Lately, I’ve been enjoying the work of a wonderful author and illustrator—Frané Lessac. Her style is deceptively childlike: at first you see her paintings and think Psssh! My 8 year old colors like that! I guess anyone can illustrate children’s books. Then you look a little closer or turn a few pages and realize that her folk art is absolutely filled with thoughtfulness and detail… color and feeling. This is more than what most children can do— Lessac has a bright ability to make stories come alive with innovative attention to detail. And every new book I see illustrated by her, I inevitably love.
She spent part of her life living on the Carribean island of Montserrat and this has influenced her work heavily. The story My Little Island was the first encounter I had with her and I was struck with how fitting her style is with summery, beachy, island themes, similar I guess to the way that Jan Brett really shines brightest in her Scandinavian themed books. The flavors of island life practically jump from the pages in My Little Island. And they do this as well with Drummer Boy of John John which is a fun story about the upcoming festival of Carnival featuring lots of foot stomping, hand clapping onomatopoeia.
The next time I stumbled across Frané was when I picked up On the Same Day in March at the thrift store. What a gem! I really love LIVING social studies books and this one immediately went into my homeschooling basket for my 2nd grade and under crew. It examines different parts of the world at the exact same time of year. It is so fun to see the differences in weather and lifestyle!
Next I found Monday on the Mississippi at the library and marveled at how beautifully the text and pictures complemented each other. This book takes the reader from the headwaters all the way to the Gulf of Mexico… I immediately pegged it as a great companion to Minn of the Mississippi and any other studies of this river or rivers in general.
I really loved Lessac’s illustrations in Queen Esther Saves Her People by Rita Gelman also. I think it can be a challenge to translate many Bible stories into children’s books while retaining the story element. But this one absolutely brings the fantastic story alive and wonderful to kids while remaining faithful to the story of Esther.
Lastly, I want to highlight the best World War I picture book I’ve seen so far: The Donkey of Gallipoli: A True Story of Courage in World War I. How do you bring the horrors of war into a picture book without horrifying young children? I think the answer to this is in the art of storytelling and the way the pictures fill in the blanks. For example, while Patricia Polacco’s highly acclaimed Pink and Say is a moving story taking place during the Civil War, I removed it from our collection. I just had an aversion the graphic depiction of blood even if it was couched in beautiful sentiment. But the Donkey of Gallipoli is balanced beautifully. There are war scenes to be sure and the story doesn’t avoid the topic of death. Yet, the folk style of Lessac really helps to soften the harshness of what is being read and the lovely story really is one that all children will enjoy. The ending leaves us thoughtful and hopeful… not scared or disturbed. Highly recommended!
Frané Lessac is a wonderful artist whose style is a refreshing and quirky change on my bookshelf of classic artists. There are many other books she’s collaborated on not listed here which I am eager to get my hands on… and I understand she has many more in the works so keep your eyes open for her vivid bursts of delightful art.