“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: