An Interview with Frané Lessac – Illustrator of Pattan’s Pumpkin

Frané Lessac with Janetta Otter-Barry at Edinburgh Book Festival just before she was commissioned.

Pattan’s Pumpkin was published in the UK, Australia and NZ on 1st September 2016. It was conceived as a book in 2013.

The book waited over two years for the perfect illustrator. It waited for Frané Lessac.

Frané is an award winning American artist who has exhibited her paintings in London, Paris, New York and Los Angeles. From film school in California she went on to live on the Caribbean island of Montserrat where she began her career as an author and painter. She loves to travel and create books based on her journeys. Frané has published more than forty children’s books and has won many international awards including the Muriel Barwell Award for Distinguished Service to Children’s Literature. She joined the National Year of Reading initiative as a State Ambassador in 2012 and a Room to Read Ambassador in 2014. She currently lives in Fremantle, Australia.

Janetta Otter-Barry, our publisher extraordinaire, was looking for the perfect illustrator who could bring the pumpkin to life. Click here if you haven’t read about how Pattan’s Pumpkin came to be. Unlike other picture books where the illustrator goes away for a few months and the comes back with a Ta-Da, Frané gave us a little peek at various stages and discussed key cultural aspects throughout the creation of the art. So I thought I should interview Frané Lessac for my blog (and hers) to find out more about her process and how Pattan’s Pumpkin came to be.

Here are my questions and Frané’s answers with show and tell of illustrations!

Pattan’s story is from southern India. Have you visited this part of India before? What kind of research did you have to do for the landscape and the animals?

I’ve travelled several times throughout India including the south coast of Kerala, but I’ve never visited the Western Ghats mountain ranges. It’s now at the top of my list. To research the flora, fauna and landscape, I looked at rare books and online resources.

Pattan is from a tribe indigenous to the Western Ghats mountain ranges. What kind of information did you need to know before you start drawing him and Kanni?

I researched the Irular people from southern India, who regard themselves as descendants of Pattan and Kanni. Their story that has been passed down from generation to generation and Chitra captured the complete essence of the story. Her retelling was a visual feast for my imagination. Creating a picture book is always a collaboration and with the “team”, editor, art director, Chitra and myself, we communicated throughout about our main characters. We needed to ensure we had overall cultural authenticity.

I like your little secret message of the ants and the two white birds in each spread. Do you decide on these little details early on or does it happen as you start drawing.animals-on-and-under-bed-copy

I add little details in my painting at the very end. When I was a child, I loved books with lots of details to explore and being able to discover new bits on each returned reading. I got a kick out of painting the bird and the frog asleep on Pattan and Kanni’s bed and all the other animals fast asleep under the bed. The portraits on the wall are funny too.


Can you show us a sample of your roughs and your step by step process?

The first step was to create thumbnails of every scene with sometimes 2-3 ideas for each one. The team decided which was their favourite. working-on-roughs-in-my-studio-copy

prelim-5-copyNext, I sketched up sloppy copies, also known as preliminary drawings, to size and made a dummy book. The team went over the drawings and we tweaked further. 



The palette to create the final art, was inspired by the many colours of India. I also used opposite colours side by side which made the art stand out. I then rendered each scene using gouache paint, taking up to 3 days to complete each one. 

Do you love pumpkins? Was it different for you to visualise pumpkins in a non-Halloween scenario?  

I love pumpkins and have the best pumpkin soup recipe and make a mean pumpkin pie! Growing up in the United States, the only pumpkins I knew were orange. We’d carve the biggest one we could find every Halloween. It wasn’t until I moved to the Caribbean that I discovered that orange ones weren’t readily found in the rest of the world.

When I wrote the story of Pattan’s Pumpkin, and learnt about how the region of Western Ghats is protected as a UNESCO heritage site, it got me thinking how Pattan’s message about conservation is an important one. What did you take away from Pattan’s Pumpkin? Did Pattan tell you a secret?

Frané dreaming about a crop of pumpkins…

Pattan’s secret message to me was to plant pumpkins. Lots of them. My garden will soon be taken over by hundreds of pumpkins. I want to grow one as BIG as the one in the story! Wish me luck.


Thank you Frané – we enjoyed seeing the work in progress, and amazed that each rendering took three days to complete. Wow! Pattan and Kanni would love the book for sure. You should share your pumpkin pie recipe with us sometime. Find out all about Pattan’s Pumpkin here.


