Home Arts & Entertainment The Arts After decades, Mr. Zuko finally takes flight

After decades, Mr. Zuko finally takes flight

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Joyce Borenstein and Michael Faure hold the English and French versions of their book Mr. Zuko Takes Flight. HEATHER SOLOMON PHOTO
Joyce Borenstein and Michael Faure hold the English and French versions of their book Mr. Zuko Takes Flight. HEATHER SOLOMON PHOTO

Joyce Borenstein and Michel Faure have grasped a fistful of balloon strings and flown their way into the hearts of children and adults with their first book, Mr. Zuko Takes Flight. It’s been a long time coming.

The two have creatively partnered since 1983, when Faure returned from a summer sojourn to Goose Rocks Beach in Kennebunkport, Maine. The author and his wife, Joan Fraser (now a Liberal senator), took their four- and two-year-old daughters, Elisabeth and Isabelle, by the hand and, while strolling through the sand, walked them into his story.

They loved the imaginary world in which Mr. Zuko collects balloons until his house creaks off its moorings and flies away to a tropical island where the balding banker and his parrot Mimi make new animal friends.

“We turned something negative into something positive”

Faure committed the story he told them to paper. At the time, the award-winning writer for television, radio and stage was teaching screenwriting at Concordia University, and he asked a colleague if anyone knew of an artist who could illustrate his text. They recommended Borenstein, then teaching film animation at the university, who was charmed by the project.

After they had six of the eventual 30 illustrations, the two tried to interest publishers, but “it went through committees, people changing jobs and, in the end, it stayed on the shelf until we saw our design in an advertisement for the [2009 Disney/Pixar] film Up! What followed was a long and painful episode that lasted nearly half a year,” Faure says.

“In the end, they settled out of court with us and we turned something negative into something positive by self-publishing the book.”

Borenstein took three months in 2014 to complete the drawings, all done by hand in ink and coloured pencil. The illustrator also harks back to her films, the Oscar-nominated The Colours of My Father: A Portrait of Sam Borenstein and film festival-winner Mother’s Colours, when she places Mr. Zuko in front of an easel, brush in hand, with his animal friends posing for him.

The scene has a magical quality in the half-light of late sunset. “I particularly tried for atmosphere: dreamy daylight, fog, nighttime summer heat… and to give the animals human qualities. While I drew, I was smiling and humming to myself because it was cheerful and imaginative,” says Borenstein, whose luminous, jewel-like hues interpret Faure’s story that builds on the values of friendship, empathy and love.

Dedicated to his daughters and “remembering the magic moments,” the book is the 81-year-old Faure’s future legacy for them. But Faure is far from finished with his journeys with Mr. Zuko.

“I already have an idea for a sequel where he goes back to Coconut Island and invites the monkey to come to Montreal in winter,” he says. Borenstein will again illustrate.

“Also, we will make a 10-minute short film, and I would like Michel’s voice to be the narrator in both English and French. He has a great voice,” says Borenstein, who is aware that Faure had a bit part on TV’s The Avengers as a French press attaché.

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After initiating his TV and stage career in London, both on and behind the scenes, Paris-born Faure moved to Montreal in 1970, where he was the first to introduce ethnic characters to the French-language Radio-Canada TV series that he authored.

“It was all de souche before. And I did the same thing with this book – the balloon salesman is Greek, the bank teller is Lebanese,” he says.

The current book has been published in French and English editions. “Ariela, the wife of Irwin Cotler and a friend of ours, said she will translate it into Hebrew, and when she does it, we’ll send it to Israel,” Faure says.

The book is available on Amazon.