Friday, January 13, 2012

"French Ducks in Venice" author in Charlotte

Before you pick up the charming new picture book “French Ducks in Venice,” it’s helpful to know a few things.

First, the setting: It’s Venice, Calif., not Italy.

Second, the title characters: Siblings Georges and Cécile are actually cormorants, not ducks, “although I would advise against telling them that,” the book’s narrator counsels.

Also good to know: “French Ducks in Venice” (Candlewick; $16.99) recently earned a coveted starred review from Publishers Weekly, which declared that author Garret Freymann-Weyr’s storytelling gifts “are unmistakable.”

Freymann-Weyr hails partially from North Carolina. Though she grew up in New York, she graduated from UNC Chapel Hill. Since 2009, she has lived in Davidson. She’s now dividing her time between Davidson and California.

In “French Ducks,” her first picture book, Polina Panova, a dressmaker who weaves frocks with “grass, flowers, pieces of the night sky, and strawberry jam,” has been dumped by her filmmaker boyfriend.

Georges and Cécile, who live in the canal behind her house, are indignant. Georges, especially, is eager to find Polina a new boyfriend, to make her happy again.

In this story, however, unlike many children’s books, there’s no tidy happy ending. Instead, we get a nuanced lesson about loss. When Georges proposes that he find a new boyfriend for Polina, Cécile counsels that “Polina has to be sad before she can be happy again.”

Polina does eventually cheer up, but not because she finds another man. Instead, she uses a present from Georges, a golden light, to make some new, amazing dresses, “unlike anything else I have made.”

With rich illustrations by Erin McGuire, this book has the feel of an animated Disney film. It’s Freymann-Weyr’s first picture book, but she has also written five young adult novels, including “My Heartbeat,” a 2003 Printz Honor Book.

She decided to write a picture book after a visit to her sister, who lives near the canals in Venice, Calif. During walks, Freymann-Weyr spotted what she took to be classy-looking black ducks. When she asked a friend about the birds, “she said, ‘Those are cormorants, you moron.’”

And a story idea was born.

Garret Freymann-Weyr will read at 4 p.m. Jan. 23 at Morrison Regional Library, 7015 Morrison Blvd., and at 11 a.m. Jan. 28 at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road.