Welcome to Pattan’s Pumpkin Blog Tour

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Today we are celebrating the publication day for Pattan’s Pumpkin! A journey that took three years and nine months. I’m proud to be an author in the stables of Otter-Barry Books and in partnership with the fabulous Frané Lessac.

Just like Pattan does in this story, I’m going to take you on a rollicking ride with me over the Internet to tell you more about Pattan and his amazing pumpkin. Over the next few weeks we will be talking about the Western Ghats – a UNESCO heritage site, conservation, ancient stories passed down from one generation to another and the history of surakka (the humble bottle gourd) and amazing pumpkins growing in this world.

Pumpkins Courge_encore_verte

I’ll be talking about the inspiration to this book, the importance of telling this story and the message I hope children will take away from reading this tale. We will have an interview with the illustrator Frané Lessac, a confession about my stationery habits and of course some pumpkin recipes straight from the land of Pattan.

And if that’s all not enough, you will be soon invited to the book launch in October and I’ll be telling Pattan’s story to you all. We will have colouring pages, craft stuff to do and even take away recipe cards. If you are interested in attending the book launch and want to be included in the invite, fill in the form below and I’ll drop you an invite by email.

Librarians, teachers and literacy coordinators – you can get your hands on posters, activity sheets, lesson plans and bookmarks too. So if you’d like to receive a pack please do fill in the form below and tell me if you want me to post them or if you would collect them at the launch.

So without further ado here is a leaflet about the book.Pattan event flyer (2)

The book is available from all good bookshops across the UK. If you are coming to an event, I’d be happy to sign your copy too.

So what are you waiting for? Sign up and climb aboard Pattan’s Pumpkin!










Children’s Books from India – A Picture-Book Publisher’s View

14cm_Shobha_Viswan_2201570gShobha Viswanath is my publisher at Karadi Tales in India. She is also my senior editor and a writer herself. Shobha is also Farmer Falgu’s big fan.

As a writer it is a great thing if your publisher loves your character as much as you do. She is the main reason why Farmer Falgu has packed his bags and prepared his bullock cart and is now off to Japan and France to meet the children there.

Here she is enjoying the story along with the audience…

I met Shobha 2-3 years ago when I visited Chennai before Farmer Falgu when came out. Then I met her again when we were preparing for the launch of Farmer Falgu Goes on a Trip. She is everything you’d want your editor and publisher to be – funny, encouraging, determined and absolutely positive. I’m proud and ever so grateful that Farmer Falgu and I found a great home at Karadi Tales, which is an independent publisher in India, making forays into the world market.

Karadi Tales is primarily a picture-book and audio-book publisher – I love their songs and readings – my nephew has a stack of them and we listen to some so often that we know the words by-heart. Having said that, KT has just published a Middle-grade book too.

Shobha is passionate about contemporary books for children, that are not just traditional tales and also stories for the pleasure of reading – not just textbooks, assessment books and books with morals – which does confuse many parents in India. Read one of her candid interviews with the national daily in India.

As the final instalment of the discussion on children’s book for this week’s twitter chat, I asked Shobha the same questions I asked Sayoni Basu. And this is what she said.

1) What are the major challenges for an Indian children’s book publisher on the world stage and within India?

– India lacks crossover books – books that can travel. Most of the books that are published by Indian publishers are too contextual to India. If the books have to travel, they have to have a universal appeal.

For example, Farmer Falgu may be a farmer from India but the central crux of each story in the series reveals his resourcefulness which in turn is universal.

 The language too is quite important. Colloquial words and phrases may limit potential readership.  

– Indian publishers lag behind the international publishers in terms of sourcing high-quality and diverse illustrators who have a repertoire of varied styles.

– Distribution in the foreign markets has been a challenge. Several things are required of a publisher, including a strong backlist of books.  

2) When you go to Bologna, what are your impressions of the market compared to Indian books? 

The books that are produced abroad are higher in quality – production and illustrations.

Do we have more variety?

– No. India does not have that kind of variety.

Are Indian books lacking in any aspect?

– Indian books lack in several aspects. The Indian market is heterogeneous –  books are produced to cater to people from all walks of life. In terms of quality, unfortunately, it leaves us neither here nor there.

Until about 15 years ago, folktales and mythology based stories were regurgitated, but things are turning around now.

3) What is your experience in selling rights to world markets? Does the west want to buy very traditional content? Do they want to fit inside the multicultural box or are they willing to look at contemporary stuff too?

If a book is well produced, well illustrated and the story is well told then there are takers for the book in the market.  They do not want to buy only traditional content. They are willing to look at contemporary stuff as well.

