Book Review

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce

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Title: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
Author: William Joyce, Moonbot Studios
Publication Info: Moonbot Studios 2011
ISBN: n/a
Genre: Contemporary/Other

imageSometimes when I squee about a book, I want to jump up and down and yell and breathlessly tell you how amazing I thought something was. This is the same level of appreciation, but the opposite reaction: this book (and the accompanying film) knocked my heart out of my chest, made me tear up, and made me want to grab anyone who doesn’t understand how avid readers feel about books and make them watch it until they Get It.

Summary: Morris Lessmore finds himself blown away and rendered colorless by a storm, and through books finds purpose, healing, and the route to his own story. The description reads, “Inspired, in equal measures, by Hurricane Katrina, Buster Keaton, The Wizard of Oz, and a love for books, “Morris Lessmore” is a story of people who devote their lives to books and books who return the favor. Morris Lessmore is a poignant, humorous allegory about the curative powers of story.” In the book, the words of Morris’ life are blown off the page and his life becomes a wordless grief after the storm, until he finds new words in books and in his own narrative.

Book CoverThe story was written by William Joyce, who is a celebrated author and illustrator. He is probably best known for his series of children’s books based on the character Rolie Polie Olie. I was unfamiliar with him until I heard about this app.

The app has received numerous accolades, and Apple is pimping the ever living hell out of it, but every single piece of praise is so very deserved. Even thinking about reading this book with my children this evening, my eyes are stinging, and I have that open-mouthed stuttering reaction trying to articulate how amazing this story is, and how touching, beautiful, powerful, and true it is.

The iPad app is an interactive digital reading experience with a number of customizable options. You can have the narrator read, or you can read aloud. You can turn the sound effects and the music off or on. Each page has different pieces to explore and touch, and each interaction reveals another layer to the story, adds meaning to what has happened or is about to happen, and piece by piece assembles a complicated and amazing story that becomes more and more with each effort to think or touch it. 

As an interactive digital book, I can’t say enough about the different methods through which readers are invited to read, touch, affect and create within this book. There’s music, puzzles, animations and explorations – and that description sounds too flat compared to the reaction I and my sons had as we read it. They were laughing and exploring, listening to me read the words (you can turn the voiceover off very easily) and touching the screen to see what they could do next. At the end they were awed and curious, asking me questions and wanting to see it again. We cared about Morris Lessmore, we cared about his books, and we cared about what the books could do.

As a story, it is one of the best explanations of the power of books and reading to heal, connect, and restore people. One of things I most appreciate about talking to other romance readers is the idea that we may have nothing in common except a book we loved, but because of that book we have plenty to talk about, because our common experience of reading and loving the book may mean we had an emotion in common, a reaction to the story, the characters, and the text that connects us. The power of common emotion, not just empathy but knowing that you feel the same way as someone else at a moment in time, is immeasurable, and avid readers, particularly of fiction, have probably encountered that more often that not. I know I have.

This story creates a complex emotional reaction. It’s hopeful and sad, optimistic and grim, and a truly beautiful experience start to finish.

I am still having trouble articulating how powerful I found this story, both in the iPad app and through the movie that came first. It was so amazing, I want to share it. Leave me a comment with the book that moved you the most emotionally (you don’t have to share why if you don’t want to) and I’ll pick two winners and gift them a copy of the iPad app. The app is compatible with iPad only and requires iOS 4.2 or later.

Note: I fully realize that not everyone has an iPad. I wish there were a way for more people to experience the book, though you can purchase the film and watch it on iTunes. The film and the book are equally powerful, and compliment one another.

I am hoping there are no geographic restrictions, but I am having a hard time verifying that question. Standard disclaimers apply: I’m not being compensated for this giveaway. Void where prohibited. It’ll probably make you cry. That’s ok, I cried, too.

I’m including the trailer here so you can get a sense of what the book looks like, and what it does. It is truly, without exception, a feast for the eyes, the hands, the brain, and the heart.

