WILD about beasts

This au­thor is in­spired byy Aussie fauna, writes Naomi White hite

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - Best Weekend - - WHAT'S HOT -

Y ou might know which Australian an­i­mal has square shaped poo, but do you know why? Chil­dren’s au­thor and il­lus­tra­tor Frane Les­sac knows the an­swer and is happy to share the sur­pris­ing rea­son, and other quirky facts, in her lat­est book A is for Australian An­i­mals.

The pic­ture book, Les­sac’s 41st, in­tro­duces chil­dren to the huge ar­ray of na­tive Australian an­i­mals — from ring­tail pos­sums to blue tongue lizards and tawny frog­mouths to echid­nas.

For Les­sac — who grew up in ur­ban Amer­ica, just out­side New Jer­sey — the idea came after mov­ing to Fre­man­tle in Western Aus­tralia and hear­ing sto­ries about the coun­try’s weird and won­der­ful an­i­mals that live here. An an­i­mal lover, she was de­ter­mined to find out more about these strange crea­tures. “I had all sorts of pets as a child,” she tells BW Mag­a­zine. “I had a mon­key, some snakes and my dad once even brought me home a camel! But when I moved here I started hear­ing about all these an­i­mals I’d never heard of, like bil­bies and platy­puses. I thought it was the per­fect fit for me.” Not­ing the rich diver­sity of land­scapes across Aus­tralia, from the Great Bar­rier Reef to Tas­ma­nia and the cen­tral desert, the au­thor was also con­scious to try to in­clude an­i­mals from as many ar­eas as pos­si­ble.

The book took more than a year to cre­ate, as Les­sac hand­painted each il­lus­tra­tion.

The A-Z style of the book threw up some chal­lenges in find­ing an­i­mals for Q, X and Z. The Q was eas­ily solved with Rot­tnest Is­land’s adorable quokkas. The Z was taken care of with the tiny, colour­ful ze­bra finch. The X was the trick­i­est and it was only solved us­ing the X mark­ing on the back of cru­sader bugs.

Les­sac says she was im­pressed by how much the kids she spoke with knew of the an­i­mals that she sought to make en­tries in the book more chal­leng­ing, to try to teach chil­dren some­thing new.

She con­tacted mul­ti­ple spe­cial­ists for each species to find some lesser­known facts — and dis­cov­ered some sur­pris­ing info.

“One of my favourite ones is for the Tas­ma­nian devil. I spoke with a wildlife bi­ol­o­gist in Tas­ma­nia and he said in the poo he had found the head of a tiger snake, half a pen­cil, al­foil and the knee of a pair of jeans — among other things!”

An­other sur­prise was that koalas have two thumbs per paw.

These facts, she hopes, will foster an in­ter­est in an­i­mals among her young read­ers and lead them to read

up fur­ther in­de­pen­dently.

“The main sen­tence is about the an­i­mal and then there are four-five facts on every page.,” Les­sac says.

“So if a par­ent is read­ing it to smaller chil­dren, they can say ‘did you know this about the koala?’ and it makes the par­ent look like a genius. But for older, cu­ri­ous kids they can read for them­selves and learn about all these cool things and hope­fully from that they have more re­spect for wildlife.”

And the square poo? Wom­bats use it to make their ter­ri­tory, of­ten on logs or rocks and the square shape helps it stay in place.

A is for Australian An­i­mals is avail­able now

Frane Les­sac reads to kids from Explore and De­velop Early Learn­ing Cen­tre in Le­ich­hardt. Pic­ture: Toby Zerna

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