Written by William Joyce, Illustrated by William Joyce and Joe Bluhm
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2012
Morris Lessmore loved words. He loved stories. He loved books.
The plot in a nutshell: Morris Lessmore is writing his memoir when his home is destroyed by a storm. A magical book leads him to a house where books live and he cares for them and shares them with others.
Isn’t that beautiful, in and of itself? I think anyone who has felt that thrill of falling of love with a good book can relate to the themes put forth in this story. Books entertain and inform, but they also have the power to transform and transcend and this book plays up that notion in a very literal way. I chose this book for today because this is my 100th review here at the Bookshelf and couldn’t think of a better way to mark that milestone than a story that celebrates books and those of us who love them.
Just opening the cover of this book gets me all emotional. I fell in love with the animated short film version that took home the 2011 Academy Award, so it was no surprise that I had the same reaction to the book. The more I learn about this wonderful story, though, the more emotional it gets me. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before I can’t even look at the words ‘flying’ and ‘books’ on the same page without bursting into tears. (But then, it must be mentioned that I am a sap.)
The back story of this book is almost as interesting as its plot. William Joyce, who has become one of my favorite authors, began working on the book in 1999, as a tribute to his mentor at HarperCollins, Bill Morris. It started as a short story about a man who gives his life to books. (Mr. Morris passed away in 2003, but Mr. Joyce was able to share the original story with him before his death.) Then Hurricane Katrina devastated the area where Mr. Joyce lived and he saw displaced children receiving donated picture books and subsequently losing themselves (for a while) in those stories. Both the hurricane and the recuperative power of books were worked into the original story, which was first told to the public as the animated film from Moonbot Studios in 2011. Have you seen the film? If not, then stop reading this, go to YouTube and check it out. I’ll wait here. Seriously. Go!
Amazing, right? The film inspired an interactive iPad app (which is also awesome) and finally the book was released in 2012, featuring the same gorgeous artwork I adored from the movie. The app features the full short film, plus the full text of the book with special pages you can play with (pick out a tune on a piano keyboard, click books to hear what sounds they make or give someone a book to see how it changes them). This app is definitely worth the money. And the book is a gorgeous marriage of story and artwork that deserves a spot on every shelf.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that if your life story seems to be accumulating blank pages, find something meaningful and devote yourself to it. In all likelihood, you will gain more than you give.