4) Do you get support from international and Indian bodies to help with the costs of attending world book fairs? Is your presence imperative?

Yes, we do. Bologna supports publishers and helps them attend the fair, as does Frankfurt through their fellowships and invitational programmes.  However, this support is not meant to be continuous – it is only meant to give the publisher a platform. In India, Capexil provides the publisher with the necessary support.  

If the goal of a publisher is to make the book travel then their presence is imperative. Agents may not know the books as thoroughly as the publisher does.

5) Should India carve its own space in the book market and not worry about whether US and UK buy rights? What other markets are more welcoming to Indian books?  

Of course, we should carve our own space in the market and not worry about the UK or the US – as long as we do not compromise on the quality of the story, illustrations or production standards.  

6) Can you recommend three Indian books that any child in any part of the world should read?

rumourThe Rumour | Written by Anushka Ravishankar and Illustrated by Kanyika Kini

image descriptionFalgu_2 Cover

Farmer Falgu Goes on a Trip / Farmer Falgu Goes to the Market | Written by Chitra Soundar and Illustrated by Kanika Nair

monkeyMonkeys on a Fast – Audiobook | Written by Kaushik Viswanath, Illustrated by Shilpa Ranade and Narrated by Sanjay Dutt

Thank you Shobha – for recommending my book and also giving candid answers to my questions. It is clear that we have a long way to go to bring Indian books to world stage but it is not hard as we think it is. 

We are chatting about Indian books and their place in the world stage at 6 pm GMT today, 24th April 2015, with hashtag #storiesfromindia – Don’t miss it!!!! 

Children’s Books from India – A Writer’s View

I met Devika at a talk arranged by Duckbill Books in New Delhi on the eve of Bookaroo Children’s Literature Festival, November 2014. I was inspired her passion for letting children be – let them read what they want, if they don’t want to discuss it with parents, that’s fine, she said.

Then I met her two days later again at the Duckbill breakfast and  we’ve been in touch via social media. When I started discussing books from India, Devika was my first choice for an opinion on reading by children and writing for children in India.

Devika%20RangachariDr. Devika Rangachari has won several awards for her children’s writing. Her book, Growing Up (Children’s Book Trust, 2000) was on the Honour List of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) in 2002.

Here is our discussion on writing for children.

1. What books did you read growing up? What do you think are the big differences between the books of then to now?

I read anything and everything that I could lay my hands on when I was growing up. Among my favourites were Enid Blyton and Elinor M. Brent-Dyer; later, Agatha Christie, P.G. Wodehouse and A.J. Cronin. I remember reading several Russian folktale collections as well. Indian books hardly featured in my scheme of things.

I think a significant difference between the books of then and now relates to themes.

Contemporary young adult books, for instance, focus on topics that might earlier have been considered unsuitable reading matter for children/ adolescents and would, at best, have been treated with coyness. The globalisation of literature has also played a large part in this change.

2. As a writer, how do you choose a subject or a theme for your books? Do you have a specific reader in mind? Is that reader Indian? Do you think about an international audience when you write the book?

As I am a historian, I enjoy writing historical fiction based on my research on women in early medieval India who remain invisible in the mainstream historical narrative. Through my books, I hope to counter any incipient gender bias at an early stage and make my readers aware of extraordinary women in history who do not otherwise feature in their textbooks. I don’t really have a specific reader of a particular nationality in mind, although my characters are always Indian.

If I have written it well, the book can be enjoyed by anyone anywhere.

3. Do you go into schools and the community to meet your readers? What do they tell you about today’s books and what they are reading?

Some of my publishers send me on regular school visits so that I can interact with my target audience. What is always apparent to me is that children do read despite all the naysayers and prophets of doom—and despite all the competing distractions available to them.

In addition, their reading is seamless in that they don’t particularly focus on culture-specific books but are eager to read books that emanate from anywhere in the world. International publishing phenomena are equally popular here.

Of course, there is a huge discrepancy between the reading skills and choices of children who attend private, English-medium schools and have easy access to books, and their vernacular-speaking counterparts who constitute the majority.

4. Do you wish your book would be published in the UK and US and be considered for prizes like the Carnegie?

Yes, it would be great if my books were to be published in the US and UK, and compete for the Carnegie and other prestigious writing awards. At present, there is a dearth of awards in India instituted to identify and commend the best in children’s writing.