It is, in every possible way, storytelling art.


You can learn more about the story and the effort that went into its creation at Morris Lessmore.com. The app is available through the iTunes store and is compatible with iPad devices running iOS 4.2 or later. You can learn more about the film at the Morris Lessmore site, and at the Moonbot Studios site.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Connie Cox says:

    So very proud of our hometown boy, William Joyce.  This book is not only a great tribute to survivors, but a huge testimony to artists who channel their work for healing.
    Kudos, Bill!

  2. 2
    Jessica says:

    Ok, this is an app I’m going to have to buy right away.  Perfect subject for my research on digital literacy and interactive texts!

  3. 3
    Chance says:

    now i want an ipad damnit. there seems to be no geographical restrictions on the trailer, i’m watching it from ireland and it played fine. This looks amazing.

  4. 4
    Joelle says:

    Oh!  I teach middle school language arts AND I have an Ipad, and this would be AWESOME with my struggling readers & writers!  As someone who has always found reading as the cure all—teaching understanding, empathy, self-preservation, escape—I love finding new ways to share that with students; seeing them connect with books and stories in a personal way is heady stuff.

    That said, I think the power of books is that they speak to me in different ways at different times in my life, and it is hard to pinpoint just one, but I’ll try.  Ish, by Peter H. Reynolds is simple and cathartic, and I start every school year with it.

  5. 5

    Don’t enter me in the contest, since I don’t have an iPad. But this app and the Wasteland app are the two that made me want to run out and buy one. It was that amazing.

    I don’t have kids, but I’m like one myself and I want this with a deep and abiding passion.

  6. 6
    StephB says:

    This sounds wonderful, and I’d love to be entered in the contest! (I live in the UK but actually have a US-based iPad, so I use the American iTunes and app stores…so there shouldn’t be any geographic restriction issues!)

  7. 7
    StephB says:

    Ack, but I forgot to include the book that moved me most in my first comment!

    I sobbed and sobbed at the climax of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (the book – I haven’t seen the movie yet). And I was incredibly moved by the ending of Jo Knowles’s YA novel Jumping Off Swings, which made me cry too.

    Please enter me in the giveaway, despite my comment being split in two!

  8. 8
    Lovecow2000 says:

    King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry was the first book I remember reading that made me cry. I think I read it back in 3rd grade. 

    /spamword: reading78 as in I was reading this book back in 1978.

  9. 9
    peachgirl says:

    Where the Red Fern Grows.  Just thinking about it makes me teary-eyed.

  10. 10
    EC Spurlock says:

    I adore William Joyce’s books and this is the best reason to get an iPad ever. Can’t afford one, unfortunately, so don’t enter me.

    My favorite so far of Joyce’s books is Santa Calls, a vintagey, Art Deco-y, almost Dieselpunky adventure that seriously calls to mind the Wizard of Oz and really drives home what Christmas and family is supposed to be about. My kids adored that book, and I think it had a positive effect on their whole sibling relationship.

  11. 11
    Clara says:

    Wish I had an iPad so much right now!

  12. 12
    Brandyllyn says:

    Jennie, by Douglas Preston, is my go-to read and will make me bawl my ever-loving eyes out every time.

    (I actually did some work with Moonbot, which is based in Shreveport LA.  We had a whole wall in our labs at LSUS devoted to Morris. Glad to see it’s paying off.)

    (I came in very late in the process and don’t have a copy of the app.)

  13. 13
    kate r says:

    Bragging time AND signing up for he contest: I own a piece of William Joyce art.

  14. 14
    Mary D says:

    Dragonfly in Amber …… the scene where Claire & jamie part, where they know he’s bound to be killed at Culloden …. I’m getting weepy just thinking about it!!

  15. 15
    Olivia says:

    @StephB: I’m rereading all the Harry Potter books right now and even when you know they’re coming, those endings still land on you with both feet. Great stuff!

