LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Songwriter Dean Pitchford has faced such heady Grammy competition as Prince and Lionel Richie. His sixth nomination is different and intensely personal, rooted in the tragedy of Sept. 11.

Pitchford — best known for his songs, which include "Footloose" and the Oscar-winning "Fame" — is nominated in the category of best spoken album for children for his reading of "The Big One-Oh."

He wrote the book for his niece and nephew after their mother was killed in the Manhattan terrorist attack.

Pitchford's sister, Patty Malia Colodner, was 39 and working in the World Trade Center. Her daughter was 9, her son 2, when they lost her. Pitchford, who lives in the Los Angeles area, made frequent trips to New York to "build on the bond I already had with them," he said.

"I suddenly decided I was going to do this (write the book) and make my niece my consultant. I showed her every draft."

"The Big One-Oh" recounts a boy's effort to throw himself a standout 10th birthday party, aided by a neighbor who bills himself as The Idea Man and who used to create special effects for low-budget horror movies.

Pitchford dedicated the young-adult book to his sister — "To Patty, who was the life of every party" — and named characters after his niece and nephew.

Before the book's release, he arranged a quiet dinner with the children to show them the tributes that he had carefully earmarked.

"I didn't want them to find out in a bookstore," he said. The youngsters, now 16 and 10, live with their father and stepmother and are doing well at school and home, Pitchford said.

"The Big One-Oh" is a lively tale, both comic and poignant, and has brought its author unexpected acclaim.

With five previous music-related nominations, "it's funny to find myself back in the hunt" for a book-based award, Pitchford said.

Pitchford auditioned to read his own work and was up to the challenge. He started out as a performer, appearing on Broadway in "Godspell" and in "Pippin" in the title role, then shifted gears. His credits include both script and songs for the film "Footloose,"

The 57-year-old native of Honolulu concedes: "There's still a bit of the ham in me."

His competition at Sunday's non-televised part of the Grammy Awards includes Gwyneth Paltrow for her reading of "Brown Bear And Friends" and Tony Shalhoub for "The Cricket In Times Square."

"Every time I get nominated against Gwyneth Paltrow, she wins," Pitchford joked. "Maybe this time will be different."

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On the Net:

http://www.thebigoneoh.com

http://www.grammys.org