The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by W. E. Joyce is described as a modern classic picture book, which has been adapted and made into an Oscar winning animation.
The illustrations are superb, and the story is simple, poignant and lovely.
Morris Lessmore loses everything that is important to him at the beginning of the book, in scenes reminiscent of the tornado from the Wizard of Oz.
Morris is sad, but he is saved from despair by books. I took this, as an adult reader, to mean that his immersion in the world of novels and literature, saved his life and rebuilt his reality for him.
In the book itself the books that save Morris actually come to life. They sprout wings and arms and legs, and transport him to another world, where he lives out his life in the library, tending to the books and writing the story of his life as he has lived it, and his dreams for the future.
Morris eventually gets to the end of his own story. Again, I took this to mean that he realises that he is an old man and that his life is over. He shuts his book and prepares to die.
In the story, the words and illustrations are much more literal, and Morris is led off by winged books into the sky after he finishes the last page of his own story.
After this, a little girl discovers the library, and it becomes her refuge and sanctuary, just as it did for Morris.
The sense of continuity and time and the seasons rolling on, even though people age and die is one that is sensitively drawn in the book, and which, despite the moments of sadness that pepper the pages, make it a positive and hopeful read.
My children didn’t always get the deeper meanings in the book, although they were saddened when Morris left, and paused the story so that we could talk about what had happened to him. I suggested that he might be going to heaven, and they accepted this. I asked them how they felt about this part of the story and they agreed that although it was sad it was also beautiful at the same time, and the story makes it plain that Morris himself is not sad when his time to leave comes.
We loved this story. There was lots to talk about. It was gently funny as well as being sad. It was rich in illustrations which gave the written text depth and context. It was a beautifully balanced, clever story that could work at the most simplistic level for children in early years/reception classes, but is also a lovely story to introduce deeper themes and emotions higher up the school.
We all agreed that we would really like to see the film, and certainly if you were using this book in school it would be a perfect accompaniment.