I first read this week’s picture book when my sister, Darlene Blackford, gave me a copy. She said that she loves the book. I do, too!
It’s “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore,” written by William Joyce. I’ve been trying to think of the words that best describe the book. It’s “fanciful” — certainly it’s imaginative — but the book is more than that. There’s a message about the power of reading, too, and the reader is left with a comforting feeling when the book ends.
The book’s beautiful illustrations were done by William Joyce and Joe Bluhm.
According to his brief biography on the jacket of the book, Joyce began writing the manuscript in 1999. He intended the book to be a tribute to Bill Morris, who “pioneered library promotions.” However, that changed after hurricane Katrina. Because his home state was devastated, he quit writing the book for a while. He visited children who had lost their homes and were staying in shelters. He saw them reading books that had been donated to the shelters, and he noticed the positive effects the books had on the readers.
When Morris began writing the book again, he created the character of Mr. Morris Lessmore.
Joyce’s story became an animated short film that was honored with an Academy Award. Then, in 2012, it was published as a book. “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” is published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
As the book opens, Morris Lessmore sits in a chair, writing in a book with a red cover. Books are piled all around him. Morris is a young man with bright, dark eyes and brown hair. He’s dressed in a brown suit, a white shirt and a red tie. A hat is perched on the back of his head. A walking cane is hooked to one of the chair arms.
Each morning, Morris writes in his book. He writes of “joys and sorrows, all that he knows and everything that he hopes for.” Morris loves words, stories and books.
Then one day, a hurricane blows the town apart. Telephone poles, buildings, books, papers and even Morris’ cane, hat, red book and the chair he was sitting in blow away. When it’s over, Morris sits in front of an upside down house with his book open in front of him. All of the words are scattered around the book.
Morris doesn’t know what to do so he puts on his hat and gathers up his book and cane and wanders through the town’s wreckage.
Then he looks up into the sky and sees the most wondrous sight. A young lady with long brown hair is being pulled along by a bunch of flying books that are attached to red ribbons. The lady wears a dress that’s decorated with red letters and high-heeled shoes. Perched on her arm by its two small legs is a book that’s opened up. On one page are the words of a story; on the other page is an illustration of Humpty Dumpty.
This is no ordinary illustration. It can move! When the lady sees Morris, she knows that he needs a good story so she sends Humpty Dumpty to him.
Humpty motions for Morris to follow him. The book leads Morris to a big, enchanting building with an unusual design. Carved into the outside walls are shelves and books. The railings along the front stairs are pens (the kind you dip in inkwells). An owl with spectacles stands guard over the door.
Inside, Morris finds shelves of books. The books are of every size and cover all kinds of subjects. Some books fly overhead. Others stand on their little legs. One book plays the piano. And there are lots of chairs for sitting down to read.
That’s just what Morris does. He stays there for years, reading, sorting books into categories, and applying first aid to books in need. At night when all the books have settled down, Morris writes in his own book.
To say that Morris becomes attached to books doesn’t adequately describe his attachment to them. When he reads, he becomes part of the books. He slides over the pages, scattering the letters. He holds onto the letters to climb up a page.
Morris shares the books with others, too, no matter their ages.
Years pass. Some of the books even have their own canes. Morris’s hair turns white. One day, his own book is finished. There’s a surprise ending.
Darlene is right! This is an endearing book.
“The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” is $17.99 in hardcover.