On the Wing with William Joyce

“Every story has its upsets,” as one man discovers in William Joyce’s radiant new picture book, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.

It didn’t take a hurricane for the title character to appreciate reading, but the storm does uncover a world where books show their true colors. Ironically, this lively, expressive book about books began as an animated short, which garnered the Academy Award in that category.

While I love the imaginative little film, I am also in awe of the lovely language in Joyce’s picture book. “Each book was whispering an invitation to adventure,” it says. And what an adventure for us  readers. The man whose books are blown away by a hurricane (echoes of Katrina and The Wizard of Oz) traverses a bleak land until he encounters a woman flying with books in the bright sky. It seems he, too, can wing it with the book he’s picked up.

Joyce has packed this book with literary references (Mother Goose’s Humpty Dumpty and Pop Goes the Weasel), film references (the protagonist strongly resembles Buster Keaton), and fully develops the idea that books enable us, like birds, to travel far and wide. It’s a beautiful, life-affirming message for all ages, a theme that promises to sustain our continued literary feats, as the book reassures us that “everyone’s story matters.”

Either the book, the interactive app, or the 15-minute film (or all) would make for an inspiring classroom experience. After seeing the film, children could discuss the many ways in which books enrich our lives. Whatever the format, this story lovingly explores such significant roles as …

1. Books inspire us.

2. Books comfort and heal us.

3. Books are companions.

4. Books help us develop intellectually, spiritually, emotionally.

5. Books help us discern, clarify, and appreciate our own emotions and beliefs.

6. Books help us perceive our relationship to the world.

7. Books help us see the wider world — including its geography, its ethnic and racial diversity, its colors, climates, and conceptions.

8. Books enrich our experiences — past, current, and future.

9. Books transcend time by connecting us to a range of people, places, thoughts, theories, events, and eras.

10. Books give us a silent space for wild growth. For freedom.

All that in a silent film! But don’t miss the book, either!

Also see these fanciful books by William Joyce:


9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. :Donna Marie
    Aug 20, 2012 @ 00:45:36

    Hey, Janice 🙂 I’m trying to catch up on about 1400 old emails and came across this one. I discovered this book in Barnes on the bookshelf, face front 🙂 I was “blown away” by it, then found the animated short on YouTube. I LOVE all of it! Amazing!!!


  2. Jess Haight
    Jul 18, 2012 @ 12:52:27

    I haven’t seen the short or read the book- but both sound delightful. I look forward to checking out this book- I enjoy his work.


  3. jewellrhodesasu
    Jul 03, 2012 @ 09:19:06

    I’m so happy to hear about the picture book version of this incredible short. I remember the short itself bringing tears to my eyes. The connection between books and taking flight worked so well in animation, I can’t wait to see how it is done in pictures. I’ll be checking this out as soon as possible. Thank you!



    • Janice Floyd Durante
      Jul 05, 2012 @ 11:53:55

      You’re very welcome, Jewell. I actually read the book first and then watched the short. What a pleasant surprise to see that each works beautifully. I’d love to hear of educators using this in the classroom come September. It’s a winner!


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