Don’t let the spare text and lush illustrations fool you. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, which inspired an Academy Award-winning animated short film of the same title, is the kind of picture book that both adults and children will adore. In fact, you may want to buy two copies so that you can selfishly keep one for yourself. In the back flap, author, illustrator and filmmaker William Joyce (The Man in the Moon) calls this story his most personal yet. Inspired by Hurricane Katrina, which wreaked havoc on his home state; The Wizard of Oz; and a belief in “the curative power of stories,” The Fantastic Flying Books tells the tale of a man who loves words, stories, and books. The opening illustration shows him sitting on his balcony, surrounded by piles of books and writing his life story in a book of his own. (“He would open it every morning and write of his joys and sorrows, of all that he knew and everything that he hoped for.”)
One day, a terrible storm upends his world. Pages and words are scattered, houses are overturned, and Morris Lessmore is left dazed and aimless. Fortunately for him, Morris encounters a lady being pulled along in the sky by a bunch of flying books. Seeing the lost look on his face, she takes pity on him and gives him her favorite book. The book leads Morris to a wondrous building filled with many more books, all hoping to be read and requiring attention. Years pass and Morris devotes his life to caring for the books and sharing them with passersby. (I love how the people transform from black-and-white to color when they begin reading the stories.) Gradually we see Morris becoming “stooped and crinkly” and the books begin caring for him the way he had cared for them—even reading themselves to him at night. Then the day comes when Morris finally finishes writing the last page of his book, and it’s time for him leave. Adults will find the ending—how Morris says goodbye to his friends and makes his exit—poignant and filled with deeper meaning. Younger readers will be charmed and captivated by the illustrations and the notion of books that come alive.
As summer comes to a close, it’ll soon be time for kids to hit the books. I can’t think of a better way to get in the mood for some extraordinary book action than with The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. As Morris reminds us, books have the power to stay with us forever. Happy lifelong reading, everyone!
Have you seen and/or read The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore? What do you think of it? What are your favorite books by the author/illustrator William Joyce?
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Sandra Lee Rella, mother of two budding bookworms, is a freelance editor and writer, and a former children’s book review editor.