Moving Past the Pain : Sandra Lee Peckinpah has won praise for her children's books about youngsters who overcome disabilities.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; David S. Barry is a North Hollywood writer

Sandra Lee Peckinpah, author of three children's books, became a writer not out of need for recognition, nor a belief that she had stories to tell. Her first two books--about an angel with a cleft lip and a young athlete with a leg deformity--evolved from painful life experiences.

By the time she finished her third book, about a hearing-impaired child, children's fiction had become her personal mission.

Peckinpah's life, until the birth of her third child, reads like a G-rated movie script. Born to a Navy family in Pensacola, Fla., Sandra and her four siblings were raised according to strict, old-fashioned standards. After high school in 1968, when her generation was making history with violent political protest, Sandra Albright visited Zaire with the pro-American, pro-Establishment song-and-dance review Up With People.

At Monterey Peninsula College in the early 1970s, she met, dated and married fellow student David Peckinpah. "I knew when me met that he was my dream man. I had never heard of his uncle," says Sandra, referring to Sam Peckinpah, the late legendary director of such violent films as "The Wild Bunch," "The Getaway" and "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia."

Sandra happily left college to be a homemaker in Westlake Village and support her husband's career as a scriptwriter. They had two sons, Garrett and Trevor, and Sandra says she made her husband's passion for writing her own. Almost.

"I had loved literature in college," Sandra says, "but I wanted to go further." She found a solution in a local weekly writing and literature workshop. In 1988, when David Peckinpah was nominated for an Emmy for producing the TV series "Beauty and the Beast," life seemed perfect.

Then their daughter Julianne was born with a cleft lip. At first, Sandra wept. As she and David adjusted, she realized that it was time to write a book. Out of her five years of studying children's fairy-tales in the writing workshop came "Rosey . . . the imperfect angel." Illustrated by Trisha Moore of Calabasas, the book tells the story of an angel born with a cleft lip, who first suffers from being different, then succeeds at special tasks and enjoys the rewards.

"The message of the book," the outgoing Sandra says, "is that being different is all right--both for children and for those children's parents."

Sandra and David published and distributed the book themselves. To their surprise, it not only found buyers, but won tributes from professionals in pediatric medicine. "Rosey" is sold in the B. Dalton, Barnes & Noble and Waldenbooks chains, and is in the libraries of Shriners Hospitals for Crippled Children.

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"In the 20 years I've been working with kids with cleft palates, there was nothing like Sandra's book available," says Julia Hobbes, a speech pathologist on the cranio-facial team at UCLA, a medical special operations group dedicated to rebuilding faces of children born with deformities.

"There are books about the condition, how to fix it, with psychology on how to be supportive. But nothing for children--nothing mystical, telling in a way that's safe and kind of fun, that gets the message across," Hobbes says.

"Rosey" also had an impact on Barnes & Noble Executive Vice President Steve Riggio, whose daughter had recently been born with Down's syndrome. He established a "children with special needs" collection in his chain's stores, and "Rosey" became the first featured book.

"A great many parents go through the pain and difficulty of children with birth defects," Riggio said. "Books like Sandra Peckinpah's can be a great help."

"Rosey" also moved actress Melissa Gilbert to join Peckinpah in a series of readings from "Rosey" at schools, to help raise awareness of the needs of children born with disabilities.

"I think this book, and Sandra's other books," Gilbert says, "are important not just for children with birth deformities, but for all children."

Sandra's second book, "Chester . . . the imperfect all star," released in 1993, again by Dasan, the Peckinpahs' private publishing company, is about a boy who achieves baseball stardom despite a leg deformity.

It was inspired by a friend's son, who was born with one leg shorter than the other. 'Chester," again, was praised by medical professionals and received an endorsement from one-handed Yankees pitcher Jim Abbott.

"Rosey" had gone into a second printing--after the first 5,000 had sold out--when Sandra began her third book, a story of a hearing-impaired child, titled "Lightning Lizzie . . . and the angel light brigade."

Then fate struck the Peckinpahs again. In December, 1993, their 15-year-old son Garrett was stricken by a viral infection that turned fatal. A few days after getting sick, Garrett was gone. Sandra went on to finish "Lightning Lizzie," but much of the joy had gone out of life for her and David.

"Friends have suggested," she says, "that using our loss as the substance of another book might help us recover from it." Perhaps in the future. "Lightning Lizzie" is due out this year. Meanwhile, Sandra is working on a nonfiction book aimed at parents of children born with disabilities.

"If you have a story that needs writing," Sandra says, "you have to do it. That's the way I feel comfortable writing. I don't know how people do it, if they don't have a passion for it."

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WHERE TO GO:

What: Books by Sandra Peckinpah.

Location: Sold at B. Dalton, Barnes & Noble and Waldenbooks.

Call: Dasan Publishing, (800) 348-4401.

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