    There are lots of books that get to me (Jane Eyre, Persuasion) but often I think the one that really sucks me in, over and over, is Night Watch by Terry Pratchett. Kind of an outlier, I know—a time-travel story set in a fantasy world that depends pretty heavily upon being familiar with the characters from previous books.

    But it’s also a really deep look into what it means to grow up, to be a father, to be a leader, to stand up for what is right, and to remember those you’ve lost. It breaks my heart every single time.

    I like to describe it as Les Miserables with better jokes and none of Marius’ douchebaggery.

  16. 16
    Jusy says:

    It’s WHITNEY, MY LOVE by Judith McNaught. Now, I think I’m going to go find it and flip through it again.

  17. 17
    liz talley says:

    Don’t enter me in the contest because, alas, I have no ipad.

    But, as a resident of Shreveport where Mr. Joyce lives, I am surrounded by his work. He’s an incredible talent who shows his passion and emotion in every stroke of the pen, in every word. I often dine at a little restaurant down the road from my house. Mr. Joyce often dines there and leaves his drawings on the paper table clothes. The owners of the place (Cush’s) have framed them all and they hang on the walls of the restaurant. It’s brilliant to behold such brilliance. Yes, I know I used brilliant twice. They are fascinating and date back to pre-Rollie Pollie Ollie days. I heart them.

    Thanks for recognizing him. He’s a special man who lives through his work…and finds healing through art.

  18. 18
    Ollie says:

    I read Charlotte’s Web when I was a little girl and I definitely remember it being emotionally affecting.

  19. 19
    Kay says:

    I’ll not buy this app until I see if I win it.

    There are several books I’ve loved to point of emotional wringers. Old school: Irving Wallace’s The Word. Why couldn’t it have been real? and New school: Ursula Under by Ingrid Hill. Just a fascinating book about why each of us is important.

  20. 20
    Anna Piranha says:

    I had to be removed from the school library because I couldn’t stop crying at the end of Sounder.  I may also still be scarred by Jude the Obscure: “Done because we are too menny.”

  21. 21

    Wow, what a wonderful review!  You don’t need to include me in the contest because I already own the app, and I sent you the trailer video.  I’m so glad you and your boys love it!  My husband and I had a ball playing with it! 

    I am so dense that I never realized that the story was in reference to Hurricane Katrina.  It means so much more to me now.  @liz talley thank you so much for telling us the story about him leaving drawings at the cafe on the white paper!  Love that!!

    I urge everyone to get this app, even if you are an adult with no kids.  It is that amazing, and makes your mind reel to think what interactive ebooks can become.

  22. 22
    JoAnn says:

    1. Alas, no ipad, so this is not an entry.

    2. Some scenes from books that have moved me:
    Unveiled by Courtney Milan. The scene when Ash tells Mark that he can’t read and Mark realizes the importance of the postscripts Ash had added to the letters his secretary had written for him.

    The Debt by Angela Hunt. The pizza delivery incident. I will say no more.

    The Golden Season by Connie Brockway. When Ned tells Lydia he knows her.

  23. 23
    Crystal says:

    peachgirl, I am pretty sure Where the Red Fern Grows was THE FIRST book I have ever cried to.

    The one that made me cry the most, and the most recently, was Kiss of Snow by Nalini Singh. I seriously had to put the book down and be done pouring out my emotions before I could continue.
    Two parts come to mind: 1) Where Sienna thought she killed her entire pack and 2) where Hawke and Sienna are in the lake at the very end and they are talking about their possible death because of the unstability of her powers.

    The second scene is where I had to put the book down. She is talking about what is going to happen when (she said WHEN) he dies and he responds by cupping her face, smiling, and saying “then there is nothing to be scared of”.

    It BLEW MY MIND that this man could have walked away from her but didn’t, knowing full well that his death could cause the death of many of his packmates or that Sienna’s power could easily wipe out the entire pack. Not only did he stay, BUT HE WAS TRYING TO MAKE HER FEEL BETTER ABOUT KILLING EVERYONE. That, my fellow smart bitches, is a kind of love to cry over.

