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