Frané Lessac is an author and illustrator and has created beautiful illustrations for more than fifty books. She was born in New Jersey and lived on the Caribbean Island of Montserrat and later London before moving to Australia. Travelling is a major source of inspiration for her work. Frané visits schools, libraries and festivals around the world sharing the process of writing and illustrating books. Today we’re thrilled to chat to Frané about her latest picture book, A is for Australian Reefs.
From the publisher:
Along the Australian coastline, underwater reefs are bustling with the most amazing sea creatures living on the planet. What can blow bubble rings and swim through them? What has teeth on its eyeballs? What creature makes itself nearly invisible to predators by using camouflage? What poops out sand? More than 25 percent of all sea creatures live in coral reefs, also called “rain forests of the sea.” This book introduces readers to everything from playful dolphins to deadly Irukandji jellyfish, leafy sea dragons to brainy octopuses, and walking sharks to whimsical-looking zebra seahorses. With gorgeous patterns and colours and substantial entries exploring each creature’s anatomy, diet, threats to survival, and more, Frané Lessac brings us a truly fascinating undersea exploration of the awe-inspiring Australian reefs.
A is for Australian Reefs is a non-fiction picture book full of fascinating facts. How did you go about your research for the book?
I love animals and especially ones that live in the ocean. I’ve been lucky to have lived close to the sea all my life. From the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Caribbean Sea, and now, the Indian Ocean. Snorkelling is one of my favourite hobbies. To research A Is for Australian Reefs, I travelled up to Ningaloo Reef and visited the Great Barrier Reef. Closer to home, I snorkelled on Rottnest Island and got up close and personal with sea creatures at AQWA (Aquarium of Western Australia) –especially rare animals like the elusive leafy sea dragon. Alongside swimming on underwater reefs, I read many books and researched online. Every page in A Is for Australian Reefs is full of facts. My publishers required that I find official proof for each fact from three reputable sources. To do this, I contacted coral reef and marine experts from all over Australia.
You create picture books about different places and creatures around Australia. Have you been to all the places featured in your books?
I’ve been fortunate to have visited many of the locations in my books. When I travel, I take lots of photos and gather information to take home. If I cannot travel to a place, I call local experts, visit websites, watch documentaries, and read as many books as possible. Once back in my studio, I sort through the enormous range of photographs, research books and online sources of information that I’ve collected.
Everywhere I’ve travelled, there’s always something amazing to discover – maybe it’s the scenic beauty, the food, or meeting the best people!
You’re the writer and illustrator of so many picture books. When you have the idea for a book what comes first for you, writing or artwork?
The idea for the book comes first. I need to write all the words first because the artwork might change if one word changes – especially in the case of adjectives. It is helpful that I know what I’d like to paint, which will influence what I’m writing. After a polished draft, I decide which words appear on each page. Then I’m ready to create ‘sloppy copies’ sketches of the art.
Do you have a tip for kids who’d like to create their own picture book?
You have the best possible place nearby to help you create your own picture book – the school library! It’s a wealth of knowledge with a gazillion ideas to inspire you further. In the non-fiction section, every possible subject to learn and write and/or illustrate can be found. These books are full of images and words that are easy to understand. And in the picture book section, take a close look and see all the different materials and design ideas used to make books! Everyone writes and paints differently. Believe in your words and art, and don’t compare yourself to anyone else. How YOU do it is unique.
Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on next?
Currently, I’m working on a super-fun project called, The Big Book of Australian Nursery Rhymes. I’ve chosen lots of well-known traditional English nursery rhymes and adapted them to feature Australian animals. There are quite a few laugh-out-loud rhymes and some work better than the originals! The art is bright and colourful and designed for a young audience. After I finish all the rhymes and art, it will still be an entire year before it’s out in the world. Books take a loooong time.
A is for Australian Reefs is out now! Ask for it at your local library or favourite bookshop.
Take a sneak peek inside the book
Watch Frané Lessac talking about how she creates her picture books (YouTube)
Visit Frané Lessac’s website to find out more about her and her books