  24. 24
    Diana N. says:

    The first book I remember having an emotional response to was John Grisham’s A Time to Kill.  My grandmother had purchased it for me not realizing it was not something a 6th grader should read.  I cried and cried; it hit to close to home as my family is of mixed racial background.  It’s only by the grace of God and Jude Deveraux that I’m not permanently scarred! ;)

  25. 25
    Shary says:

    Just watched The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore on your recommendation.  What an amazing film.  So powerful.  It’s exactly what I needed to see today when I’ve been wondering if I shouldn’t be doing something “more important” than trying to write a novel.

  26. 26

    Oh, I loved this soooooo much. It is one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen for the ipad, or in fact anywhere else.

    I’ve loved William Joyce since reading Dinosaur Bob and the Family Lazardo, plus love Meet the Robinsons. He’s a wonderful artist and this is the most gorgeous celebration of books and reading. And I immediately shared it with Minion 2 who is hooked.

  27. 27
    Elizabeth says:

    For this contest, my husband can let me borrow his iPad.

    What a creative use of film and books – and from the clip, even music. I bet my pregnant daughter-in-law would enjoy the “playing the piano” bit. Maybe she could use it to motivate her piano students!

  28. 28
    henofthewoods says:

    I don’t have the iPad, so this is not an official entry.

    A Ring of Endless Light by Madeline L’Engle is probably the first book I kept rereading so I could think about the ideas presented instead of just enjoying the story. She will always be one of the best authors you could happen upon. Her work is scattered across age groups – some is definitely for kids and some is definitely not.

    I loved reading Dinosaur Bob to my much younger brother. I will remember this beautiful trailer the next time I read some stick-in-the-mud bemoaning the death of books at the hands of the ebook.
    Telegraph:

    According to Penelope Lively, 78, the Booker Prize-winning author, e-books are for “bloodless nerds”. She said that Kindles and other devices to which you can download novels are no substitute for real books and no self-respecting bibliophile should want one

    .
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/ways-with-words/8629722/Ways-With-Words-Penelope-Lively-kindles-publishing-row-with-e-books-for-bloodless-nerds-view.html
    (The comment by Naomi Alderman after the article makes me think the story was aimed at causing controversy but the comments back and forth are interesting.)

  29. 29
    meganhwa says:

    i do so hope they expand this app to non-ipad things (i too lack an ipad) the clip was beautiful – so clever the whole concept.

    with regards to books leaving me feeling me emotional – well admittedly lots of books do that – but two series that left me thinking long after finishing are: his dark materials (phillip pullman) and the Gemma Doyle Trilogy by Libba Bray. I don’t have the eloquence to say how they affected me but they are quite indepth question life, religion, power play and various other aspects and i felt them to be very powerful.

    One of the things I liked from Libba Brays series was that the heroine and her friends were not exceptionally nice – they were not always likeable but not to the extreme point that they were unlikeable – they just had moments that made them seem more real because they didn’t always make decisions based on the most purest of motives.

    The other book I would like to mention (mainly because the graphics of this book/app reminds me a little of it) is Shaun Tan’s The Arrival. It’s a picture book that is unbelievably moving. There are no words, just beautiful graphics depicting the story of a man having to leave behind his homeland and his family in search for a better life, echoing the stories of many immigrants. I highly recommend everyone to read it (or view it…)

  30. 30
    SB Sarah says:

    Would you believe my comment announcing the winners was eaten by my own spam filter? That’s what I get for working by phone.

    Anyway – the two winners of the app are: StephB and Elizabeth at 9:34 am.

    Sorry about that, y’all. Winners, please email me at sarahATsmartbitchestrashybooksDOTcom and tell me the email address for the iTunes account to which the gifted app should be sent. Thank you!

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