Writing the work takes more than two years.

Writing while raising three sons - Jan, 7; Alex, 5; and Brett, 3 - plus all their pets - a puppy, six desert tortoises, a box turtle and a hermit crab - has complicated her life.

``It's most difficult to find time. I can stop and start with the writing, but I find that hard to do with the illustrations,'' Mary Ann said.

Research on Mary Ann's books has become a family project. ``Family vacations revolve around my books. We tend to live, breathe and eat what I'm working on. We always go to the locations.'' She laughed as she added that her big disappointment was not being able to travel to the moon, while researching ``One Giant Leap,'' the story of the first moon walk.

Although Mary Ann explained that very few children's authors make a lucrative living and supplement their writing with teaching, speaking and reviewing books, she wouldn't change her profession. ``I feel like a detective or a discoverer; nothing ever bothers me. When I'm working on a chapter and especially when I'm painting, I'm having fun. I'm really having fun.''

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 30, 1996
Words:559
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