authors, illustrator, interviews

Frané Lessac on A is for Australian Reefs

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.


Image shows the cover of a non-fiction picture book: A is for Australian Reefs by Frané Lessac. The cover illustration shows a coral reef with a whale shark swimming and the additional words: a fact-astic tour.

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

Book reviews by Anwen, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Great White Shark

Great White Shark by Claire Saxby and Cindy Lane


Great White Shark by Claire Saxby, illustrated by Cindy Lane, Walker Books Australia, ISBN 9781760651848

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

This book has a nice story that follows a shark’s day and shows facts about Great Whites. I learnt more about this species of shark from this book. Did you know that female Great Whites grow about as long as a giraffe is tall and may weigh more than a large car?

Great White Shark has amazingly good illustrations. They are so detailed and beautiful. It looks realistic because Cindy Lane used seawater, watercolours, pencil, found natural pigments, digital drawing and digital collage to make different textures. She’s done wonderful blending and she has used lots of colours in her art. It shows underwater scenes with other sea creatures and beautiful coral.

Overall, Great White Shark is a spectacular book and is suitable for all ages over four.

Check out Alphabet Soup’s interview with the illustrator, Cindy Lane.

This is Anwen’s second book review for Alphabet Soup. You can read her review of No! Never! here. If YOU would like to send us a book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

illustrator, interviews

Cindy Lane and Great White Shark


Cindy Lane is an award-winning artist and illustrator who loves the ocean. She was born and grew up by the sea in Sydney, lived by the Great Barrier Reef in FNQ, and now has her studio by the Indian Ocean in Perth. Cindy loves to make her own paints with materials she finds in nature, and collects waters from all over the world to use in her paintings. Seawaters from across Australia were used in Great White Shark, her first picture book, written by Claire Saxby.

From the publisher:

In Great White Shark we follow a female shark on her way to warmer waters to give her pups the best chance of survival. Set in a stunning underwater world, Claire Saxby’s signature poetic prose and Cindy Lane’s sublime illustrations showcase the grace, majesty and power of one of the ocean’s top predators.

Can you tell us a bit about how you created the illustrations for Great White Shark?

It all starts with a sketch – pencil on paper. I like the scratchy feel of graphite on a surface, with sound and feel for feedback as you create. I do also draw digitally, but it can be quite a clinical process, not what I want at this stage. It can be all too easy to erase the less-than-perfect lines when drawing on a tablet­­­­­­­­­ – a double tap of your fingers and it’s gone! I like seeing the messy, roundabout road maps of initial sketches, the sparks of ideas, and where they led.

From pencils sketches to a pencil thumbnail sheet! Once this was approved by the art director I went on to do some sample colour illustrations from the text, just to determine a style that the publisher, author and I were all happy with. This was a combination of pastel on sanded paper and watercolours on cotton paper, both with digital sketching over the top.

Thumbnail sketches by Cindy Lane for her picture book Great White Shark
Thumbnail sketches by Cindy Lane for the picture book Great White Shark

Once these were approved, I was let loose on the double page spreads, cover, title, index pages and the endpapers. There was still lots of research to be done, and luckily the PLANET SHARK exhibition was visiting Fremantle. I got to see so many sharks, including multiple Great White models up close, the preserved body of the massive Megamouth shark, plus the HUGE Megalodon jaws!

Using sea waters from my collection, I started watercolour painting the backgrounds and creatures that feature in the book. They were then photographed or scanned individually, then collaged together digitally to create the scenes.

Did you discuss the story/illustrations with the author (Claire Saxby) while illustrating the book?

No, I had no direct contact with the author during the illustration process. Claire Saxby’s feedback was always via the editor and art director.

How long did it take you (from signing the contract to going to print) to illustrate Great White Shark?

14 months.

Were you already interested in sharks before you were asked to illustrate the book?

Definitely! I’ve always had a love for the ocean and all of its inhabitants. Even those that get bad press. Especially those ones!

Great White Shark is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookstore or local library.

Back and front covers of Great White Shark by Claire Saxby and Cindy Lane


See Claire Saxby & Cindy Lane talking about Great White sharks. [YouTube]

Watch Cindy Lane painting pages from the book here and here. [Instagram videos]

Download the Teachers’ Notes from the publisher’s website.

Learn more about Cindy Lane’s art & illustrations on her Instagram account.

Great White Shark by Claire Saxby and Cindy Lane
Book reviews by kids, Oxley Christian College

Book review: Amazing Australians in their Flying machines

Amazing Australians and their flying machines by Prue and Kerry Mason and Tom Jellett. Image: Picture book cover showing a green airplane with people standing in a row along the wings. REVIEWED BY LUCAS, 9, VIC

Amazing Australians in Their Flying Machines by Prue & Kerry Mason, illustrations by Tom Jellett, Walker Books, ISBN 9781922244635

Lucas reviewed a copy of this book in his school library.

Amazing Australians in Their Flying Machines is a book where you can see how courageous people were when flying was new, including during the world wars. You can learn about how pilots sacrificed their lives for us while testing the planes to their limits.

How did these special men and women make flying machines even better?

The illustrations are drawn with great care and detail and have been well researched.

This information book is suitable for children around 8-10 years old who are interested in history and flying.

If you’d like to read more book reviews by Oxley Christian College students, you can click on ‘Oxley Christian College’ in the grey categories box in the right column of this blog. To send us YOUR book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Book reviews by kids, Oxley Christian College

Book review: Do Not Lick This Book

Do Not Lick this Book by Idan Ben-Barak and Julian Frost. Image: Picture book with a yellow cover. The title DO NOT LICK THIS BOOK is within a white speech bubble, text is being spoken by some tiny germ characters on the front cover. REVIEWED BY WEYLEN, 8, VIC

Do not lick this book by Idan Ben-Barak and Julian Frost, Allen& Unwin, ISBN 9781760293055

Weylen borrowed a copy of this book from her school library.

This is an impressive book about different germs and what they do. Find out which germs help us and which germs don’t.

Take Min on an awesome adventure and join her too! Meet all her new friends and find out what she discovers at different places.

My favourite part is when Min finds out what all her microbe friends do.

I recommend this book to children 7-9yrs old who want to become doctors so they know what kind of germs there are.

I give this a 7 out of 10 rating because some pages were easy to understand and others were challenging.

If you’d like to read more book reviews by Oxley Christian College students, you can click on ‘Oxley Christian College’ in the grey categories box in the right column of this blog. To send us YOUR book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!