THE FANTASTIC FLYING BOOKS OF MR. MORRIS LESSMORE: By William Joyce, Illustrated by William Joyce and Joe Bluhm
Joyce, W. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (2012). New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore started out as an Academy Award-winning animated short, but that for me is icing on the cake, as the book version is one of the most beautiful books I've seen for children. Its art is so well-drawn and the story is really sweet and gentle that one cannot help get into it and be moved by one figure's lifelong love of books.
Morris Lessmore has an orderly life, writing one page a day about his life: the joys and sorrows it had. One day though, a great storm blew everything away, including both Morris AND his story. He begins wandering, and to his surprise he sees a woman flying away with a group of books acting as balloons. His own book cannot fly, so to help him she sends one of the flying books to him. The book leads him to an extraordinary building where the books 'nested'. Here, Morris beings a life among the books.
He tries to keep them in order but finds it an impossible tasks. The encyclopedias, tired of all their knowledge, would go to the comic books to relax. The sad tragedies would fly to the comedies to cheer up. Morris would fix the books and even get literally lost for days in one. He soon started sharing all the books with others, declaring that "everyone's story matters". Eventually, he gets old and must leave the books, his story ended. The books are all sad, but discover he left his own story there, and this story is discovered by a little girl. The Story of Morris Lessmore flies to her, and
begins his story.
If there is any other love letter to books, I have yet to encounter it. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is a story about the joys of reading, of finding great joy in the written word. It is clear how it works: those who haven't discovered words or have lost them are in black-and-white, while those who do have words are brought to life in beautiful color.
There is an open whimsy in the story, as we see Morris perform 'surgery' on a book (complete with stethoscope and a book as an EKG machine while the book that brought him to 'the nesting place (read, library) watches anxiously.
The book also manages to introduce the tough topic of death in a gentle manner without being overt. Mr. Morris Lessmore has finished his own story, and now he must leave the books and fly away. It isn't stated but one can surmise that he is about to die. The chain however goes on, with now a new figure coming to the magical world with Morris' own story.
The illustrations are beautifully rendered, and the story is quite sweet and gentle. As someone who works at a library, it is so lovely to see a world where books and the joy of reading are celebrated. It is an enchanting, sweet story, short, simple, and a great way to introduce children to real magic...the magic of books.