Since learning that William Joyce’s film, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, won the Academy Award for short animated film, I was looking forward to seeing the picture book – and the film. On both platforms, page and screen, Joyce’s story, about the power of stories to transform our lives, is life affirming itself. Magical and inspiring, this is a picture book for children and adults.
Morris Lessmore lives a quiet orderly life until the day a twister blows his house – and his books – away. But then, Joyce writes, “a happy bit of happenstance came his way. Rather than looking down, as had become his habit, Morris Lessmore looked up.” What Morris sees is a woman being pulled by a “festive squadron of flying books.”
The books lead Morris to an abandoned library where he repairs books, reads books and shares books. “Everyone’s story matters,” he says. Noticeably missing in Morris’s library are devices. There are no e-readers or tablets or even power outlets. Just books. Joyce’s book is a tribute to the power of physical books and they are beautiful.
In one of the most moving passages, Morris refers to finding “a lonely little volume whose tale was seldom told.” Sometimes, when I’m in a used bookstore, I will search the shelves for a book that seems desperately in need of air and attention. There are instances when a book will audibly creak when being opened after too many years on the shelf, and I imagine all of its characters stretching out and shaking the cobwebs from their clothing.
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore contains references to The Wizard of Oz and Humpty Dumpty and The Red Balloon, but I kept thinking of the Pixar movie, Up. Joyce’s book has that same “uplifting” quality and a similar feel. Both stories are moving reminders of the power of imagination and curiosity to transform our lives.