5. What support would you like from the bookshops in India?

It would help enormously if they could display/ promote children’s books by Indian authors in a prominent manner instead of shoving them away into inaccessible, dingy corners that is largely the norm. So while one could literally stumble over stacks of Rick Riordan, for instance, one would be hard put to even locate one’s book in the average bookstore!

6. And lastly can you tell us three books from India that every child in every country should read?

The Grasshopper’s Run by Siddhartha Sarma


Swami and Friends by R K Narayan


and of course Queen of Ice by Devika Rangachari


If you  have a view and you want to discuss, join me on Twitter on 24th Apr 2015 (Friday) at 6 pm GMT with hashtag #storiesfromIndia

Children’s Books from India – An Illustrator’s View

I met Uma a long time ago when I was just starting out. She is also from Chennai, my home-city and I was privileged that she illustrated my chapter book A Dollop of Ghee and a Pot of Wisdom, Walker Books. greybox_gall_image_Krishnaswamy

Uma Krishnaswamy (And yes, she has been asked many times – she is NOT the author Uma Krishnaswami with an I at the end of her name, who lives in the US and is also from Chennai), has been illustrating since the 1980s and currently teaches Visual Studies and History of Art. outoftheway

1. What is your view of India’s children’s book art in comparison to the rest of the world?

Children’s literature in India, in the now-understood format, is relatively young if compared to other traditions like the West. We must keep that in mind when we judge or more importantly make comparisons. India’s and the world’s oldest children’s collection of stories, the Panchatantra, has been illustrated by the greatest of miniature artists to sculptors in Indonesia. Long before the present book format came into being. So art is very intrinsic to our literature at the folk and classical levels.

In the past, we’ve had brilliant illustrators of children’s books like Shankar Pillai, Pulak Biswas, Mickey Patel who largely drove the CBT, NBT books. The ease with which they mixed the new format and techniques with images that actually matched the flavour of the soil, laid a solid foundation for the industry.

They introduced the Indian language idiom, which today has been taken far by innumerable talented artists. This has ensured that Indian books, especially those that emphasise Indian-ness, read folk art traditions, make a mark on the world market.

But having said that, I will add, that a certain edginess, pushing at the boundaries, and visual daring is lacking.

Perhaps our late entry into the field, quite a wide disparity among the targeted audience and definitely much lower exposure to world of images (visual literacy), are some reasons.

  1. As an illustrator what are your challenges when you are working with international publishers – like do you have to compromise style or do they want you to work on only Indian books and don’t give you western mainstream books to work on? 

Personally speaking there hasn’t been any compromise on style. But I’ve never been asked to work on a western mainstream book. dancingonwalls

For all their attempts at inclusion and multiculturalism they are unable to cross their self-drawn barrier.

It may work if one lived abroad and periodically approached the publishers. But I was told several years ago, quite categorically, that western children wouldn’t quite be able to identify with the visual language that I chose to speak in. Of course conveniently forgetting that ‘other cultures’ have had their stories illustrated in a distinctly western style, and had books sold or distributed in those regions. The question of confusion or unfamiliarity obviously doesn’t apply to the other cultures!

  1. Do you think Indian artwork can challenge the status quo in the western world?

It most certainly can and should. India’s amazing and unique diversity in all spheres, including the visual traditions, and its endless ability to absorb new influences and recreate, can breach any borders. Not just India, any visual language from any region should be given that space.

A powerful image requires no translation.

4.  Do you see a difference between European and North American views of Indian books?

Regional histories, influences, considerations and environments will subtly, if not overtly influence the character of a story.adollopofghee

  1. As an illustrator what support do you think Indian governments and other bodies should do for Indian children’s books?

National Book Trust, a Govt of India body, has been publishing quality books for children for many decades. Featuring some of the best authors and illustrators these subsidised books are translated into several languages. Very affordable, they should reach a large pool of readers. Together with the state governments, who should have their own publications, they should play an effective role.

But with the concept of school and public libraries being given such low priority, even in the private sector, I’m afraid the reading is confined to textbooks !

If this one concept is given sufficient push we will see good results, and governments can certainly ensure that in schools.

But the onus cannot be put completely on the governments, there has to be public participation.

Parents / family / society should nurture reading.

Given that we probably have one of the largest collections of folk and classical stories in the world, it is a contradiction that we give so little importance to it!

Thank you Uma, it was great to understand the illustrator’s view and your thoughtful comments about Indian illustration were quite thought-provoking.

You can read Uma’s interview to Saffron Tree here.

If you  have a view and you want to discuss, join me on Twitter on 24th Apr 2015 (Friday) at 6 pm GMT with hashtag #storiesfromIndia