So there’s apparently a lot of backstory to The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore– that the book was written and then an iPad app created and a short film put out that won an Academy award- ironically all before the book (about the love of books) was actually released. Alas, I’ve not seen the movie and I’ve not downloaded the app. But here’s what I have done: read the book. And I can not stress how much I love it.
Morris is what we would call a bibliophile.
His life was a book of his own writing, one orderly page after another. He would open it every morning and write of his joys and sorrows, of all that he knew and everything that he hoped for.
And with those words we begin this magical and poetic tale of books taking life, becoming actual characters, and a man’s life eventually coming to an end, but his life story living on.
After a Wizard of Oz-esque storm, the words in Morris’s book become strewn everywhere. He’s lost, wandering aimlessly when he comes upon a lovely lady being carried through the air by a group of flying books, a page which brings us from black and white into color. He follows her to a magical library where he spends the rest of his days lovingly organizing and gently fixing the thousands of books, and throughout, crafting and refining his own story in the hopes that some day it, too, might fly. He shares the myriad books with his friends, whether the stories are wildly popular and far-read or dusty and hidden in a corner.
“Everyone’s story matters,” said Morris. And all the books agreed.
The themes in this book are reminiscent of some of my favorite children’s books- the bittersweet aging process but the memory living on theme of Grandpa Green, the man sitting peacefully under the tree throughout the seasons (and for that matter, the lovely ladies) of Ferdinand, the imaginative flying objects of The Wreck of the Zephyr, and yet this book is entirely unique. The use of light and warmth in the library illustrations really capture the comfort that books can bring us- and for that matter, the greyscale of depression when we feel lost, the bright colors when our imaginations carry us away. I love the inventive kind of illustrations where the characters seem to interact with the text, which itself seems to move across some of the pages.
When I first read this to my five year old, I finished the last page and heaved a huge sigh as I clapped the book closed- “That…was amazing,” was all I could say. He probably enjoyed different aspects than I did- the swirling books of the tornado, the silliness of the flying books, the dictionary getting the last word (Zzzzzzz) at the end of each night as the books were settled back onto their proper shelves. But for me, passing that appreciation for gentle prose and love for the story to him, I can only hope that it resonates with him somewhere deep inside.I’ve talked about it before, but I appreciate a heavy book for children. This is one of them. While the underlying theme is nurturing a love of literature, it also deals with serious topics in a kid-centered way, you know? There’s a wonderful, large place in children’s bookshelves, I think, for light hearted and simple books. But there’s also a necessary corner for books that introduce weightier, less than rosy facts of life.
Edited to add:
Thanks to Danzel at the beautiful Silver Shoes and Rabbit Holes blog, I found the Oscar winning short film on Youtube. I didn’t realize that it was so accessible, and you know what else I didn’t realize? What a complete and utter joy it is. Check it out.